OPINION: Why owning a Skoda is no longer a laughing matter

The Skoda has one from joke car to the reliable family motor, says Nick Richards

The Skoda has gone from joke car to the reliable family motor, says Nick Richards - Credit: Archant

Remember the jokes?

'Why does a Skoda have heated rear windscreens?'

'To keep your hands warm when you're pushing them.'

'What do you call a Skoda with a sun roof?'

'A skip.'

These were the kind of gags that used to be banded about when it came to any car from Eastern Europe that became available in the UK in the 1980s - Skodas, Ladas, Yugos - that sort of thing.

Owning one in the age of spoilers, fuel injections and go faster stripes had about as much street cred as owning a Trabant or a Reliant Robin.

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They seemed to be the desired drives of bearded geography teachers who wore corduroy jackets. They were cheap, unspectacular and bore the brunt of playground jokes. People likened them to shopping trolleys with engines.

But slowly and surely the Skoda brand has stood for something else - reliability, practicality, simplicity.

It must go down as one of the more remarkable rebrands of the last few decades.

You may wonder why am I so interested in the image of what it's like to own a Skoda.

Well that's because at the age of 46, I've just bought one.

My trusty old Astra that I've had since my early 30s and that I'd put almost 140,000 miles on the clock has been wheezing and spluttering like an asthmatic hamster for the last year or so.

The exhaust's powerful sound drew comments from passers by with words such as 'throaty' and 'sporty' thrown in. In truth it was just knackered. It scraped through its last MOT by a whisker and needed new brakes, a good valet and someone to collect the many, many coins that have fallen out of my pocket behind the seat over the years.

The search for a new car is an intriguing one, isn't it?

It seems that everyone wants to have an opinion when you tell them you're looking for a new motor.

"You want to get a Japanese car, they're the best value", said one family member. "Don't get a French car," said another.

My wife went form a normal car-sharing spouse to someone who seemed to want to get a job on Top Gear in the 1980s.

"We need more boot space and it needs to have a bit of kick in it on the motorway," were her two staples.

The boot space thing was a weird one. It was like she'd suddenly got an evening haulage job with Eddie Stobart on the quiet.

I wondered what exactly we'd suddenly be transporting in the car that we'd managed to survive without transporting over the last decade.

Luckily for me you can now get a new car without test driving it, by simply going on a website, clicking a button, entering the details of your old car and part exchanging it. A week later the new car arrives and the driver takes the old one away.

I had a lovely smile on my face, clutching the keys to the new car, as I heard the old one depart, sounding like it was on the way to a boy racer convention.

Czech this out - how Skodas were advertised in this region in the 1970s

Czech this out - how Skodas were advertised in this region in the 1970s - Credit: Archant

And so I entered the Skoda years.

I can't say it was an exhaustive search for a new car, given that I am one of those tyre-kickers whose only real interest is if it has a drinks holder and what sort of in car entertainment there is.

People say they only need a car to get from A to B but I want the CD factor too - alas there's no CD player in the new car (too modern) and the guy handing the car over to me looked like he wanted to flatten me when I jokingly asked where the tape deck was (I would've paid extra to be able to listen to my Belinda Carlisle tapes on the move).

I probably could've been more dynamic with this car purchase but for me a Skoda seems like the perfect middle of the road car for someone navigating the middle ages.

It's the sort of car you might find Idris Elba driving in the next series of Luther. It's funny how he drives a Volvo, Skoda's slightly more stylish Scandinavian cousin, while his TV detective counterparts of previous generations like Bergerac and Morse were given mid-life crisis machines like a Triumph Roadster and a Jaguar.

Life seems to have gone full circle in the few decades for Skoda at least from a laughing stock to a sensibly-priced family car. Auto Express rank them as the fifth best cars to own in Britain and more than one million are sold around the world each year.

Where they once stood for the last resort in car ownership, they now seem to stand for robustness and reliability which is all I really want in a car.

Maybe Skoda stands for Some Kind Of Dilemma Answered - for me at least, as someone who gets very unexcited about buying a new car, it was a simple straightforward choice in something that tends to get very complicated. 

I'm not yet in the waving club with my fellow Skoda drivers, but unlike 30 years ago, I think owning a Skoda is now a proud club to be a part of - and I'm not joking...