Sunday, June 24, 2012
The Skoda Octavia is a Czech motoring icon
IT HIT me as I pulled a fistful of Koruna out of my pocket to pay for the enormous glass of Pilsner. Prague, thanks to public transport that’s second to none, doesn’t really need the car.
During my three days in the Czech capital last week it struck me that the central European city’s a cracking holiday destination largely because it’s very pretty, almost everyone speaks English and the beer’s very cheap. However, the added bonus is that everything is linked up to everything else using a mind bogglingly comprehensive spaghetti of trams, buses, boats and underground trains.
Praguers, then, don’t really need to drive, but when they do they almost always go for the same car. The Skoda Octavia.
You might think Skoda’s mid-range offering is fairly unremarkable but on the bustling streets of Prague they’re everywhere – the taxi drivers swear by them, every police patrol vehicle is an Octavia vRS and every other parking space for miles around is filled with the Czech company’s finest. True, Skoda offers value for money like few other car companies but you just couldn't imagine Londoners taking up say, the Rover 75, with anything like the same vigour.
There are even a couple of horrors within the pages of this uniquely Czech success story – I couldn’t help but take a picture of a navy blue model some colourblind yoof had decked out with yellow alloys, silver door handles and green bumpers!
The Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy fan in me had secretly hoped every alley in Prague would be littered with Eastern Bloc oddities from the bad old days, but all I found were Octavias. In fact, I had to venture all the way to the city’s technical museum to get a glimpse of the old school Skodas and Tatras – idiosyncratic, rear-engined offerings which you were allocated largely on your standing within the communist party. They’re fascinating footnotes from the country’s industrial past but the museum pieces are just that – exhibits, which looked all the more obsolete because they were displayed alongside decadent, capitalist classics like Jaguars and BMWs from the same era.
In fact, it was only towards the end of my trip I tracked down a proper socialist saloon – a Trabant, which I know is of East German origin but would have been a common sight here a generation ago. Yet just as you’re more likely to see a branch of KFC than a Soviet tank in central Prague in these days, so the Trabbie, intriguing though it was, looked a bit ridiculous in a city that’s long since turned its back on the bad old days.
Naturally, it was parked next to a modern motor I’d much rather drive. A Skoda Octavia.