Progress report: 2020 Skoda Octavia vs 1964 Octavia Super | Top Gear
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Progress report: 2020 Skoda Octavia vs 1964 Octavia Super

Your dad still making those Skoda jokes? Time to show him this

  • Surely you’re not going to compare these two head-to-head?

    Of course not, there’s 40 years between this pair of Octavias and it’s difficult even to imagine how much everyday motoring has improved since the original – so named because it was the eighth car Skoda built after WW2 – was launched back in 1959.

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  • Tell us more about the original, then...

    We’ll spell it out by pondering the spec of this brilliantly beige ‘64 Octavia Super – the 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine produces 46bhp and drives the rear wheels through a backwards four-speed gearbox (first is top right, fourth is bottom left). Top speed is a heady 74mph, there’s hydraulic drum brakes all round, unassisted worm and nut steering and, although there’s coil springs up front, the rear suspension is a transverse leaf spring.

    This is probably the precursor to the Skodas that your parents still joke about, but it’s a fantastically simple thing and despite being designed deep beneath the Iron Curtain it’s actually rather good-looking. Check out the fins. A touch of Americana, comrade?

  • Come on then, how does it drive?

    It’s quite the event, given modern UK road surfaces are uncannily similar to Soviet-era farm tracks. It’s comfortable on a decent stretch of road, but through corners and on rutted sections it’s not uncommon for all four wheels to bounce in different directions. It’s more a feeling of lack of control of the wheels rather than poor damping, though, and it’s glorious fun to operate. It could do with a taller gear to help it to 70mph, but it’ll happily coast at 45-50mph.

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  • Anything else we should know?

    How’s this for a neat touch – the small chain next to the handbrake releases a blanket that covers the radiator, protecting it from the harshest of Czechoslovakian winters. That simple practicality is evident on the modern-day Octavia too, with an umbrella in the driver’s door and an ice scraper housed in the fuel filler cap.

  • Ah, you’ve finally mentioned the new car. Why did it take so long?

    If we’re being honest, the brolly and the scraper are the most interesting things about it. That’s not to say it’s a bad car. This one is an SE L First Edition hatch with a 148bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine, a six-speed manual and a huge amount of tech. 

  • What kind of tech are we talking?

    It’s serious stuff that was almost exclusive to Mercedes a generation ago. Predictive cruise control recognises speed restrictions and corners and automatically adjusts your speed accordingly, whilst an exit warning stops you opening the door on cyclists and the collision avoidance system can perform evasive manoeuvres without any driver input. Clever.

  • What's the conclusion here, then?

    Like in its Golf and Leon siblings, the sheer amount of driver assistance and the VW Group’s decision to shun buttons in favour of sub-menus is a major own goal in this new Octavia. Putting it up against a car from the Sixties only serves to amplify that. See, the old punchline can teach the new tech-whizz a few tricks after all.

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