Monday, 2 April 2012

Driven #51:- Skoda Felicia 1.3 GLi

In recent history I have written a great deal about the older, less valuable cars that I have enjoyed access to, but so far haven't written anything about a car that is genuinely worthless. Until today, that is.

And every time a low-end conveyance comes my way I tend to wax all lyrical on how such a machine does "everything a new car can, at a hundredth the price" or somesuch. Often, it's true. But that aside, could I ever be persuaded to put my money where my mouth is and descend the motoring ladder still further, from the grim reality of owning a Rover 800 to an even lower existence?. Could I ever be persuaded to own a car like this Skoda? Well, sadly but honestly, the answer is probably no.

The Skoda Felicia was the first proper fruit of Skodas absorbtion into the Volkswagen mothership in the mid '90s. When the adoption was made proper the Favorit, this cars' precursor, was still in production. In actual fact the Felicia is a heavily developed progression of the Favorit and the bodywork gives the game away rather readily. It's a similar story to the mk 3 Fiesta, which morphed into the mk 4 and transformed it from laughable granny chariot into class champion, for a good few minutes, anyway.

It's not a horrible looking car, being objective about things and treating it as a work on its own. Factor in the cars of today and it looks somewhat gawky by comparison, but it would, wouldn't it? It helps that the Favorit beneath was a Bertone design; and one which was infinitely more forward thinking than the Estelle and Rapid that went immediately before. It was big news.

Contemporary reviews had it that the Favorit was quite a handy piece of work and markedly better than the wretched Lada Samara that it was often lumped together with in group tests. And then, when it regenerated into the Felicia the reviews became more positive still. The hackneyed old jokes were over, they kept saying, almost frequently enough to make you think they were hiding something. 

So what about today? The Skoda Felicia 1.3 GLi you see before you, with 110,000 miles under its frumpy steel wheels and in somewhat patinated shape, has an auction guide value of £40. Indeed, theoretically you could own this entire car for the price of a driving simulation on a games console. It even has a valid MOT until, er, next Tuesday. With scrap metal values being as they are today, it's worth considerably more dead than alive. As scrap, it has to be £150 worth. The thing is, with my whole "more than just a pile of metal" attitude, is this car too good to scrap or nust weigh-in waiting to happen?

We had it up on the ramp for inspection, and it didn't reveal a whole lot. There is rust, sure, and quite a lot of it, but it seems to be confined to non-structural regions and, at any rate, I could show you any number of Mercedes showing considerably more rot for the same age and mileage. More important is the fact that everything still seems to work. OK, it's not an advanced package but those decadent 20th century westernised features it does have still work as the maker intended. We're taking central locking and electric mirrors. And a cassette player, I'm delighted to report.

Start it up and the skoda responds to the first twist of the key. It then settled to an idle that was far from silken but anything but embarrassing. I took a seat. I was confronted by a dashboard that did its best to disguise its humdrum origins, it must have been tricky for VW to achieve when they were so limited by the original structure. But the clocks were clear and inoffensive and the plastics, while plain and cheap to the touch, appear to have proven themselves as durable.

I even had a relatively comfortable driving position. Of course being a freak of nature I had to rack the driving seat as far back as it could go, but the seat was basically comfortable and the pedals sensibly placed. First gear meshed immediately into place, I depressed the mushy spongy clutch and eased gently forwards
on my first ever drive of a £40 car.

Fundamentally there is nothing really wrong with this car at all. The steering works well enough, the brakes are sufficient to avoid a full scale panic with every decelerative maneouver, and the ride is indistinguished enough to not give you a positive or negative opinion worth sharing. It isn't genuinely terrible in any measurable way. I was impressed, more so than I ever have been before by a 40 quid car.

I only drove it in the semi rural environs of outer Colchester. My peak velocity was about 50 mph, not a particular challenge for the Skoda but enough to indicate that higher speeds might have been a bit of a struggle. This is really no long distance motorway cruiser, but as a practical way of carrying the dog into the countryside, taking old crap to the tip and generally carrying out the horrible tasks that you wouldn't want to inflict on your proper car, I can see a genuine case for its employment. 

To be able to buy a car as capable as this, for such a tiny amount of cash, is truly an indictment of our throwaway society. The biggest problem this Skoda suffer from is its total lack of any positive image. It suffers badly from simply not being a desirable item.

The answer to the question of whether this Felicia is it too good to be scrapped is, sadly, no. If you were hell bent on finding an example of a Felicia to preserve for prosperity, there must be one out there somewhere with less rust than this one. A higher spec perhaps, unless you simply have to have a GLi. The survival of this particular car would appear to hinge entirely on somebody taking pity on it. One could say that since it has made it so far it deserves to live, but there are dozens of other cars you could say that of.

And myself? Well I'm as bad as everybody else. My Audi (which must be worth at least 400 quid), affords me the luxury of leather seats, a way of listening to compact discs on the move, and enough performance to give me the chance to get into serious trouble if I should want to. My Rover, probably worth similarly little to the Skoda, would share the same lack of appeal to most people but at least has the benefit of nostalgia. If I had the ultImate luxury of space I'd probably snap the Skoda up just for the fun of it, and then get a dog or develop an interest in car boot sales as if to justify my decision.

It seems a shame that I tend to champion old and worthless cars on an increasingly selective basis, but you get to a point where you're trying to preserve everything for nobody's benefit except your own. If you were to painstakingly restore this Skoda you would be acknowledged not by admiring glances but by revultion and shrugged shoulders.

The Skoda Felicia represents one of the more significant stages of the Skoda time line, but that in itself isn't enough to make the car even vaguely interesting to the general public. Now over 10 years obsolete, those Felicias that remain are surely not long for this world.

The Skoda Felicia. Much better than anybody expected it to be, but nowhere near good enough to achieve immortality.