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Skoda Estelle

Published: 10th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Buyer Beware

  • Front wings can rust quite badly. They bolt on and are easy to replace, but rust usually spreads into the flange where they bolt to the inner wings so you still have to get the welder out.
  • Sills are no better and no worse than any other car so check both inners and outers. While you are underneath, pay particular attention to the area where the rear suspension bolts on.
  • Vinyl roofs can be bad news - look for bubbling up where the metal below has started to rust.
  • This can go along the front edge, moving the windscreen rubber and breaking its seal. Repair is very involved and - like many body-related repairs on these cars - may outstrip its value.
  • The check straps on the doors can break, allowing the front door to swing open against the front wing. In extreme cases this can distort the A-pillar, but a crease down the front of the door is more likely.The liners in the engine can move, allowing water to get sucked into the cylinders. Look for white smoke from the exhaust and signs of engine and oil mixing, but don’t be too quick to condemn the engine - a lot of cars have been used only for the occasional short shopping trip and white mush under the oil filler cap may only be the result of condensation building up as the engine never gets truly hot.
  • If the coolant is just water and contains no antifreeze, then either there is a problem with water loss or the owner is a real tightwad. Either way, be very suspicious.
  • Cast iron heads can crack, leading to poor running and overheating. The 1289cc engines seem worse in this respect than their 1174cc brothers. The bigger engines are also less tolerant of skimming.
  • Driveshaft oil seals can leak: look for oil tracking down the shaft and squeeze the boot to make sure that isn’t full of oil.
  • The back seats are particularly prone to decay, especially along the top. It can be difficult to find good replacements in the exact pattern you want, so be prepared to change the whole interior if necessary.
  • Finding decent front lights can be tricky - the car in our pictures had been changed to Ford Capri units because of this.

Fast Facts

  • Driving: 3/5

    Fun in a rustic sort of way and no worries if driven sensibly

  • Usability: 3/5

    Durable and practical - a good everyday cheap classic

  • Maintaining: 3/5

    Not bad at all and parts are freely available. Lots to do…

  • Owning: 3/5

    If you can stand the jokes ok. We see it as a second classic though

  • Value: 3/5

    Hardly expensive but you’ll never be sitting on an investment

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From pensioners' economy shopping trolley to championship-winning rally car, there is a Skoda for every occasion. So why not give a two-fingered salute to public opinion and re-discover the fun to be had from driving something different that won't break the bank says Simon Goldsworthy?

You may only think of them as jokes on wheels but Skoda has a long and rich history, one that goes back to a duo called Laurin & Klement who built their first motorbike in 1898 and their first car in 1905. The Skoda company themselves first ventured into series car production in 1925, building the Hispano- Suiza under licence. It also took over Laurin & Klement that same year to break into volume production. Through the 1930s Skoda made a comprehensive range of cars that were competent and well-designed rather than radical, although it did make good use of all-round independent suspension as early as 1933. Indeed, it’s not an exaggeration to say that early Skodas were BMWs of their day. After WW2 and the Czechs falling to communist rule, Skodas became downmarket transportation. The same basic layout with engine up front and a tubular backbone chassis continued after WW2 right up to 1964, when a new factory was built alongside the old one for a new generation of car. This was the 1000MB with a water-cooled 988cc engine in the tail and a monocoque body. In 1969 it was re-styled as the S100, gaining front disc brakes along with other refinements. A 2+2 Rapid Coupe followed in 1970. In 1976 the model evolved once again into the Estelle with a squared-off body. In many ways technically out-dated by this time, the Skoda sold well in Britain by offering owners a family-sized car at a bargain basement price with similar running economy. The butt of many a cheap joke, most owners were able to see beyond these and appreciated their car’s rugged design and no-frills honesty. Others were perhaps captivated by the company’s consistent rally successes, and have developed similar vehicles and achieved quite remarkable performance gains of their own. The Estelle and Rapid range may only gradually be becoming accepted in the wider classic car community, but that doesn’t bother most of the converted and you are unlikely to find a more fanatical fan base for any other marque, whatever the badge on its bonnet.

Which model to buy?

The 105 cars with just 1046cc are definitely on the underpowered side, while the 120 cars are a good compromise between longevity and performance. The 1289cc engine is marginally more likely to suffer from head gasket problems, but it is still a reliable motor and given a choice, most owners prefer to have its better power and torque and risk the reliability. The more stylish Rapid coupe is not endowed with earth-shattering power, but it did introduce a muchimproved suspension as well as precise rack and pinion steering and these cars can be hustled along the back roads with surprising ease with handling traits not unlike those of a Porsche 911 – but at much less cost. These improvements did filter down through the saloon range, so later cars are generally better if you like to press on - in safety. A five-speed gearbox was introduced with the 130 Rapid. This became a standard fitment in the 120GLS and 120LX, as well as the newly introduced 130L saloon that borrowed both the latest Rapid suspension as well as its servo-assisted dual circuit brakes. But don’t worry too much about the spec you find, as many details can be lifted from one car to another. More important is the cut-off date of 1984, when the rear suspension was revised from swinging halfshafts to semi-trailing arms. Upgrading the earlier cars is possible but very involved, so, if you want the best handler, you are much better off looking for the later car in the first place. Prices are finally on the up for these Skodas as they become harder to find. That is still relative though, and £300-500 will get you a runner. The ceiling is around £1500, even though some owners spend far more than this on tuning modifications, so there are some great buys out there. Most of them come up either on eBay or through the Skoda Owners’ Club.

Behind the wheel?

You’re unlikely to find a more fanatical fan base

The doors have thick seals and need a hefty pull to shut fully. The furnishings are naturally rather low rent, as you would expect from a vehicle that was sold throughout the world on price as well as reliability. The seat fabrics have a nylon feel while the dash is very black and very functional - almost Germanic in its styling. The controls are generally big and slightly clunky, an example of east European over-engineering that contrast markedly with the compact dials. The pedals are massively offset to the centre of the car, something that feels unnatural initially but which you soon get used to. As with most rear-engined cars, the steering is very light even without extras such as power assistance. It is never unnervingly light though, and the use of a steering rack on later cars helps keep it reasonably precise. The only thing that can catch out the uninitiated is the way that side winds can provoke a wiggle, an inevitable consequence of having more weight behind the vehicle’s centre point. In normal driving, the earlier suspension is fine, but the revised set-up is much more stable at the (admittedly lowly) limit. It is more comfortable too, with different spring rates and greater travel to soak up the bumps. Both four and five-speed gearboxes share the same first three ratios, but the five-speeder comes into its own as it reduces noise considerably. The change is a little bit woolly, but generally foolproof. The gate is quite narrow though, so it is possible to mix up third and fifth, or first and third, particularly as it can be quite a stretch forward to reach them. The brakes are good on all models, two-pot callipers on the lower spec cars and even better servo-assisted four-pots on Rapids and 130s.In standard trim, the larger engines have enough power to be fun, although you have to work the gears to make the most of it. The 105 cars though can be painfully slow in modern traffic so be warned.

Ease of Ownership?

In standard trim Skodas can be fun

Parts supply is still very good. A lot of the best stuff comes from the Czech Republic, where it is still on factors’ shelves. That includes both tuning and standard gear, and club members make regular shopping trips so getting it back here rarely takes too long. And as an added bonus, the cars are generally easy to work on with good access and generous-sized bolts and fixings. You can even have the engine out in an hour without the use of specialist lifting equipment, making it even easier to work on. But they are not a modern fit-and-forget design: pre-1984 models came with a 3000-mile oil change recommendation from Skoda (1984-on cars had this extended to 6000 miles). Also at 3000 miles you should lubricate the water pump, fuel pump filter, clean and re-gap the points, lubricate the distributor, the clutch release bearing and the kingpins (one nipple on each side). In truth that sounds more onerous than it is, but the Skoda is a reliable and rugged car if cared for properly - cheapskate owners who skimped on servicing did it a great disservice by developing a reputation for fragility. There is also a lot of second-hand stuff available at almost giveaway prices. A good number of it is interchangeable across the years, but there are minor differences that can catch out the unwary so don’t be afraid to ask those in the know what can and can’t be used on your car.

Daily driver?

The two-door Rapid Coupe is strictly a 2+2, but all Estelles are four-door saloons and access to all seats is good. They are a decent size too, with loads of head and elbow room up front. Rear seat passengers sit slightly higher but adults can still get comfortable enough, the upright sides and generous glass area only emphasising the feeling of space. The boot is situated up front, of course! Odd but the sideways opening bootlid is a clever idea that allows you to load it from either the front or the side. The luggage compartment itself is rather awkwardly shaped for things like suitcases, but it is reasonably generous if your luggage is packed into smaller bags. There is another large storage space behind the rear seats, harder to access but great for holding all the stuff you rarely need but which normally clogs up the boot. Czech winters can be frigid and their summers roasting, so the Estelle enjoys both good heating and cooling. It has great grip in the snow too with the weight over the rear wheels, and a heated rear screen for those winter mornings (Skoda joke: to keep your hands warm when pushing). The wipers are efficient two-speed affairs, and there is even an intermittent option on some models! Running costs are generally very low, and on a daily basis, 30-35mpg is attainable. Insurance should fall into the classic car category too, although the car won’t fall into the tax free VED zone.

Timelines

1964

New monocoque four-seater saloon emerges from a new factory in Mlada Boleslav. Called the 1000MB, water-cooled 988cc OHV engine is located in the tail (with the dreaded swing axles for ‘interesting’ handling). Enlarged to 1107cc for the 1100MB of 1967.

1969

Re-styled S100, S100L and S110L take over with new dual circuit brakes, front discs and revised front suspension. New S110R 2+2 coupe with 52bhp and a promise of a rousing 90 mph is added to the range the following year and continued in service until 1980.

1976

1981

The long-running S110R coupe (which did quite well in motorsport) is replaced by a similar package modelled on the Estelle and called the Rapid in the UK. This employs a new rear suspension design with semi-trailing arms and swing axlesplus enjoys rack and pinion steering instead of an old style steering box.

1983

The Estelle is mildly facelifted with revised trim and detailing. The 120 also gets a range of improvements including both a wider track and rack and pinion steering (a handling package was also made optional in the UK during the 1970s). At the same time, an intensive programme is launched to find a successor to the range.

1984

The 130 Rapid (1289cc) is introduced with 58bhp, further suspension revisions and a five-speed gearbox. This gearbox also becomes a standard fitment in the 120GLS and 120LX, as well as the newly introduced 130L saloon that borrows both the latest Rapid suspension as well as its servo-assisted dual circuit brakes.

1988

The Rapid gains fuel injection and a threeway catalytic converter to create the 135 Ric. Both this and normally-aspirated 136 Rapid (1987-1990) sport a highly sought after eight port alloy cylinder head instead of the other cars’ five port cast iron affair (classic status?). Production of the frontengined Favorit begins.

1989

Under control of VAG in 1990, Skoda introduces the conventional Favorit and Estelle bowed out. The ever-improving Rapid coupe followed in 1990 after it became a fairly respectable sporting coupe with Porsche 911 handling tendencies but at much less cost!

We Reckon...

If your mind is already closed to the idea of a Skoda being either fun or a genuine classic, then nothing is going to change that view. But if you are willing to look at the cars with an open mind, then you will be amazed at how much fun you can have without breaking the bank, driving a car that is delightfully different to the crowd.



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