Skoda Rapid Coupe

Back in 1981, Skoda was a Communist producer pumping rear-engined saloons out of Czechoslovakia factories to the amusement to the western world. We've all heard the jokes, and the only relief was when we all pointed our fingers at a Lada instead. Indeed, Skoda Rapid was considered an oxymoron to those who wouldn't stoop to riding in one.

Of course, some of the comments levelled at Skoda might have been deserved; by the 1980's a lot of the technology involved in putting them together still dated back to the 1960's, and the whole idea of an engine in the rear driving the wheels was laughable. Who the hell could pull up at home, open the bonnet and take out the family shopping? Christ, most Englishmen (or rather, their housewives) would die of embarrasment.

In fact, the idea of a serious rear-engined, rear wheel drive vehicle was ridiculous. Sure, it's good enough for the charmingly laughable Fiat 126p, but the only truly driveable car available to the consumer in 1984 was the Porsche 911; a sports car within the financial grasp of just enough people to earn itself a reputation as a seriously enjoyable driving experience. Hanging onto its coat-tails then, those plucky few Skoda Rapids that made it off the forecourt were quickly dubbed the Poor Man's Porsche. Weighing in at 840kg, 58bhp was enough to get wheelspin, and the Block from the Bloc still has a firm following amongst purist and tuners alike, being as much a joy to throw around corners sideways as its sturdy Stuttgart sister. And remember, Porsche is just the dark horse of Volkswagen, the company who have succesfully stripped all the emotion out of Skoda in the last 18 years.

This particular Rapid I found whilst desperately trying to get away from Bemowo, and seeing it's plastic-bumpered posterior put a wry grin on my face. It's one of the later facelift models, which saw the powertrain overhauled and, more drastically, the dumping of traditional Commie frogeyes for the Estelle's chunky block headlights. Whether or not this is a 130, 135 or 136 is not really an issue, as the difference amounts to four horsepower, a pittance of torque and probably some plastic bits of trim 3mm wider somewhere, which some pedant will eventually point out to me unasked. Considering how many of each model were made though, and that Poland back then was a cheap as chips state, chances are this is the bog-standard 130.

If you squint at the pics, someone's deliberately removed the Skoda badge from the front, and they had been properly removed from the back too. You'd almost think that someone was embarrased to own a Skoda, and I'd much rather think it's so that the car could have a respray from a loving owner instead. But then, ho ho, of course it's had a repspray, it's 20-odd years old and was held together with chewing gum from the start. Oh, you wit. Tell me another.

And then, once you've wiped the spittle from the corners of your mouth and slapped your mate on the back for a joke well told, remember that the Rapid name has pedigree, winning the 1936 Monte Carlo back when Porsche could only make glorified Beetles. And even if they did rust, and couldn't normally hold their own against their technologically advanced western brethren, or weren't that endowned engine-wise, there's no need to go denying a motor like this of the admiring nod it deserves. A Skoda Rapid is a wonderful take on the Coupe form, and in burgundy red it demands recognition in exactly the way modern Skodas don't.