THIS is a story of style over substance. A battle won not so much on the production line, in the design studio or out on the test track, but in the hearts and minds of the great (or not so great) buying public. Skoda is a brand that people usually recognise for one of two reasons: the excellence of its current model range, or a tired comedy routine from the 1980s. Bring two generations of Skoda together though and it’s clear to see that the company hasn’t changed all that much – just the general perception of its products.
This 1964 Octavia is the epitome of family motoring of the era. Still only a two-door saloon when such things were still the norm, its styling is as distinctive now as it was then – the contemporary MkI Ford Cortina is a dull box in comparison. A curious mix of American influences and Eastern European quirkiness, the Octavia has presence on the road. Unlike many cars of this age it doesn’t feel too small for modern motoring, with its high driving position and a long wheelbase for its dimensions – styling cues which are employed regularly in modern designs.
On the inside the Octavia is blessed with some wonderful Art-Deco touches, yet some of the switchgear seems strangely modern: perhaps because some of it stayed in use for many years afterwards. While everything lies where you might expect it to, piloting this 50-year old machine requires a mixture of delicacy and brute strength that takes some acclimatisation. The 1221cc four-cylinder petrol unit delivers a sufficient 47bhp, and while the performance is hardly thrilling by modern standards, it is more than enough considering the technology supplied to handle it.
The brakes, although hydraulic, are the period standard of drums all round, while the total weight is just shy of a metric tonne. So stopping requires a firm press of the middle pedal, well in advance and with a degree of faith, while cornering is far more exciting than appearances would suggest. Up front there are double wishbones but at the rear there are swing axles, noted for their propensity to roll into oversteer. So corners taken at anything above modest speeds turn into an adventure, as the soft, tall rubber allows the Octavia to loll sideways. In truth this is nothing uncommon for a car of this age, but what it does do is illustrate just what drivers got as standard back in the 1950s.
Of course, there are no such surprises as you ease yourself into the modern Octavia. This 2.0 TDI L&K model, named after Laurin and Klement who were the fathers of the Skoda brand, is packed with the kind of kit that would have seemed space-age 50 years ago. Its styling is contemporary and discreet rather than distinctive, but it makes much better use of its footprint than the VW Group rivals it shares it with. It wears its genes with pride however, and the distinctive Skoda badge and strong, square radiator grille are becoming ever bolder on modern Skodas. Proof if it was needed that the brand is moving forward.
Like the original Octavia, it offers everything any reasonable human being could require from a car, plus a few wants too. The 2.0-litre diesel unit is smooth and responsive yet delivers fuel economy the original could only dream of, while the DSG transmission is so sophisticated that even modern brains have trouble understanding it. The cabin is a similar tale of faultless dependability, and while it may not have the character of age that the original has in spades, details like the font used for the instruments and the prominent badge on the steering wheel are a constant reminder that this is a product with a rich and colourful heritage.
Skoda Octavia Super Skoda Octavia 2.0 TDI L&K Estate
Price £610 (Combi estate – 1964) £22,045
Engine 1.2-litre 4-cyl petrol 2.0-litre 4-cyl diesel
Power 47bhp 138bhp
Top Speed 74mph 127mph