How old would you say Skoda is? Sixty, seventy, maybe even eighty years, perhaps? Well, 2020 actually marks the 125th anniversary of Messrs Laurin and Klement founding their eponymous bicycle company in the central Bohemian town of Mladá Boleslav. Even in terms of automotive production, the launch of their Voiturette A in 1905 gives the marque a depth of history that most manufacturers can only dream of.
Arms manufacturer Skoda Works acquired the company in 1925, looking to expand its offering of machines which didn't kill people - intentionally, at least. It changed the name to Skoda and a legend was born. Unfortunately for Skoda, that legend came to be one of poor reliability, shoddy build quality and wretched design, a reputation which took the best part of the following century, and a fair chunk of Volkswagen change, to correct.
Despite its years in the doldrums, however, compiling a celebratory list of the firm's six most magnificent models is harder than you'd think. Without further ado, then, let's set about finding out why.
1100 OHC SPIDER
Where else to begin than with the one car on this list that PH has actually experienced first-hand? Just three 1100 OHC Spiders were ever built and, of the two left, only one is in working order. That's the car we took for a spin on a sodden day at Bicester Heritage, the 8,500rpm redline of its 93hp 1,089cc in-line four irresistible despite the machine's incredible value.
A hair-raising historic today, the 1100 OHC was a state of the art race winner in period. Having tasted victory on its debut, it secured back-to-back one-twos in the contests that followed and, despite only being allowed to compete behind the Iron Curtain, went on to enjoy an illustrious career. An outright win against more powerful opposition at the 1959 Leningrad Grand Prix would be its crowning glory, though the culmination of its racing days certainly wasn't the end of its story.
OCTAVIA vRS WRC
Skoda's road-going performance vRS range has won itself plenty of fans over the past two decades, often offering cheaper but no less cheerful access to the hot-hatch heroics of VW's GTI-badged cars. It all kicked off in 2001, with the launch of the Octavia vRS, a 180hp, body-kitted take on the marque's somewhat staid saloon.
Just one year on the limited-run WRC edition arrived, celebrating a century of Skoda motorsport with 100 specially styled cars. Painted in Candy White with optional race car-aping graphics, the WRC Limited Edition also featured white 17-inch alloys, xenon headlights, heated front seats and a CD autochanger. There were no performance modifications, unfortunately, although the vRS was hardly lacking in that department to begin with. Only 25 right-hand drive examples were sold in the UK at £20,700 a piece, a significant premium over the standard vRS. As a rare throwback to the origins of Skoda's now-celebrated performance division, the WRC more than earns its place on our list.
SKODA 110 SUPERSPORT
We've had a racer and a road car, but how about something that never quite made it to production? A world in which Skoda builds mid-engined sports cars seems like quite a strange one, but that was the plan with the 110 Supersport. Unveiled at the 1972 Brussels Motor Show, the 110 Supersport was an entirely new design, with a custom chassis, fibreglass bodywork and plans for a new 1.5-litre engine.
With a jet fighter-style canopy in lieu of doors, six pop-up headlights that spanned the width of the nose and sixteen (16!) round taillights, inspired by the boosters on a rocket, it was unconventional to say the least. Needless to say, the manufacturer's intentions for a limited production run were never realised, although the car did get its moment in the sun. Nearly a decade after its inception, it starred as the title character in the sci-fi horror film, Ferat Vampire, about a race car which ran on its driver's blood.
In order to play this demonic Brum the headlights were replaced with more conventional items, a black and red paint scheme was applied, and a large rear wing and 15-inch gold BBS wheels were fitted. It's in this guise which the 110 Supersport has remained ever since.
SKODA 130 RS A5
Known as 'The Porsche of the East', the Skoda 130 RS is a legend of Czechoslovakian motorsport. Before you scoff, though, you ought to know that its rear-mounted 1.3-litre four-pot was good for upwards of 140hp, while its sweet handling made it adept at all manner of motorsports. Having claimed the top three positions in the table in its first season of domestic racing, it went on to beat the likes of BMW, Ford and Audi when it won the 1981 European Touring Car Championship. It also won its class at the 1977 Monte Carlo Rally, as well as finding success in hillclimbing.
The version you see before you, the 130 RS A5, was an experimental model designed not just as a racer but also to assist in the development of future Skoda race cars. As such it featured revisions including rear-mounted radiators, which necessitated a much wider body; downforce-generating fibreglass bodywork, which came with three variants of wing depending on the quality of tarmac on which it was racing; and an all-aluminium 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine. This produced 186hp at 8,500rpm and 120lb ft of torque at 7,500rpm, propelling the whale-tailed machine to a top speed of 155mph.
SKODA FABIA R5
It may not boast the classic curio appeal of some others on this list, but four consecutive WRC2 constructors titles, as well as a host of victories in rally championships around the globe, deserve respect. Not only did the Fabia R5 pick up where its much-loved S2000 predecessor left off when it arrived in 2015, but it has gone on to become one of the most successful rally cars ever built.
So successful, in fact, that last year it beat every other car in this list in a fan vote to find 'The Greatest Skoda Ever'. Up to that point it had amassed a staggering 788 overall victories, 1,796 podiums and 6,344 individual stage wins from 5,052 starts in 1,750 events. With a turbocharged four-cylinder engine sending 285hp and 310lb ft of torque to all four wheels via a five-speed manual sequential transmission, the Fabia R5 can hit 62mph from a standstill in around four seconds on almost any surface. And best of all it's available as a customer car, a snip at £160,000.
With cars like Skoda's rear-engined, rear-wheel drive Group B 130 LR, the Koni, Girling and Porsche fettled 180/200 RS, and the Stig Blomqvist-driven Felicia Kit Car not making the cut, the final entrant on this list is going to have to be pretty special indeed. But then a land speed record is always pretty special, isn't it?
On Friday August 19th 2011, Skoda celebrated a decade of vRS by sending an Octavia across Utah's famous Bonneville Salt Flats at record-breaking pace. The unique 'Salt Spec' car put out over 600hp thanks to work carried out by Skoda UK and Revo Technik, yet retained a good deal of its original parts. So while its 2.0-litre TSI engine did receive uprated conrods, intake, exhaust and cooling systems, as well as an enormous Garrett GT3562R turbocharger, the block, pistons, valves, cams, crankshaft, head gasket, coil packs and ECU were all standard.
The vRS transmission was swapped for the longer-ratioed gearbox from a diesel Octavia Greenline, while 80mm-lower adjustable dampers, specialised rims wearing bespoke Goodyear Eagle Bonneville tyres and a parachute rounded out the mods. A top speed of 227.080mph was the result, enough to smash the previous 2.0-litre forced induction production benchmark of 216mph, and earn Skoda yet another place in the annals of motoring history.
Through a series of historic, touring, rally, and land speed champions, then, as well as the odd road car or two, Skoda hasn't done too badly over the past 125 years. With fewer political constraints on its ability, it may even have achieved a good deal more. But regardless of its past the brand looks to have a bright future. So while cars as we know them may not be around another century and a quarter from now, we wouldn't bet against finding a Skoda badge on the nose of whatever it is that's getting people from A to B.