By on October 2, 2017

Image: 1985 Skoda 120 GLS, via sellerLate last week, on our Rare Rides entry for the Renault Alliance GTA, commenter scott25 alerted me to a Skoda he spotted on Kijiji (which is what eBay is called in Canada or something). As most people in North America have likely never seen a Skoda, this odd little sedan should do nicely as today’s Rare Ride.

Come along, comrades.

Image: 1985 Skoda 120 GLS, via seller

If this bright red Skoda looks a little archaic, that’s because it is. Strolling onto the world market back in 1976, the Skoda 120 (known as the Estelle in other markets) rode on the same platform as its predecessor, the 110, which debuted in 1969. Going against the natural grain for sedans, the 120 is rear-engined and rear-drive. Most are familiar with this sporting layout in the Porsche 911, though there are a few differences between this and the Porsche.

Popular enough around the world to keep it going, the 120 soldiered on until the end of the Cold War — the last one rolled off the line in 1990. A welcome relief for Toyota, which had just introduced the Lexus LS400 that year. Imagine the sales fight which surely would have ensued.

Image: 1985 Skoda 120 GLS, via sellerThe United States did receive one Skoda, the pretty little Felicia back in 1960, but U.S. customers quickly saw to its withdrawal. Unreliability and fuel frugality were of little interest at the time (oh, how things change). Canada however, had a more long-lasting relationship with the Skoda brand. Between 1982 and 1989, a company called SkoCar imported Skoda and various other Eastern Bloc brands into Canada. SkoCar catered to the interesting customer who rejected the fragile Accord for a rough and ready Czech sedan.

Image: 1985 Skoda 120 GLS, via sellerBut don’t think all Skoda customers suffered in their Red Flag Rides, for our 120 today is the aspirational GLS trim. As you can see, this Skoda has an interior, and a glove box which aligns perfectly. For 1985, the GLS was the highest trim available in sedan guise.

Image: 1985 Skoda 120 GLS, via sellerA 1.1-liter inline-four provides the power here, and it sure looks refined. The five-speed manual was a new addition for the ’84 model year, and drivers could barely keep traction with 54 thundering Communist ponies in the trunk. There’s no photo of the side-hinged front trunk in the listing, but it’s huge.

Canada gets salty sometimes, so the seller provided shots of the undercarriage — all appears clean and tidy. Located in suburban downtown Canada, the owner is asking $8,000, and I bet that’s pretty negotiable.

[Images via seller]

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43 Comments on “Rare Rides: This Skoda 120 From 1985 is Red, Like the Communism That Built It...”

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Well the Czechs should know about rear engined vehicles, after all didn’t Dr Porsche steal his design from them?

    The Skoda was considered a superior vehicle to the Romanian Dacia which we also imported and which I believe did have a side hinged bonnet/hood.

    Both were trying to cash in on the sale success that Lada was experiencing around that time in Canada.

    • 0 avatar

      Dacias were always old Renault8s and 12s, while Skoda designed their own cars. It’d be fun in a non-conformist sort of way; take it to a PCA meeting and see if you get treated better than the Boxter owners.

    • 0 avatar

      As a Romanian born I can tell you that I’ve experienced both. I drove a Dacia many times in the mid to late 90s when I went back to visit. I never drove a Skoda but took a few rides in one when I was very young in early 80s. Skoda really dissapeared from the Romanian market by late 80s. Was the Skoda superior? From the reliability point of view? Yes. But much harder to find parts of course and more expensive. Also, during the winters which people were allowed to drive ( after 1986 or so the authorities would ban winter driving from December 1 to April 1) people didn’t want to drive the Skoda due to tail happy behavior in snow. A fwd Dacia would handle much better so dynamically no Skoda was not better. Also Skoda had a smaller motor. The Dacia had 1,3 cc hence the name Dacia 1300. Same HP though. Now, the car that blew both of them away was the Oltcit which was air cooled and made after the Citroen Visa. That was like comparing a Concorde with a Boeing 707. Biggest flaw of the Oltcit was availability of the 2 door only. Also impossible to find spark plugs and 20w50 summer oil.

  • avatar

    Škoda experts help me out to confirm or correct me, but I seem to remember one of the unusual features of these cars was an aluminum engine block with an iron head.

  • avatar

    I love it. I’m not enthralled with it (or my other Communist-built favorites, like the Lada Niva) because its from behind the Iron Curtain, but rather in spite of it.

    Very neat little car I’d be proud to drive. Not proud enough to pay $8k for it, mind you. Now, a Tatra T700 is another story. I would give a king’s ransom for my rear-mounted air-cooled V-8-powered luxury sedan.

    • 0 avatar

      Those are cool, I should write up a Tatra.

      • 0 avatar

        There is an old (2009) article on TTAC about them. I found it during my Google search (looking for an example for sale on this continent, a search that proved fruitless).

    • 0 avatar

      As much as I appreciated the air-cooled engine simplicity of my VW Beetle back in the day, the lack of meaningful heating and window defrosting just ruins the whole deal. Plus, I prefer to have the engine in front of me where it can do some good in the event of a collision.

      • 0 avatar

        Others have argued the opposite, as in that Tatra article I referenced, that not having the engine intruding into the cabin (in a front end collision) was better. But, you can just as well be rear-ended at a high speed, so its a wash.

        I just love the novelty of it, and the stand-out looks of the T700. Plus, every one built had a manual trans! Would I rather crash in a 7-Series/S-Class? Well, yeah, but I’d still love a T700 regardless.

        • 0 avatar

          Nothing designed in the last 30 years is likely to have the engine enter the cabin anyway, probably 50+ years for the Germans and Swedes. And in any collision that bad, you are dead regardless.

      • 0 avatar

        The Skoda disn’t have an air-cooled engine. It was liquid cooled with a front mounted radiator and long lines. That’s the expansion tank over on the left in the engine picture.

        These cars were the butt of jokes over in the UK, but did very well in rallying being quite rugged – against most anything except road salt. Hardly much different from the Japanese cars of the era in that regard.

        The fact that they had a rear weight bias and swing axle suspension just like the VW Beetle of old made them a bit of a handful now and then. The minute the Wall came down, VW was on them like dirt on a blanket and Skoda became part of the VW empire. Skoda was much more than a car company, more known for armaments.

      • 0 avatar

        These were water-cooled. Rad in the front, motor in the back = LONG coolant lines

      • 0 avatar

        An engine block usually does something bad, not good in an accident. It is a huge mass of rigid iron that does not dissipate crash energy by crumpling. Many cars try to solve this by having the engine pushed down below the cabin in case of a crash.

  • avatar

    What a pretty little car. If only it weren’t so potentially nightmarish to own…

    But look! Real windows you can see out of in all directions!

  • avatar

    I remember there being a ton of these in Ottawa in the mid to late ’80s when I was in high school. In fact, a buddy of mine had a bright yellow one that was decked out with Cibie rally lights and cool mini lite wheels. This one is very clean underneath. The GTA doesn’t get a lot of snow or use a lot of salt. I think they all rusted away in the NCR by ’91.

    And Kijiji is like CL up here….although it is owned by ebay.

  • avatar

    These later iterations can’t hold a candle to previous versions regarding their looks. I still fondly remember my father’s 110R coupe. On the wrong side of the iron curtain it was, in it’s times, one of the more desirable cars a mere mortal, not in high regard with the local communist party outpost, could hope to own & drive.

  • avatar

    I took one trip East of the Wall before it fell.

    The plebes drove Trabbi.
    The upper middle class got Lada.
    Govt workers/cops/spies drove Lada
    We saw Skoda in Czech. Hungary was a mix of things.
    You didn’t see Skoda much in Germany, or Trabbi much in Czech. Communist Bloc nations practiced protectionism too….

    Interestingly, the East German Govt. Buildings were surrounded by VW Golf, and Mazdas (!), as the Communist Government would buy up fleets of cars from outside to alleviate the shortages of home made cars, but all the nice/high class for communism/ western cars ended up with the Apparatchiks.

    On my last trip east, the “East” cars have all been tossed, and everyone drives two-three generation old Western European cars. When Germany did cash for clunkers, ALL those cars “went East” instead of The Crusher.

    • 0 avatar

      The East Germans didn’t really make desirable cars as Eastern Europe goes. The Trabant was known as the “cardboard” car in Romania and the Wartburg equally sucked. They both used premix as fuel. A big blue puff followed them. Now, Skoda was a much better car. In Romania, the party members, doctors, higher ranked cops drove Ladas if possible, but pricy and hard to find. Now if you a had a Volga…wow…you were really high up or part of secret police..not sargent but Major and up.
      Hungary, Bulgaria and Albania didn’t make their own cars. Only DDR, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Romania and Russia of course. Why didn’t Bulgaria, Albania and Hungary built cars? Must have been some decision made by the Soviets. The Hungarians had some kick ass Ikarus busses though.

    • 0 avatar

      Also I forgot to mention that any black car, was pretty much untouchable by the local police. Black was a very powerful, feared color. Cops working traffic as a general rule, would not stop black cars because it could be a very nasty experience for them. It could mean a transfer from city cop to far away village in less than a week. Black cars generally speaking were not to be released to the public unless the owner was a cop but higher ranked, mid-high party members, or secret police. In weekends not all cars were allowed to be on the road…for fuel conservation purposes. Plates were ending in odd or even numbers. One weekend only odds could drive, one weekend evens. Normally family members liked to all have the same ending so they can go together to picnics or vacations.
      The process of buying a car was very tedious and we’ll controlled. A car was worth about 30 very good monthly salaries. Wait time for a car was 5 years unless won via car lottery. I think 30% was the required down payment in Romania. For the next 5 years one would make payments and then would get notification to pick up the car. That was a very joyful event in a Romanian man’s life. Some would say, it would equal the birth of a child. Depending where one resided in the country, there were two pick up points. That was an adventure in itself. Since black was untenable for most, white was probably the next sought after. The people at the car wearhouse were not sales people but attendants. In return for a carton of Marlboro, 3-4lbs of good West German coffee, or 1-2 pairs of Levi’s blue jeans, a nice “refused for export” Dacia could be had. These were truly special. It didn’t matter the colors . The cars had Varta batteries that would last 3-4 years instead of the Romanian 6 months battery. Also, it would have Renault-Champion spark plugs instead of Romanian crappy ones. Also, Fulda tires that would last 6-7 years instead of 1 for Romanian tires. There were other foreign parts in them that would make them immensely desirable. When people went back home with the new “baby” and told the neighbors it isn’t any regular Dacia, but an “export refusal”…wow…instant hero and at the same time feared as being a possible ” secret police informer”.

      • 0 avatar

        Very interesting stuff, man, thanks for sharing.

        (Not being sarcastic, in case anyone thinks that was my intention.)

      • 0 avatar

        Amazing, even a hierarchy there too. We were driving along a czech highway. We were amazed as they were almost as good as autobahns, but there was a speed limit. It was tolled so mostly empty. We passed a carload of middle aged males in a light colored Lada, and got serious looks. They looked like administrators, though not cops.

        We were driving an Opel Kadett.(Pontiac LeMans, but with a better engine and suspension)..there were still few western cars there.

  • avatar

    Comparing the build of even the basest Golf the East Germans bought to the Ladas….well, you know….

    • 0 avatar

      No doubt about that at all. I spent the summer of ’92 in Budapest. Bought a Trabant, got to drive about all of the Commie cars thanks to friends of the friend I was staying with. But by far, the nicest car I drove all summer was a plain old 52hp 1.6l non-turbo Jetta diesel. Compared to the Eastern Block cars, it was a rocket powered limousine. Owned by RICH (for Hungary in ’92) friends of my friends and driven by their very hot college age daughter. Since I didn’t drink, I quickly became the DD for the whole summer.

  • avatar

    I remember seeing these on the road, but I had no idea they were rear-engined!

  • avatar

    Finland got a handful of Canadian spec cars when the importer (SkoCar?) folded. They were apparently fitted with a cat and Renix fuel injection to pass local emissions regulations.

    Obviously the Skoda dealer network can’t source any parts for these but the local Mopar guy probably can. It might take a while to convince him that his XJ Cherokee parts will fit your little commie car.

  • avatar

    Great find again.
    How many hours a week do you spend looking for these vehicles?

    • 0 avatar

      Most the time I see them in feeds online, or someone sends one along. I only have to spend time looking if I have a particular one I want to cover that week.

      And I save those special ones for when there’s a dearth of others I’ve seen.

      • 0 avatar

        Corey, ran across this one (Honda Z600), looks to be in nice condition and he took some pretty good pics! I’d love to make it mine. The price, assuming he didn’t forget a digit, is extremely reasonable.

  • avatar

    Not only is it rear engined, the front trunklid opens sideways;

  • avatar

    I learnt to drive on Skoda 120.
    It cost 60 000 KCS= 3000 CAD, 8000 CAD is almost 3 times more than a new car.
    We have to fix something on it every month, it was made by government
    factory.(by Bernie Sanders economy)
    I love the rear engine cars.

  • avatar

    Plenty of these in Toronto in the mid-80s, sorta like cockroaches but much easier to kill. Owning one meant taking a lot of ribbing from friends, relatives and co-workers. They did come in a range of unusual colors, though.

    Radio station CFNY had a comedic sad-sack character named “Mr. Goohead”, who when asked stated he drove a mauve Skoda. We’d grin and nod our heads knowingly.

  • avatar

    My parents owned a Skoda 105, which was the cheaper model sitting under the 120. This was considered to be a typical middle class car in the Eastern Block in the 80s. Trabants and Wartburgs were for the less well-off, Ladas for the “wealthy”, and Volgas for the privileged. There were few other brands or models available.

    Regarding the Skoda, it was a disaster of a car. Rear engined with awful cooling, so we had to regularly stop during mile-long hill ascents to wait for the engine to cool off, and my dad always carried a couple gallons of water in the car to replace the cooling water that boiled away. Power was practically non existent compared to today’s standards. Probably 35-40 hp. The trunk was in the front with very little room. This was our family car, so the roof rails got used all the time to carry all our stuff for weekend trips.

    Nevertheless, we all shed tears when we finally traded it “up” for a Dacia 1310 Wagon.

  • avatar

    EBay is the EBay of Canada.
    Kijiji is more the Craigslist of Canada.

  • avatar
    Shortest Circuit

    Nice. My first car was a ’81 120L, and I always wondered why on Earth did they export it to Canada. Not to take away anything from the wonders of what the US automakers provided in the ’80s, but Skodas had the cigarette lighter as an _option_.

  • avatar

    I bought one just like this in 1999. It lasted me about two months before the engine overheated and it died. It was actually quite fun to drive with good handling. I’ve heard these were somewhat reliablebas well, though I never got to experience that.

  • avatar

    I just wish it was slightly cheaper, but the price is understandable for how few (if any) others exist in this condition.

  • avatar

    I have a 85 Rapid that i bought new in 85 and 3 85 120, must say they are great cars. Cars have spent all there lives in SK so are rust free, and all 4 still run strong even though no parts supply in Canada.

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