1958-1963 Škoda Felicia

That rare, interesting, gorgeous ideal of a street parked car: an early ’60s Škoda Felicia.

 

I don’t want to be any more specific on the year than that, because finding reliable information on discernible year-by-year changes is more than I can manage. I think it’s mostly down to the placement of the mirrors, the angle of the grill, and the shape of the instrument cluster, but there might be clues in the wheels.

If I hadn’t found an old copy of a 1961 Autocar test, I wouldn’t have reliable information on the rest of the car either, as its weight varies by a good 30 kilos and its engine by at least 200cc across various sources. According to Autocar, this is a 2,009lb car (with 5 gal. fuel) absolutely shredding its 15in tires with 53 gross hp and 55 earth-shaking lbs-ft of torque. From rest, sixty blitzes onto the speedometer in a staggering 24.5 seconds.¹

But speed is only one automotive attraction. Cheap, open transportation has an appeal for which some will sacrifice on-the-road performance. Somehow the Autocar staff found the Felicia to be both flimsy as well as solid, lacking composure as well as sturdy. Like the Octavia the Felicia was based on, this Škoda has a separate backbone chassis which leaves the car flexing, shaking, and floating across the road. However, the Felicia also inherited some of the rally reputation of its related Octavia, coming across as tough, if rugged.²

This judgement seems very conscious of the home country of this Škoda. It is described as having a rugged, simple manner unsuited for the civilised city but in its element amongst fields and rural villages. Certainly there seems to be a great deal of late ’50s, early ’60s Czechoslovakia in this car.

It is hard for me to say just how much of the car’s character is inferred by stereotypes of the Autocar staff and how much can be attributed to engineering designed for the Czech consumer within Czech terrain.

Still, there is something very fantastic about this Felicia that has me hooked – I think it is the complete adoption of a convertible version of a utilitarian East-bloc economy car. The paint so beautifully adopts the sky blue of 1950s Americana and under this hot Berlin sun, the slightly worn paint and chrome trim just look like evidence of a fruitful career as freewheeling 1960s motorization.

The Škoda Felicia exudes an image of post-war economic recovery. It was a small company selling to a small home market, but it somehow had the development capitol to produce this (as well as a slightly different “Super” model) low-volume non-vital addition to the lineup. That Škoda could make a business case for this sunshine car speaks volumes of the context in which it was developed.

Perhaps it is the rough charm that attracts the owner to this rare, unconventional automobile. Perhaps it is a fondness for Ostbloc style, something the Felicia has in spades (especially with that obscenely knobby shifter). Perhaps it is memories or dreams the owner has of the booming, optimistic early 1960s in Europe that bathe this Škoda in perpetual sunshine.

I somehow doubt that the owner preserves this car as a footnote in automotive history, marking the forced specialization of marginal auto manufacturers when confronted with an opening international market, filled with full-range offerings of big car companies from big economic powerhouses. As interesting a perspective that might be, and as wonderful an attraction it is to me, the car spotter, I doubt that the costs and community of classic Škoda ownership have such an academic justification.

Rather I imagine that this Škoda just has a radiant character all its own, possessing some inherent history and charisma that sparks an attraction for all kinds of people and for all kinds of reasons. For all that, I would call it alluring and I would call it beautiful.

For Reference:

1. “Skoda Felicia,” The Autocar, September 8, 1961, 364, http://www.flickr.com/photos/triggerscarstuff/sets/72157623790200494/with/4498187358/ (accessed march 18, 2011).

2. Ibid. 362, 364.

In addition, if anyone is wondering where this car is, it’s out on Carnotstr. in Tiergarten, right in front of one of the Technische Uni’s engineering buildings.

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6 Responses to 1958-1963 Škoda Felicia

  1. Ben Orlove says:

    You keep referring to the car as a Czech car. I found myself wondering, was it a Czech car or a Czechoslovak car, and how could one tell the difference? Did the car reflect the union of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, a union which now, in hindsight, seems to have been destined to failure from its foundation? Was the car an avenue for Czechs–yearning to be unyoked from their brothers–to express their Czechness?

    Was the Minerva a Flemish car rather than a Belgian car? More seriously, is the Triumph British or English? And, gasp, are Detroit cars Middle Western as well as American?

    • Raphael Orlove says:

      More serious inquiry must be made into Minerva, though they were made in Antwerp and were founded by a Dutchman! As to American cars and the Midwest, let us ask several questions: has the Midwestern location of the Big Three affected the cars they make? I would say yes, given what I know from “On A Clear Day You Can See General Motors” that the particularly insular community of Detroit management helped to define the cars they made in the latter half of the 20th Century, a very critical time for the domestics. Secondly, let us ask if the cars made in other parts of America have different characters to them. To this I would say yes and no. Certainly the cars we have seen designed in California in the past three decades have come out looking different from Detroit’s offerings. However, have the cars built in Southern factories come out particularly different from those built up North? I would say that the non-union labor and the generally foreign makeup of the car firms producing in the South have not greatly affected the kinds of products being built, as the design is done elsewhere.

      Still, a great question, one that has implications for cars being increasingly designed for Brazil, Russia, India, and China, as well as for the cars sold in the developed world.

      • Raphael Orlove says:

        But again, the question of Skoda’s nationality is typically difficult for the region. The company has its roots in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, when the founder-to-be of the firm sent his German-made bicycle back to the factory for repairs with a letter written in Czech, only to get the gruff reply in German, “If you would like an answer to your inquiry, you should try writing in a language we can understand.” So in a huff, he founded a bicycle repair shop that became the Skoda firm. It’s a real Lamborghini founding myth that makes the German takeover during WWII to the Hermann Göring Werke only stranger. More research is required for understanding the Czech/Slovak relationship over Skoda both under Communist rule and afterwards, as there surely must be changing dynamics both in the inward domestic understanding of the Skoda cars, as well as the advertising and foreign reception of the car outside of Czechoslovakia.

  2. Ben Orlove says:

    Perhaps a topic for future Verkehrforschung!

  3. oldcarjunkie says:

    Fantastic looking machine! Nice find.

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