1970 Skoda 110 R – Feature
Fifty years ago, Skoda presented a hot little number in the 110 R coupe.
Of all the European automotive marques that have attempted to crack the Australian market in the new millennium, Skoda’s arguably been the only one to make a real success of it.
Given the fact they’re fairly prodigious on Aussie roads now, it’s perhaps a surprise to learn the brand was only reintroduced here in 2007. Skoda had been marketed in Australia previously, but that 2007 return marked the first official Skoda imports in almost 25 years.
While Skoda has a history stretching back 125 years, first as a bicycle maker before turning to automobiles in 1905, its Australian connections are much younger.
Skodas came here in small numbers in the 1930s, with the first Skoda imported in the post-World War II era being the 1100 model, which reached our shores in 1949. A conventional design, the 1100 featured a front-mounted four-cylinder engine driving the rear wheels through a four-speed gearbox, with styling not dissimilar to a Peugeot 203 of the same period.
The 1100 was succeeded by the 1200 in 1953, which in turn was replaced by the 440 model in 1956.
Like other European cars of the period, Skoda enjoyed a loyal, but small following in Australia. But as Holden began to flex its muscle in the 1950s, that following became smaller and smaller.
The local release of the Octavia in 1960 reversed that trend slightly, but its advanced features for the day, like all-round independent suspension, were lost on most consumers.
Octavia upgrades and a smaller-engined Felicia model followed in the next few years, but Skoda remained an oddity in the Australian market.
When the rear-engined 1000MB, marketed here as the Sabre, was released in 1966, it lasted less than three years. The VW Beetle had proven a local market existed for rear-engined cars, but Aussies were even starting to abandon that model in the late ’60s as the Holden-Ford-Chrysler hegemony was well and truly established. That hegemony was broken in the 1970s, but it was by well-made, well-equipped and cheap Japanese cars, not Skodas.
In 1979, Skoda tried again with the 120 LS, another rear-engined model. It failed to make a dent in the local market, and by the mid-1980s, it was all over – Skoda wouldn’t reappear here in volume until 2007.
Skoda’s patchy history in Australia means we missed out on some interesting and intriguing cars through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. One the coolest of these was the 110 R coupe.
A Sportier Skoda
Debuting for the 1970 model year, the 110 R was a development of the 100 sedan (aka S100) that had been released three years earlier and was produced primarily to satisfy the European market’s demand for a sporty coupe.
Offered initially with a rear-mounted 998cc four-cylinder engine, a 1107cc four was available as an option. A hotted-up version of the latter engine would power the 110 R.
In stock trim, the 1107cc four put out 23kW (43hp), but modifications resulted in 38kW (52hp) in the 110 R.
Development of the 110 R, nicknamed ‘Erko’ in Czechoslovakia (today’s Czech Republic), began in 1966, and by March, 1968, the first prototype rolled out of Skoda’s factory in Kvasiny. Amongst other locations, testing of the 110 R (which carried the internal designation ‘S 718 K’ during its development) took place on autobahns in East Germany, where a top speed of 145 km/h was achieved.
A second prototype followed in March, 1969, which set the template for the production model with its dual carburettor, revised compression ratio and an AC generator instead of a dynamo.
Fitted with radial tyres as standard, the 110 R coupe could accelerate to 100km/h from standstill in 19 seconds and hit that aforementioned top speed of 145km/h. Granted, these weren’t earth-shattering numbers, even in 1970, but given the car’s 1.1-litre engine capacity, they weren’t bad, either.
Weight was biased toward the rear, which was great for traction but also led to oversteer, making the 110 R a tricky beast to handle at speed.
The driver was presented with a comprehensive – for 1970 – dash panel, made up of a large speedo and tacho directly in front of a steering wheel with sporty drilled spokes, while auxiliary gauges consisted of oil pressure, engine temp and a fuel gauge.
Average fuel consumption was 8.5 litres per 100 kilometres and volume of the front-mounted fuel tank was 32 litres. Front disc brakes were standard, using a dual-circuit system and componentry made under licence from Dunlop.
To make their new arrival stand out, Skoda took the 100/110’s dowdy three-box styling and rebodied it with a sleek fastback rear, longer doors and a steeper windscreen. Of course, when we’re taking Eastern European cars “sleek” is a relative term, but there’s no denying the 110R looked sportier than the sedan it was based on.
The driver and front passenger sat on comfortable, supportive bucket seats, but the proximity of the front wheelarches to the cabin meant the pedals were offset; a feature that took some getting used to, but one that was not exclusive to Skoda in this period.
Like most coupes, the 110 R’s interior space was biased towards the front seats, with the rears more suitable for storage or children than adults. Speaking of storage, there was 250 litres of luggage space under the bonnet, while a boot behind the rear seats offered 120 litres, with further storage space under the rear seats.
The 110 R made its public debut on 5 September, 1969, at an engineering fair in Brno, followed by appearances at the London, Paris and Turin Motor Shows in the same year. Interest in the sporty fastback was high, so much so that Skoda couldn’t meet the demand initially.
Exports meant dollars, so Skoda focussed on foreign markets for 110 R production, primarily in Western European countries. When 110 R manufacture got underway in earnest in 1971, around 85 per cent of production went to markets outside Czechoslovakia. By 1973, 93 per cent of production went beyond the Czech border.
Left-hand drive units accounted for the vast majority of 110 R coupes produced, but from September, 1972, Skoda also built a right-hand drive version. The UK accounted for the bulk of RHD production and by 1975, 2,371 coupes, or 36 per cent of the total number of 110 R exports, went to the UK.
While European countries embraced the 110 R, some units were exported to markets as far away as Kuwait, Nicaragua and even New Zealand. As far as we’re aware, none officially came to Australia.
When it was replaced by the Garde model in 1981, a total of 57,085 units of the 110 R had been produced. The Garde was replaced by the Rapid in 1984, which carried much of the 110 R’s DNA and stayed in production until 1990.
Rare and Desirable
Today, Skoda 110 R coupes are extremely rare, and good, untouched examples like the one pictured even rarer.
Some RHD units survive in the UK, but in tiny numbers, with LHD examples produced for European markets accounting for most survivors.
In Australia, the 110 R is practically non-existent, with the only one to surface in recent years being a restored 1973 unit that was part of the Gosford Classic Car Museum. That sold for an undisclosed sum at a Lloyd’s Classic Car Auction at the time of the museum’s dissolution and its whereabouts are unknown today.
In terms of values, the 110 R remains relatively affordable at around $10-15,000 for a good example.
With so few in Australia, turning to overseas sources increases the potential offerings, but also increases the price significantly, as well as the potential for rust and other maladies.
If you really want a Skoda 110 R, they are out there – the challenge is finding one.
Porsche of the East
To fuel demand for the 110 R, Skoda campaigned it in both circuit racing and rally competition from 1973.
The 130 RS, a 110 R-based competition car released in 1975, featured a modified engine that was bored out to 1300cc and dialled up to as much as 96kW (130hp), with the suspension worked over to reduce the tail-happy handling. A roll cage was standard, while a body made up of a mix of fibreglass and aluminium panels trimmed the 110 R’s 880kg weight down to just 720kg.
In rallying, the 130 RS was a regular winner in the Under 1300cc class throughout the latter half of the 1970s, with the highlight being a 1-2 class finish at the 1977 Monte Carlo Rally.
In circuit racing, the 130 RS was just as successful in its class and won the Manufacturer’s Trophy outright in the 1981 European Touring Car Championship.
The 130 RS’s performance on the gravel and the tarmac led to its ‘Porsche of the East’ tag, which was flattering, but not entirely inaccurate.
Wilder 110 R competition variants included the potent 180 RS and 200 RS, the latter of which actually used a Porsche-derived gearbox.