You have seen them driving around, you may have even driven them. First produced in 1987, the Skoda Favorit has just celebrated its 20th anniversary. Although it is one of the most common and most popular cars in the Czech Republic, few would believe that the bulky Favorit was designed in Italy. For Czechs it was a child of Perestroika - in the car industry.
The sound of a Skoda Favorit starting up remains familiar to more than a quarter of a million drivers around the Czech Republic. The Skoda factory in Mlada Boleslav, some 50 km northeast of Prague, stopped producing them in 1994, but they are still doing quite well, ranking in the top ten of most common cars on Czech roads. Martin Dusek, a proud owner of the iconic Skoda, took me for a ride in his dark blue Favorit. When I asked him why he fell for this particular model, he gave me multiple reasons why the car is like no other.
"Because it is a unique car, you know. Because it is not a car like the others. Because the story behind the car is so unique and interesting. Because it was produced at the end of communism, during the Perestroika times. So you have this very user-friendly, spacious, cheap car, and that's Favorit."
Skoda produced some interesting models in the 1950s and 1960s but the company's progress was halted in 1968 by the Soviet-led invasion. The company was forced to drop ambitious plans to compete with some of Europe's most prominent car makers. Instead, the infamous Skoda 120 was produced and became a symbol of the dreary post-invasion period.
In the middle of the 1980s when the communist regime in Czechoslovakia reluctantly started adopting reforms and political pressures began to loosen, it was time for Skoda to re-establish broken links with Italian designers. Martin Dusek again.
"At the end of communism, they decided to build a car which would be western style, its design and the whole concept of the car. That's why they hired Bertone Studio, a famous Italian design house. Bertone's chief designer, Mr Deschamp, came to Mlada Boleslav, and they started designing the whole car. They were really surprised by all the things that were not possible in a communist country and they had to put together Italian design attitude and the possibilities of a communist country."
According to the Czech Automotive Industry Association, more than 250,000 Favorits are still registered in the country today. While the use of cars produced more than a decade ago is certainly one of the reasons behind the soaring number of fatal accidents in the Czech Republic, Skoda Favorit is still faithful to its name as it remains one of the most popular vehicles on Czech roads. Monika Drakselova, a 21-year-old student from Prague and a member of a Skoda Favorit club, says that for her, having a Favorit is a matter of convenience rather than love.
"I am quite happy with it, I like it and I got used to it. The initial choice was quite easy for me because of the cost and availability of spare parts, and I got to like the car a lot. Also, the first car I drove after passing my driving test was a Favorit pick-up and I was ok with it, so I decided I was going to get a Favorit. Of course there are many nice cars, I was dreaming of getting a Ford Ka, but I like the way Favorit looks too, I got used to it and now I wouldn't go for another car."
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