Photo source: ŠKODA AUTO, ŠKODA Archive
The Lotus Elan is probably not a car you would expect the Skoda Estelle to be compared to. After all, one is a sweet-handling, featherweight sports car, the other a cheap saloon with boxy styling and gutless engines.
Yet in 1982, Car and Car Conversions magazine’s Philip Young wrote that the Estelle’s new rack and pinion steering was “almost as quick and light as a Lotus Elan,” calling it “one of the car’s best attributes.” You won’t be shocked to hear that’s where the similarities end.
Launched in 1976, the Skoda Estelle replaced the 100, 110 and 110L, which themselves were based on the 1000MB (a car that dates back to 1964). The Estelle was not a huge departure from its predecessor, although it brought a fresh design, while the fuel tank was moved to the rear and the radiator to the front.
The Estelle name was only used in the UK – elsewhere it was known as the 105 or 120. The former came with a 1046cc engine and the latter with a 1174cc unit. A 130 model (1289cc) with a five-speed gearbox joined the range in 1985, and also introduced semi-trailing arm rear suspension in place of the swing-axle setup found on other Estelles at that time.
In January 1984, the Estelle Two was launched. According to Car Mechanics magazine, it featured a wider track, changes to the suspension and better brakes. Visually, it could be distinguished by its rectangular headlights and plastic bumpers.
The Estelle produced modest power to move its approximate weight of 850kg – the most potent car in the range, the 130, put out 58bhp, compared to the 120’s 56bhp and the 105’s 46bhp. However, this didn’t stop Skoda GB from bringing out the limited edition 130 Sport in 1985, perhaps attempting to capitalise on Skoda’s impressive record in rallying. It included a body kit with a front spoiler, side skirts and ‘bird-bath’ rear spoiler.
The sportiest Estelle of them all was the 130LR, of which only 200 were built to satisfy Group B homologation requirements. Otherwise, the 130 was arguably the best Estelle to own – as well as a bigger engine and more sophisticated suspension, its front disc brakes had four rather than two-piston callipers, although it retained drum brakes at the rear.
What all Estelles were was cheap. In 1982, a ‘Super’ Estelle 120L cost approximately £2700 OTR. This made it affordable for people who would otherwise have not been in the market for a new car. My grandad is a case in point – he bought this very model from his local Skoda dealer instead of a used car. Around 30-40mpg meant an Estelle should have been cheap to run, although reliability was questionable.
The semi-trailing arm suspension fitted to the 130 eventually made its way onto the 120 LX and LXE in 1987, which also received a five-speed gearbox. The LX and LXE were superseded by the 120L Five later that year. As the name suggests, this retained the five-speed gearbox, although Skoda GB continued to sell the four-speed 120L alongside it. Both versions did without the semi-trailing arm rear suspension.
1987 also saw the arrival of the 130GL, a car that represented Skoda’s idea of luxury at the time. It featured the interior from the Skoda Rapid coupe and gained alloy wheels and a stereo.
Towards the end of the Estelle’s life, the 120 was fitted with a different grille, while the 135 RiC that came out in November 1989 had fuel injection and a catalyst. However, this was a short-lived final flourish for the Estelle – it went off sale in 1990 to make way for the front-wheel drive Favorit.