The Škoda 105/120/125 were three variations of a rear-engined, rear-wheel drive compact car that was produced by Czech car manufacturer Škoda Auto in Mladá Boleslav, Czechoslovakia, between 1976 and 1990; engine sizes were 1.05 and 1.2 liters respectively. Other variations included the Škoda 130/135/136 series that followed from 1984.
In the early 1970s, Škoda had originally intended to produce their successor to the S100/110 as a front-engined front-wheel drive model. However, because of the lack of funding (Škoda had even applied for license in Moscow to produce their new car with a front-engine and front-wheel drive), Škoda was refused a licence and was forced to update the earlier S100/110 saloon models. The main reason Škoda was not granted a licence to produce their new car was because it would have turned out to be a thoroughly more modern car than any other car from the Soviet Union, something which the Russians wouldn’t have been too happy about. At that time, most cars from the Soviet Union had either a front engine driving the rear wheels or a rear engine driving the rear wheels. There was even a front-engined front-wheel drive Škoda 105/120 prototype, which looked almost identical to the rear-engined one. Because imports were banned, Škoda would not have had the proper resources or technology to produce a front-engined car with front-wheel drive.
In August 1976, the Škoda 105/120 went into production. Despite being basically the same as the previous S100/110 under the skin, the new cars had a lot of improvements, such as a front-mounted radiator with a thermostatic fan. The heating unit was now inside the dashboard, and the fuel tank was now underneath the rear seat. All models had much the same mechanical specification as the previous models, with a 4-speed gearbox, independent suspension, worm-and-drive steering, and swing-axle rear suspension.
The choice of engines for the Škoda 105/120 was either a 1046 cc unit for the 105 models or a 1174 cc unit for the 120 models. The 105S and 105L produced 44 bhp (33 kW; 45 PS), the 120L produced 49 bhp (37 kW; 50 PS), and the 120LS and 120GLS produced 54 bhp (40 kW; 55 PS).
The 1976 model range compromised:
Škoda 105 S (Standard)
Škoda 105 L (Luxe)
Škoda 120 L (Luxe)
Škoda 120 LE (Luxe Economic)
Škoda 120 LS (Luxe Sport)
Škoda 120 GLS (Grand Luxe Sport)
The cars were initially criticised for unpredictable handling "at the limit" but it is unlikely that most motorists would notice anything untoward under normal conditions. The cars continued to win their class with monotonous regularity on international rallies, and were increasingly popular with budget-conscious motorists across Europe. The location of the radiator at the front of the car had the advantage of cooling the engine much more sufficiently on the motorway. However, because it was much more complex than in the earlier models, the cooling system was very prone to airlocks, which often led to overheating and even head gasket failure.
Rugged and robust vehicles, they were designed for the primitive roads of Soviet-dominated Central and Eastern Europe, where the best traction layout of a two wheel drive car is a significant benefit. They are still a common sight in Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland.
Even enthusiasts for the marque would agree that quality control could sometimes have been improved in this era. It was these cars that inspired the famous Škoda jokes, but re-evaluation of the models with the benefit of many years hindsight means that the cars are much more highly regarded today.
The existing lineup was joined with the Škoda 120 standard model in April 1978. This model was, from the mechanical point of view, identical to the 120 L but had the same basic equipment level as in the 105 S plus reclining front seats.
In March 1981, the 105 GL was added to the lineup. It was mechanically identical to the existing 105 S and 105 L models only it featured the equipment specification of the 120 GLS model. Both the 105 GL and the 120 GLS were given black bumpers and horizontal taillights.
In 1982, the range was supplemented by an attractive 120 Rapid Coupe, which was equipped with the 1174 cc, 54 bhp (40 kW; 55 PS) engine from the 120 LS and 120 GLS Saloon models. This had much improved semi-trailing arm rear suspension, and paved the way for the 130-136 models of the late 1980s.
Around this time, the 105 SP was introduced. It was essentially a commercial version of the 105 S, having no rear seats and no glass just solid metal in the rear doors. It was only available in Czechoslovakia where it proved popular with delivery and businessmen.
In November 1982, the 120 LE was added to the range. It was essentially a 120 L with a modified top gear ratio to improve fuel economy (hence 'E' for Economic). This was possibly an early try-out for the 5-speed gearbox.
The Škoda 130 models followed in 1984 and introduced many improvements into the existing 105/120 range. The very first Škoda 130 models were introduced in August 1984, shortly after the earlier Škoda 105/120 models were given a mild revamp. Developed from the earlier Škoda 105/120 models (some of which continued [alongside the Škoda 130 models] in production, like the 105S, 105L, 120L, 120GL, 120LS, 120LX and 120GLS), the 130 series used a new 1289 cc engine (which produced 58 bhp (43 kW; 59 PS), and which was just an enlarged version of the 1174 cc engine used in the 120 series); this 1289 cc engine also saw use in the car's successor, the Škoda Favorit.
In addition, the rear suspension was now redesigned to a semi-trailing arm layout, and the track of the car was widened to 55 inches (1395 m). 5 speed gearboxes and "four pot" front brake disc calipers were other updates. The new models countered the earlier criticism that had been made in some quarters of tail-happy handling, with the prominent UK motoring magazine "Autocar and Motor" remarking in 1988 that the new 136 Rapid model "handles like a Porsche 911".
In 1987, with the introduction of the new Škoda Favorit, most of the Škoda 105/120 series was discontinued, with the exception of just the 105 L, 105 SP and 120 L. When the 125 L was added in 1988, the 105 SP was discontinued, followed by the 105 L in 1989. Apart from the 135/136 series, the only other rear-engined models that remained were now the 120 L and 125 L.
The end of an era
After a production run of fourteen years, which included a total of 1,961,295 cars (counting just the Škoda 105/120/125 series cars alone), production of the very last rear-engined Škodas was finally brought to an end in 1990.
On October 5, 2004, a survey conducted by AUTOSALON revealed that among the 3,706,012 cars registered in the Czech Republic, 1,780,124 were Škodas. At 305,726 cars, the Škoda 120 represented the entire group, while there were 216,857 Škoda 105 cars, which made that model the fourth most common Škoda car.
In the UK, the Škoda 105/120 range was sold under the name Škoda Estelle, where it proved popular with 120,105 cars finding homes between 1977 and 1990. In 1987 alone (which was three years short of the end of the cars' production run), UK Škoda dealers managed to sell 17,000 rear-engined Škodas including the Rapid Coupè despite the cars negative image, dismal handling and outdated technology and serious problems with the head gasket condition. Its main selling points were its spacious interior, dependability, ease of maintenance and low asking price. Reliability was often a strong point with these cars, some of which have reached over the 100,000-mile (160,000 km) point and are still running to the present day due to good maintenance. Skoda made great play in its advertising of its consistent class wins in the RAC rallies in the 1970s and 80s with the Estelle.
In August 2006, an Auto Express survey revealed that just 612 Škoda Estelles sold in Britain were still registered with the DVLA, which officially made it the fifth most scrapped car in Britain sold in the last 30 years - although it can be argued that much of this reduction in numbers could be attributed to mass re-exportation of the vehicles back to Eastern Europe (as was also the case with contemporary Lada vehicles of the same era) where they were worth much more, as opposed to scrappage. The four cars with a higher rate for scrappings had all finished production at least four years before the Estelle. With the Škoda Estelle being the last mass-produced rear-engined small family car in Europe, not to mention the fact it's becoming increasingly rare in the UK, prices for good examples are rising.
- 105 Lux (1984–1989) - Name given to the 105 L after the 1984 model year but had otherwise the same equipment and trim as the 120 L apart from a slight difference in the headlights.
- 120 LSE (1979–1987) - Same as the 120 LS plus vinyl roof, sunroof, tinted glass and stereo radio/cassette player. During the 1981-1984 period, there were no 120 LS models available only to special order.
- 120 LXE (1987) - Same as the 120 LX plus sunroof, tinted glass and stereo radio/cassette player. It was only available for several months until it was replaced by the 120 L 'Five'.
- 120 L Five (1987–1990) - Same as the 120 L, plus 5-speed gearbox, sunroof, front door pockets, digital clock and stereo radio/cassette player.
- Rapid 120 CE (1984) - limited edition of 90 released to celebrate Škoda's 90th anniversary, featuring golden alloy wheels and all-black paint with gold stripes along the flanks.
The 105 and the 120 sold well in Finland in the late 70's later during the 80's Skoda's sales in Finland took a small plummet but nothing of concern.The 105 and the 120 were imported with no tweaks except some extra options to help it get through Finland's snowy roads easier.
- 105 Super - this name was given to the later 105 S.
- 120 LSX - special edition model available in 1984 to celebrate Škoda's ninetieth Anniversary.
There was a 105 LS model available specially in Germany, but it was not a strong seller and couldn't hope to compete with the leading favorites: Volkswagen Golf, Volkswagen Jetta, Opel Kadett and Ford Escort. Overall sales were predictable in Germany
Sales of the Škoda 105/120 range in Greece were strong, though it was never able to match the success of established Western European and Japanese models. Its main selling points were its low price, ease of maintenance and spacious interior. The low price was a particular consideration during the recession of the late 1970s and early 1980s. They had a good reputation for being rugged and robust vehicles and they were considered by some drivers as "the real cars" for all possible uses and needs.
The 120 standard model was never imported in Greece. After the Škoda 105/120 models were given a mild revamp in early 1984, the whole 105/120/130 range was sold under the name Škoda Target.
By the early 1990s, it was obvious more than ever that the rear-engined range had already become a far cry from the needs of the Greek drivers. As a result, the Škoda 105/120 and 130/135/136 models rapidly disappeared from Greek roads. There are extremely few, if any rear-engined Škodas left, on Greek roads.
- 105 Sport - this name was given to the 105 S (instead of Standard). After 1983, the 105 S was no longer imported, meaning that there was no such thing as a "Target 105 S" available.
- 120 LS / 120 GLS - Both had front door pockets, tachometer, and since 1984: 5-speed gearbox, digital clock and stereo radio/cassette player. Only the 120 GLS could be ordered with sunroof.
- Target 120 L 5-speed - Same as the 120 L, plus 5-speed gearbox, front door pockets, digital clock and stereo radio/cassette player.
The Škoda 105/120 was imported into New Zealand in the late 1970s and proved to be an affordable, popular and robust "no-frills" vehicle, comparing well against equivalent English imports. There was a political scandal though in the early 1980s when it was reported that a batch of imported Škodas were made with Czech prison labor (such imports are forbidden under New Zealand law), but the importation was allowed to continue when it was determined that the importer knew nothing about this aspect of the vehicles construction.
Note: This car also got a political reputation at the General Election in 1984, when a defeated National Party MP derisively referred to his opponent who won his seat (a candidate from the Social Credit Party) as a member of "the Crimplene suit and Škoda brigade".
The Škoda 120L was sold in Australia during the late 1970s and early 1980s though sales suffered from laws that limited numbers imported annually due to their being manufactured in Czechoslovakia which was a communist state. Despite this the 120L received a positive response from the motoring press who acknowledged it as offering good value for money. This was the last Škoda model sold in Australia until the 2007 launch of the Škoda Octavia and Škoda Roomster. It is estimated that approximately 20 Škoda 120L's survive in Australia.