The lightness of being
First there was bad luck. Then there was bad luck. And when the then still Czechoslovakian “Volkswagen” was finally on the market, it was actually already obsolete again. Skoda, then still AZNP, would have liked to have started development shortly after the Second World War, but there were shortages everywhere, so for the time being there was Spartak and Octavia. It was not until 1956 that the specifications could be written, and from 1957 onwards the first prototypes were built. Why the decision was made in favour of the 977 project with a rear engine and rear-wheel drive is somewhat obscure; at that time there were already more modern interpretations, also with a front engine and front-wheel drive. When the 1000 MB (for Mlada Boleslav) finally went into production in 1964 in a purpose-built factory, it was certainly no longer ahead of its time.
Let’s not misunderstand each other here: The Skoda 1000 MB and all its successors were very good cars. Not only in comparison to other Eastern European products. Self-supporting body, independent front suspension on unequal-length double wishbones with coil springs and a transverse stabiliser, a completely newly developed four-cylinder with overhead valves operated by rocker arms, side camshaft, crankshaft mounted only three times. The power of the 1-litre engine was initially stated as 42-SAE hp; the version with two Jikov carburettors came to 46 real hp. And later there was also 1.1 litre displacement. The engine was mounted at an angle of 30 degrees behind the rear axle, to the left of which was the water radiator, the effect of which could be regulated via a radiator louvre from inside the car.
The five-year plan called for the production of 600 units per day. After a few teething problems, this was achieved and even surpassed, with the one millionth unit being delivered in 1973. The Skoda 1000 MB (and from 1969 100/110) were also exported diligently, well over 100’000 units went to the GDR; there it was cheaper than the technically inferior Wartburg, thus something like a dream car. In the early 1970s, A.P. Glättli in Dietlikon was the importer and offered the basic version for 6550 Swiss francs; a Beetle 1200 cost 6320 Swiss francs.
Our specimen is actually a very well-behaved Skoda 100 from 1970, by far the most frequently built variant. Back then, you took what you could get – technical and optical improvements could still be made later. And that’s what the first owner did. It’s no longer possible to trace the individual tuning measures so precisely. What is known, however, is that it is one of the very few unwelded examples; rust was one of the biggest problems with these vehicles.
The four-cylinder growls nicely as we drive it up the hill; yes, there are definitely more than the official 48 horses at work. But there are also only just over 800 kilos to move. The paths through the four-speed gearbox are long and not really well defined, but you soon get used to that. It also brakes very decently, the Dunlop disc brakes introduced on the 100/110 represented a significant advance over the drum brakes fitted to the early models. The (non-original) sports seats also offer decent lateral support, which is necessary because the Skoda leans heavily to one side at speed.
In general, the handling is not entirely unproblematic. Which is understandable, given the rear engine, rear-wheel drive and swinging rear axle. And so, during our short drive, the rear end starts to overtake more than once, without much notice. This can be corrected relatively easily with counter-steering, the Skoda is not overpowered, all this happens in speed ranges that can be reached with modern vehicles in a car park. But you have to be alert as a driver, otherwise it can go wrong; we love it when not everything is electronically controlled, when you can still influence the driving behaviour of the vehicle yourself.
Seen in this light, the 50-year-old Skoda offers a very pleasing degree of driving pleasure – and shows once again that even inexpensive classics are almost more fun to drive than modern bullets. They are, however, very rare to find in this country, these Czechoslovak “Volkswagens” that once really did motorise an entire nation. And they are still loved there today. By the way, the Skoda was also a film star: in the film version of the bestseller “The Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera, it plays the main automotive role.
Technical data: Skoda 100 L (1970)
4-cylinder in-line engine, 988 cm3, 35 kW/48 hp at 4750 rpm, 73.5 Nm at 3000 rpm, compression ratio 8.3:1, Jikov carburettors, manual 4-speed gearbox, rear-wheel drive, consumption approx. 6.8 l/100 km, 0-100 m/h approx. 24 s, top speed 125 km/h, L/W/H 4155/1620/1380 mm, wheelbase 2400 mm, boot capacity (total) 370 l, kerb weight 805 kg.
Price 6950 francs (1970, base model 6550 francs).
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