A quarter of a century ago, on Wednesday 10 September 1997, the ŠKODA OCTAVIA COMBI design study was unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show. The only difference between it and the future production car was a few details.

Work on the development of the future ŠKODA OCTAVIA had begun back in 1992, shortly after the Czech brand was incorporated into Volkswagen Group. The first studies were based on the third-generation VW Golf, but the decision was soon taken to endow the new flagship from Mladá Boleslav with the Group’s latest technology. ŠKODA was thus the first of its sister brands to introduce a car based on the all-new A4 chassis platform.

The design study for the ŠKODA OCTAVIA COMBI that was unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show.

Room for the future

The ŠKODA OCTAVIA Liftback, designed in digital CAD, was presented to the public on 4 April 1996. The timelessly elegant design was the work of a team of designers led by Dirk van Braeckel.

The standard OCTAVIA liftback had an astonishingly spacious and practical luggage compartment, surpassing even cars in the class above it. The 1997 Frankfurt Motor Show then gave a glimpse of an even more promising future with the OCTAVIA COMBI design study. Incidentally, that purple exhibit, one of the milestones in the brand’s history, has been preserved in the depository of the ŠKODA MUSEUM in Mladá Boleslav.

The side of the body was created in one piece.

The Czech carmaker’s maximalist demands for the new model meant, among other things, massive investments in technologies for efficient series production. As a result, a new part of the production complex, one of the most modern of its kind in Europe, was built in Mladá Boleslav. The M14 welding plant, with a projected daily capacity of 1,200 car bodies in a three-shift working day, became an important part of the plant. Series production of the ŠKODA OCTAVIA COMBI began here in February 1998. The side of the body, made from a single piece of deep-drawn sheet metal, was created on the largest pressing machine at the plant. The stamping die alone weighed an impressive 63 tonnes yet worked with an accuracy to within a tenth of a millimetre.

The red paint job was popular in the first generation.

OCTAVIA COMBI from the Swinging Sixties

The forerunner of the modern generation of OCTAVIA estate versions was the popular ŠKODA OCTAVIA COMBI. More than 54,000 customers opted for it, and in addition to its success on the domestic market it was also popular abroad. The car that was to become a legend was first presented to the public on 11 September 1960 at the International Engineering Fair in Brno. Production started in the summer of 1961 and the last OCTAVIA COMBI rolled off the line at Kvasiny on 21 December 1971. With its compact exterior dimensions of 4,065 x 1,600 x 1,430 mm, the car offered space for five adults and 690 litres of luggage – when stowed up to the ceiling. With the back seats down, it was possible to carry up to 1,050 litres of cargo or make use of the practical sleeper arrangement.

Next generation

The official world premiere of the OCTAVIA COMBI came at the Geneva Motor Show on 5 March 1998, with the first customers getting their hands on the keys in May. The four-and-a-half-metre estate had a wheelbase of 2,512 mm, was six millimetres longer and 26 mm taller, and – depending on the model – just 15 to 30 kg heavier. What attracted the most attention was the elegant design of the rear of the car, offering plenty of space for luggage:  548 – 1,512 litres. 

The popular estate model also came in a four-wheel drive version, of course.

​The estate version accounted for 15% of all OCTAVIA sales in the first year, 36.7% the following year and as much as 40.5% in 2001. As early as October 1998, some of them started rolling off the new line in Vrchlabí, where production of the smaller FELICIA model was just ending. 

ŠKODA’s tradition of estate versions

Cars with practical, spacious and variable “combination” bodies first appeared in the ŠKODA range after the Second World War. They were based on the ŠKODA 1101 “Tudor” model series. In 1949, production of the ŠKODA 1101 Station Wagon, or STW, began at the Kvasiny and Vrchlabí plants. By folding down the undivided backrests of the rear seats, a cargo area of 1,490 mm in length and 980-1,380 mm in width was created.

Estate version of the ŠKODA 1200

In the spring of 1953, an even more spacious ŠKODA 1200 STW with an all-metal body was made available. The rear seats were accessed through a single door, from the right, off-road side. Compared to the basic saloon, the weight was increased from 400 kg to 500 kg, and the 1,750 mm long cargo area was narrowed to 990 mm between the wheel arches. Production took place at the Vrchlabí plant, as was the case with the subsequent 1201 STW and 1202 STW. 

In 1971, after the popular ŠKODA OCTAVIA COMBI, a completely new generation of rear-engined ŠKODAs began rolling off the production line at Kvasiny. This concept brought a number of advantages, but at the same time limited the variety of body styles available. The estate version disappeared from the Mladá Boleslav brand’s range for twenty years. 

In the spring of 1991, the new front-wheel drive ŠKODA FORMAN was launched, complementing the 350 millimetre shorter FAVORIT hatchback. The body shape was designed by the Italian Stile Bertone studio, and the efficient sharing of maximum components, including an identical boot lid, was unique, even on a global scale. The car’s space-saving concept with the engine mounted transversely above the driven front wheels allowed better use of the enclosed space than in earlier models. The ŠKODA FORMAN’s external dimensions of 4,215 x 1,620 x 1,425 gave users a load area of up to 1,450 mm. With space for 400-1,300 litres of luggage, it was also a very popular type of family car.

The follow-up FELICIA COMBI from 1995-2001 offered a more powerful 1.6 MPI/55 kW engine and a higher level of safety and quality, among other things. The range of comfort and safety features was extended to include ABS, front airbags and air conditioning.