Here is an unexpected find by Staxman at the Cohort, a 1960 Škoda Octavia roaming the streets of the USA. And mind you, this is not a recent gray import from a Cold War period-obsessed fan. It’s actually one of about 2500 or so Škodas originally sold on US soil between 1957 to 1967.
With the sale of European imports growing in the US during the 1950s, it was only natural more Continental carmakers would join in the fun. Czech carmaker Škoda was one of many to try their luck, with their newly launched Felicia and Octavia models reaching US shores in 1960. It didn’t take long for Škoda to realize its products didn’t meet US needs, and quickly took to other pastures. The ’57-’67 timeline is a deceptive one for the failed endeavor. Most of Škoda’s US sales happened in the first 2-3 years after steep discounts took place. Information is scant, but whatever sales happened afterward probably amount to a few dozen. If that.
The lack of luck on US soil doesn’t mean the Octavia wasn’t a sophisticated car. After all, it came from the nation of Hans Ledwinka, the influential Austrian designer behind the groundbreaking Tatras of the 1930s. And the Octavia took after some of that proud tradition. The little car carried much from its 440 forebear; with a central tube chassis, and all-around independent suspension with telescopic shock absorbers. Power was supplied by either 1089cc or 1221cc I4 engines, providing from 40 to 55 HP depending on mill size and state of tune.
The modest performance and sophisticated thinking behind Škoda’s products would bring them better luck elsewhere. Škodas found enough of a market in some Western European nations, and in Latin America developed a decent customer base. Škodas were even assembled in Chile for a few years.
As explained in its original Cohort post, Staxman met the owner of this 1960 Octavia. Thus, we know a good part of the vehicle’s history. This little Octavia reached Los Angeles in 1960 and retailed for a not-modest $1,878; including a heater & defroster, and whitewall tires. For comparison, a base 2-door Corvair went for $1984 and a 4-door Falcon for $1974. Options or not, it was a rather steep cost for an unknown brand. The vehicle finally sold in Seattle a year later at a loss for a mere $999.
The Octavia’s original owner drove it for five years before an electrical problem took it off the road. With Škoda parts not being necessarily common back then (or since), the car sat unused for 52 years. Naturally, its current owner went through much trouble to revive the little critter.
Glancing into the engine bay it’s clear some liberties have been taken to make this Octavia roadworthy again. According to its current owner, a Ford F-100 master cylinder has replaced the original, all thanks to a similar bore size. The modern-looking alternator is another obvious mod.
But in my book, originality can take a back seat in order to revive an old ride. First and most important; to get the car running. Whatever bits may be missing can be tracked down later. After all, in the case of something like a ’60s Škoda, some stuff may never be found.
Talking about revivals, once VW bought Škoda Auto in the ’90s, the Octavia name was revived for their new Mk4-based model. Not the first model under the new venture, but the clearest sign of a new direction for the Czech brand. But that’s a story for another day.