Skoda Favorit 135

On the huddled estate I live on, there's a muddy path worn between two disconnected lengths of paving, as if two building teams started at each end of the neighbourhood, but never quite met up. It's a barren bit of ground, so overshadowed by trees in the summer and frosted over in winter that nothing grows there. It's just a forgotten little clump of brown in the patchwork greyness of my neighbourhood.

Surrounded by such drabness and the steady rhythmic plodding, my mind numbs itself to its surroundings. In that state I don't pay attention to the German saloons and old Fiats dumped for the night in the neighbouring car park, especially on early mornings when I'm already late for work. They're such familiar features that they get filtered out, and it wasn't until, from the corner of my eye. one tiny difference made itself known to my morning brain and I registered for the first time what exactly I was seeing.

The Skoda Favorit is the kind of car you pass day in, day out, without ever really noticing what it is. It was a forgettable little patch in the company's history, and barely made a splash in the motoring world as a whole, being just another cheap hatchback in an already bloated market that offered nothing new to Western consumers. It bore the same angular profile as many of its contemporaries, with its only feature of note is the flying arrow badge on the bonnet.

But for its parent company, it was a revolution; this was the first front-engined front-wheel-drive car Skoda had made, and for a small state-owned manufacturer it was a remarkably tidy effort, with none of the quirks typically found in Communist design bodgery. The original conception was presented as far back as 1982, but typical committee tardiness over the specifications delayed the project by five whole years while it continued to pump out the same tired variations of the Skoda 105 despite their dwindling sales. By the middle of the decade it was inevitable that the old cars had to be replaced, and fingers were finally pulled out, machines installed, and in 1987 the first Favorits left the factories to, well, not much applause at all, really.

The hatchback concept had become formulaic by the late Eighties; angular cabins with snub noses were available from any number of Japanese and European brands at the time, with little more than the shape of the headlights determining which particular marque had made any particular motor. The only real variation for the Favorit was the particularly chunky C-pillar that hinted at something more to the car, especially parked alongside a ZAZ Tavria, which is of exactly the same vintage. And yet the Skoda's styling came from the pen of the Bertone group, one of the world's most famous designers of sports cars.

The dowside of these early Favorits, despite the hearty mechanicals and Italian coachwork, was the factory process that still harped back to the older rear-engined Skodas. With Communism in its death throes there was very little incentive to modernise anything about the production process, and the first generation of Favorits to leave the line (including this one) suffered from a flurry of mechanical ticks that made them occasionally unreliable. The carbureted engines never really broke down, but the overall flimsiness of the cars turned high-speed driving into a spirited experience. But for all this, the Favorit was a hearty little motor, and its estate sister, the Forman, added a whole new level of urban practicality to the platform.

The ability to meet Western standards, even if they couldn't exceed them, made Skoda that much more attractive to foreign investment come the Communist collapse, and in 1990 the firm was bought outright by those vampires at Volkswagen who latched on to the Favorit with unbound enthusiasm. While binning all the rest of Skoda's range, the car Favorit instead received a reverential treatment, continuing for another four years with a host of sympathetic upgrades including fuel injection and catalytic converters to add a bit of German efficiency to their new acquisition.

The Favorit is an an important bridge linking the tired and ridiculed cars of the Communist era to the post-buyout Volkswagen-derived Fabia. In and of itself it's no technical masterpiece, treading the same worn path as all the other manufacturers of its time, but as Skoda's last unique model before being swallowed by VAG, it's a car that doesn't deserve to go unnoticed.