It’s funny how the longer you spend with a car, the more it seems to take on a life of its own, a personality. It becomes a part of your life, almost like a faithful pet. I guess this is why a lot of people name their cars. I never have, until I got my Rusty, my Quattro. But the Skoda never had a name.
I bought my Skoda in Leeds, UK in June 2004. I was looking for a second-hand Audi A4 Avant as a work/personal car. My job paid a car allowance and required transport of fairly large boxes, and I’ve always preferred the shape of Audi wagons anyway. The five cars I’d owned up to that point included an Audi 90 and an A4, so it’s safe to say I’m an Audi fan. So off I went to the Audi dealer in Leeds where I’d seen some A4s advertised in my price range. After mooching around the showroom for 20 minutes, being ignored by all of the staff, a young sales guy with expensive looking hair and a shiny suit finally wandered over and asked if he could help. I explained what I was looking for and was basically given the brush-off. It seems he was only interested in selling new cars, and had decided I couldn’t afford one, so he acted as disinterested as possible until I left.
Somewhat disheartened, I wandered down the road a bit to the Skoda dealer. I’d read good reviews of the Octavia, and the Mk4 Golf-based vRS was looking really good. Their attitude was a breath of fresh air, well sort of. The salesman wandered out of the door, lit up a cigarette, and said “Alright mate, what can I do for you?” We then had a long chat about cars, and the attitude of certain Audi dealer employees. He was happy to show me a second-hand Octavia vRS wagon they had, and gave me a long test drive in a new vRS hatch. The performance of the 180bhp turbo engine was good, and the boot was big enough to swallow three boxed HP Proliant servers. It turned out a new wagon was not that much more expensive than the second-hand one they had, and the new one included xenon headlights and parking sensors. It was still a few grand cheaper than those A4s. So the deal was done. Even better they had a red one sitting at the UK docks, so I could have it in a week.
Soon I was happily driving the length and breadth of Britain in my shiny red vRS. After three months, some moron decided to key my Skoda and my colleague’s new Alfa outside work. And of course the security cameras weren’t functioning that day. But it was all sorted nicely by a local body shop. We had a trip to Edinburgh in the pouring rain, took it all over the UK, and even drove down to France for the Le Mans 24 Heures race. The Skoda endured all conditions from 40 degree temperatures in France to snow in Yorkshire without missing a beat.
But I had joined Briskoda.net, the UK Skoda forum, and people on there were a bad influence. I was slowly drawn into the slippery slope of modifying cars. It started small, with a replacement diverter valve for more whooshy noises. Then came a remap. And what a difference that made! It really brought the 1.8t alive, adding about 30bhp and more torque. Window tints all round soon followed, along with a few other cosmetic parts.
Then in early 2005 we made the decision to move to New Zealand. Lots of research was done into whether it would be worth shipping the Skoda with us. I found out that the same model was sold in NZ, meaning it would already be in the system for registration. In fact the officially imported NZ ones were UK spec. Shipping cost was reasonable, and less than the depreciation involved in selling the car, so we decided to bring it over.
In late October 2005 we drove over to Liverpool and dropped the car off with the shipping company. It waited there for six weeks while they filled a container around it, then was on the sea for six weeks, followed by a week to travel to Wellington by train!
But it finally arrived and I went over to check it. It looked good. A week later it was finally inspected by MAF and I went to meet the delivery truck at VTNZ to register it and get plates. I was disappointed to find scratches on the paint, loose screws inside (They visually check seatbelt mounts) and bent sill joints underneath where they seemed to have lifted it with a fork truck blade.
This was all sorted out by the shipping insurance, but it was annoying that it had got so far then been damaged in Wellington. But finally I had my car back, and driving it on NZ roads was an all-new experience. Soon, the modifications resumed, and over the next ten years, the car was transformed from a stock-looking wagon to a lowered, significantly more powerful, better handling, better braking beast.
I replaced the wheels with lightweight 18s, fitted coilover suspension, 4 pot big brakes (from a Seat Leon Cupra R), extra gauges, carbon intake, bigger MAF, bigger injectors, bigger fuel pump, bigger intake, hybrid turbo, front-mount intercooler, oil cooler, decat downpipe, stainless exhaust, lightened pulleys, catch can, single mass flywheel, uprated clutch, limited slip diff, a dashcam, upgraded stereo, amp, new speaker cabling, subwoofer (with its own amp), all new speakers, new steering wheel, short shifter, poly bushes all round, daytime running lights, several more cosmetic additions, and added a few stickers. I tried to do all of this in an OEM+ way, without going too overboard.
The car was no garage queen, it was used, and used well. I hauled firewood, shifted furniture, strapped doors, fence posts and windows to the roof rack.
We did several tours of both islands of New Zealand on holidays, with family and friends.
Many car meets and events were attended.
And then there was the Cannonball Run. The theme was Mad Max, and both the car and the team were in costume for the event.
This whet our appetite for driving events, and the next one was the Gumboot Rally. The theme was racecar, so we went all-out in the decorations. I made the numbers by hand using removable vinyl, spray paint and magic markers. Many hours were spent but I think the result was great. I kept the car like this for a month, and lots of small children (and adults) pointed and smiled at the car.
The Skoda has been reliable, too. Despite me tinkering with it, stiffening everything up, and upping the power and torque by 50%, hardly anything has gone wrong. A locking motor failed, an indicator steamed up and was replaced under warranty, the dash squeaked and was fixed under warranty. But it has never let me down or broken down in 12 years. Pretty impressive.
In 2010 my daughter was born, and she came home from hospital in the Skoda. She’s turning into a petrolhead just like me. When she was two, we got in the car and she said “Dad let’s wind the windows down and go find a tunnel!”. Good girl!
Last year, I parked the Skoda outside my daughter’s school for ten minutes and someone reversed into it, bending the front wing, then drove away. I was so angry, especially because they didn’t own up to it. But it was just cosmetic, and was all fixed beautifully, you’d never know it had happened.
So we’ve been through a lot of adventures, the Skoda and my family. And I’m sure you can see why I’m so attached to it. I’ve learnt a lot about cars by working on this one, how to do things, then re-do them better. I started taking the train to work, and the Skoda was hardly being driven. I felt like it wasn’t getting the attention it needed. Plus it has been kicked out of the garage by its distant relative, the Project Rusty quattro, and the quattro was sucking up my funds.
So the Skoda has gone to a new owner. I’ve watched it rumble away from me, and it looked great, and sounded pretty damn good too. He couldn’t come down from Auckland to pick it up, so I got one last road trip. 650km of awesome scenery, wind, rain and traffic! But I savoured every minute. I’ll miss this car, but it has gone to another true enthusiast. He already has plans for more mods, and said it’s a joy to drive. I agree, but I’m rather biased.