(first posted 2/12/2017) When I was a kid in high school, I remember an older student had a bright yellow VW Type 3 wagon, which he and his buddies called “the Yellow Submarine”. This all came back to me in a (yellow) flash when I saw this Octavia in the streets of Yangon this week. Granted, this is not a Type 3 Variant, but as ‘60s cars go, it’s pretty damn close.
I never expected to see one of these here – though I should have known better. Looking into it, it seems Škodas used to be exported to Burma back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, before the country more or less closed its borders.
Škodas were exported to many countries around the world: Africa, Western and Eastern Europe, China, Australia, the Americas – everywhere! They were quite cheap, extremely rugged, relatively well-built, easy to maintain and very reliable. This little Czech car checked a lot of boxes for a lot of folks.
This particular model, the Octavia, was one of the Eastern Bloc’s most successful exports in the ‘60s, streets ahead of the shoddy Moskviches and smelly Wartburgs offered by other COMECON automakers. The Octavia came as the last in a line of small RWD Škodas going all the way back to the mid-‘30s. The basic chassis was typical Czech fare: backbone tubular chassis, all-round independent suspension with rear swing axles, front engine and RWD. This concept was pioneered by Hans Ledwinka on the Tatra T11 in 1921 and was cribbed by various automakers over the years, from Lotus to Toyota.
The Popular 1100 (1939-1946) ushered a more modern OHV engine that subsequent small Škodas would be using for decades. After the Iron Curtain came down, all big businesses were nationalized – Škoda being no exception. Yet production continued unabated: the Popular was restyled into the 1101/1102 in 1946, which was superseded by the 1200/1201 in 1952 – now featuring a slippery all-steel four-door body and a 1.2 litre version of the Škoda OHV engine, among other refinements. The 1201 saloon was discontinued in 1958, but the three- and five-door wagon carried on, restyled as the 1202 in 1961.
The two-door 1.1 litre Škoda 440 “Spartak” bowed in 1955, soon followed by the 1.2 litre 445 and the 450 cabriolet. The creation of a two-door Škoda was mandated by the fact that the 1201 had aged very quickly and was a bit too large for its own good (and for its engine).
Furthermore, major export markets such as Benelux, Scandinavia, South America and India, did not necessarily care for a four-door configuration – and fewer doors meant lower weight, lower costs and better rigidity. Our Octavia was a competently restyled version of the 440, launched at the March 1959 Geneva Motor Show as a two-door sedan; the combi version was introduced a year later.
The Octavia’s ageing chassis now featured coil springs at the front, a revised dash, a restyled front grille and, after 1961, tiny fiberglass rear fins. The convertible version was renamed Felicia and found quite a few buyers in the Western world at the time, as a cheap yet rather glamorous open-top car. It is the last factory-made Škoda convertible to date.
About 230,000 Octavia saloons were made until they were replaced by the completely new rear-engined Škoda 1000 MB was launched in 1964. But rear-engined cars do not lend themselves to wagon bodies all that well. Škoda did give it a shot, but after one prototype was built around 1965, they figured that it was better to continue producing both the Octavia combi and the 1202 for the time being.
The Octavia combi was restyled (or more accurately de-finned) in 1969 and got a new instrument panel, before being discontinued after 1971; the bigger 1202 wagon lasted until 1973. After that date, there were no more wagons in Škoda’s range until the FWD Favorit Forman came out in 1990.
All Octavia Combis were fitted with the 1221cc engine, delivering a whopping (not) 46 hp (net), before getting an extra 4 hp in 1969-71. Our CC here has had a lot of things done to it over the past half century, including a completely new dash (and likely converted to LHD, as when this car was new Burma was still driving on the left). Not sure about the floor shifter, either: late model Octavia combis had them, but not the earlier models.
The suspension has obviously been dropped and much of the brightwork is either missing or painted over. The bonnet louvres are an interesting addition – mind you, it does get a little hotter out here in South-East Asia than in Central Europe…
But it’s the rear end that puzzles me the most. I’m not sure how many of these came out of the Kvasiny factory without fins (there are some photos on the web), which would make this an early series combi, or whether the fins were deleted by someone else. That might explain the non-standard stick-out fuel filler cap in lieu of the original flap. The two-part bumper is also unusual, but quite fetching.
Despite trawling the web for hours trying to decipher Czech, I cannot identify the person who designed the 440 / Octavia. Perhaps the CCommentariat will be able to fill this glaring gap. Whoever he is, the designer of this little Škoda did a good job with some of the detailing, including these distinctive front wheelarch bulges. Many Eastern bloc cars lacked character, but this one had it in spades.
Front engine, rear drive, torque tube??, swing axle. Guess the little car may have quite nice ride.
Looks a lot like the Volvo Amazon , just smaller.
I remember the 70s Skodas over here, but nothing earlier. Love that Karosa shape. Great sales imagery T87. Cheers
I remember seeing a few Octavias in the sixties, but none of the earlier models. Interesting that my Czech friend’s mum drove an FB Holden, not a Skoda.
My Italian-born dad seemed to be the exception to the rule. He drove Fiats (amongst a scattering of Vs: Vauxhall, VW and Volvos) when the majority of other new Australians were in Holdens, Valiants and Fords. Rather perversely, the oz cars were the exotics to me growing up.
Wow that is quite an achievement to be able to keep that running all those years. I can’t imagine the effort involved sourcing parts. I had a hard enough time in the 1990’s getting parts for my old vw vans. Great find, the only skodas I have ever seen here in Canada were from the 1980’s. I always thought they were neat with the engine in the back.
Many many years ago, I was amazed to learn these were actually sold in the US.
Early in the classic 1959 Hitchcock thriller ‘North By Northwest’, a Skoda sedan can briefly be seen out the rear window of and following the New York city cab Cary Grant is riding in.
Foreign cars had become a big American craze by the late ’50s, but the new 1960 American compact cars killed off most of the weaker imports.
About 15 years ago, in a driveway about 5 miles from my home, I discovered a red Octavia Kombi, exactly like the red wagon in your photos. Sadly it was in derelict condition, with the engine left apart for many years. The owner was gracious enough to let me take pictures, and told me it originally came from the Czech embassy in Washington DC. The county had recently told him he had to get rid of it, so it was to be hauled away soon. So Sad.
Happy Motoring, Mark
Surprising that the Octavia name is still being used by Skoda. Here’s a review of a current model, a Golf-derived wagon.
Typical conservative but hansom VAG styling…until you get to that Kiaish grill.
Rumor mill had it VAG was going to introduce Skoda to the US as the names and trademarks were apparently registered with the US government, but VAG management says it isn’t happening.
I own one of those (but from before they made the headlights ugly….!)
That Octavia RS hot wagon is yours ? 230 hp, correct me if I’m wrong. Very nice !
As far as I know VAG is the only automaker that offers C-segment hot hatches + wagons.
The Aussie spec is slightly detuned for 162 kw, so a little less. The 169 kw version was only recently released here as a special edition model–after I had already purchased mine, unfortunately!
Never mind, you drive something really special, no matter what !
Recently I’ve read about the upcoming evolution of the Octavia RS, the RS 245. That’s 180 kW. As before, from the 2.0 TSI engine.
That backbone chassis grew a utilitarian body in New Zealand called the Trekka, they werent great but did serve a purpose in the late 60s, Octavias have become quite rare now and Trekkas are like hens teeth.
I saw some pictures of the Trekka. They looked like classic Land Rover SUVs with smaller wheels and less ground clearance.
Yes that was the styling as such they had a limited slip diff on some that gave them marginal off road ability 46 were exported to Aussie and I actually saw one in western NSW dead in a paddock nobody knew what it was.
It was quite common to see a Octavia on the streets of my home town in Brazil, until mid 70s. But then they just disappeared.
I had a teacher who had a red one during that time and he used to pour boiling water over the admission intake to start the car in the winter mornings.
TATRA87 your research skills and attention to detail are exceptional, and I sincerely applaud your consistently content rich articles. Amazing work. Thank you!
We had Skodas in Canada until the 80s. There was a dealer in my city, I would pass by often. Wish I had taken a closer look then.
The 1955 Škoda 440 , what happens when a 52 Ford grows a mustache.
Great find, and so far away from home, no less. And great write-up on a car I had long wanted to cover here.
These were fairly popular in Austria in the 50s and into the 60s. I rode in one, actually. My father’s sister and her husband had one in the late 50s; a 440, the earlier version of the Octavia. They came to visit us in Innsbruck in 1959 and took my mom and me on a memorable ride into Northern Italy, of which I still have some clear memories.
One very minor nit: you say that the Octavia had coil springs all-round, but that bare chassis on the stand shows a transverse rear leaf spring. Is that not an Octavia chassis?
Ooops! Quite right – meant coils at the front only. not the rear. Will fix it forthwith!
Probably stating the obvious to you, T87, but is it possible the stylist/s for the source 440 was Vladimir Popelář or Francis Kardause from Tatra given their Motokov connection?
Karosa’s Otakar Diblík? Nah, but worth running his sketch for the roadster.
Hmmm… I doubt there was much cross-pollination between Tatra, based out in Kopřivnice, and Škoda in Mladá Boleslav. Motokov wasn’t much of a connection, just the State’s automotive entity that exported the cars. Besides, I don’t see any kinship between a Spartak and the T603….
No, neither do I. But my knowledge of Eastern Bloc is way low and I am interested as to who shaped this. Diblík seems to be a bit of a local superstar, this Karosa caravan is his as well.
Ever hear of Otto Faxa (Fuksa)?
Yes I did find this one, but since I can’t confirm it (nor get the guy’s name spelled right), it’s a dead end…
Joseph Barta (in sunroof) is mentioned for the development of the 1200 around the time of the Spartak
This is the book you’ll want to look at, but this preview doesn’t give us the pertinent pages
Wow! You’ve outdone yourself, mate! Thanks ever so much!
Wish I could get my hands on that book. The answer’s in there as you said, but inaccessible online…
The Octavia saloons were quite popular in the UK in the 60s. They were easy to spot at night because the tail lights were more like purple than red.
Of course Skoda also manufactured machine-tools.
Good-looking little car, definitely full of character. And kudos to the owner for obviously cherishing it, and keeping a classic Czech car running so far from its original home!
Actually, these remind me of a half-size ’51 Buick. Love those column shifts!
Happy Motoring, Matk
I was very aware of this generation Skoda from various car books and magazines, but despite the evidence of the two US ads posted here, and Mark D’s comments, I certainly can’t remember ever seeing one here. And I grew up in a time, and town, where one would see Lloyds, Borgwards and Goggomobils, Isettas, Ford Consuls and Vauxhall Victors. I certainly like the style of this example.
Hi, I hope you believe me on this but I am the current owner of this car. My dad restored it and gave it to me as my mother got a new car. I was just cruising the web trying to find my car as I wanted to show other models of this car to my friend and came across this article. Fascinating article, I would gladly like to give you my fathers email if you really are interested by this car. Further proof of this being my car, it was parked on the street next to a school called ISY, (International School Yangon). Dont know if thats enough evidence. Cheers
I am Tanguy’s mother, and I used to drive this fascinating car (no choice with my husband who loves mechanicals engine). I love antique cars as well….sometimes I miss to drive my Skoda!
The color is not yellow but cream color!
Enjoy the pictures and Thank you for sharing all of this informations….
Hi Nathalie and Tanguy,
I’m the guy who found your Skoda and wrote this post. Sounds like you’ve been in Myanmar quite a while! I just left Rangoon a few months ago. Used to live on the other side of Golden Valley, at Pearl Condo.
So how did you end up with this Skoda? How are you able to keep it running? We’d love a back story.
(And also, your names are a bit… un-Burmese. Seriez-vous francais, par le plus grand des hasards ?)
All the best
The English Russia website has a new picture feature on a car that was “donated” to Stalin by Czech workers in 1946. The folks who run the website don’t know much about cars, so they didn’t identify it… but it’s clearly a customized Skoda 1101. The basic body is the same, and the suspension (especially good picture!) is the same. The feature shows stages of restoration from ‘barn find’ to beauty.
Skoda as a car manufacturer goes back to the dawn of the automobile, they were right there building cars, a mate of mine did extensive museum touring in the Czech republic and came back with hundreds of photos.
Currently New Zealands police fleet is being replaced with Skoda wagons as the now extinct Holden fleet is withdrawn.
Is Tatra still posting articles to CC? Havent been any new ones for some time.
My maternal Grandfather bought a new Octavia saloon when he retired, I think that was 1962. They lived in Derby, the East Midlands of England. It was the only non british car he ever owned.
When I was 5 we moved house, my brother and I went to stay with grandparents during the house move, it passed into family legend that I had to direct Grandad to the new house from the back seat after he inadvertently drove onto the newly opened Doncaster bypass A1 Motorway, he probably hadn’t driven on a motorway before.
I was fortunate to visit the Skoda plant in the Czech Republic just prior to COVID. Attached is a museum with examples of prior production cars including the above wagon and convertible. Well worth the trip!!