Bad Cars

A collection of complete lemons

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The Skoda Estelle

How can a dreadful, indeed dangerous, car sell like hot cakes? Simple. By being cheap. And that was possibly the only good thing that can be said about the Skoda Estelle.

The Estelle was built in Czechoslovakia, which was then under the domination of the Soviet Union. There was a rumour that the reason why it was such a bad car was because the Russians refused to give the manufacturers, Skoda Auto, permission to build a better one because it would have been vastly superior to anything that Russia itself could manufacture at the time. There may well be some truth in this.

The major design fault was situating the engine in the rear. This is of course a cheaper way of powering a car but it can give rise to steering problems; with much of the weight of the car on the back wheels, the front-end can be far too light, causing the potential for unexpected oversteer. And the Skoda had steering problems in plenty. Anyone who took it up to its maximum speed of 93 mph was either of suicidal intent or completely lacking in common sense; at just about any speed it steered like an overripe banana.

Yes of course there was a bonnet; but lift the bonnet lid and instead of the expected engine there was luggage space! Put a few heavy suitcases in there and the roadholding improved slightly, take them out and it would need the skills of a rally driver to control it through a bend. And yet the British motorists queued up to buy it.

The press loved printing horror stories about it. Skoda jokes were everywhere. What you call a Skoda with a sunroof? A skip. What's the most important part of a Skoda manual? The bus and train times. Why is a golf ball better than a Skoda? A golf ball can be driven more than 100 yards.

Hardly unexpectedly, resale prices tanked.

So yes this was one of the most awful cars on the road, but it was affordable and that made all the difference. With the price, when new, of around £1500, many people were able to become motorists for the first time, and ultimately more than 1.3 million of these potential deathtraps were sold.

Thankfully, Volkswagen eventually took over Skoda and transformed it; the company now produces some of the best engineered, and most economical cars in the world. It's just a shame about it's history.

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