Monte fails to rally love
The Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo may now be little more than a lot of trim options but it sent Campbell Spray back in time
It's rather a Skodafest today. Geraldine looks at the marque's new Scala hatchback over on the right, while I'm on a nostalgia trip by way of giving impressions of the Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo.
If anything influenced me to become a motoring writer, it was the great run of Monte Carlo Rallies as I tried to grow up in a boarding school in England from 1961 to 1968. At that time, the world's greatest rally was dominated first by Saabs - the wonderful 96, of which I was later to own two - then Minis, again I had two, and finally Porsche. The names Erik Carlsson, Paddy Hopkirk and Timo Makinen became almost gods as they battled through the snow and in to grainy newspaper pictures and, even on rare occasions for us boarders, a black-and-white television.
When I was in my last year, I had an older girlfriend back home in Cornwall who owned a Mini and was a bit of a rally driver. When I wasn't distracted by her long legs and short skirt, she taught me much of the basics of co-driving and navigating among other things, before totally breaking my heart and leaving me on the hard shoulder of life instead of its gentle curves. But the Monte stayed faithful even if it never had quite the same glamour for me.
Since then, the race has been won by manufacturers including Subaru (which in fact did become another of my favourites), Citroen, Peugeot, Ford and Volkswagen. In 2010 a Skoda Fabia came second and third and the following year - the centenary of the Monte Carlo Rally's inception in 1911 - it had another third place. This gave the Czech marque a good pedigree to produce sportified editions of its small hatchback named after the iconic rally.
The latest version, which I tested, was powered by a reasonably peppy 1.0 litre TSI Turbo engine. There's a fair bit of personality outside too, with the red test car set off with rather nice spoked 17" black alloys, similarly coloured roof, rear spoiler, front grille and door mirrors. Inside there are sports seats, red-stitching and lots of nice touches, even though it is not very real and a bit dark. Of course there is also the Monte Carlo logo between the doors trying to advertise its credentials. The very boxy car also gives very good rear and luggage space. Neither I, nor my dog, liked the fact that the rear windows weren't electric.
The car does look a bit dated these days and it is on the Volkswagen group's old platform which models like the Seat Ibiza have moved on from. However, it would have been quite practical if I could get a comfortable driving position. I found the footwell far too crowded and a smaller driver would find the length of the seat a problem. The Monte Carlo Fabia starts at €19,425 but the test car's options pushed the price up another €2,000.
It's not bad but nothing magical and probably doesn't really deserve the name as it is used for really just a trim variant than a really exciting dynamic set-up. In the Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo's case, it doesn't do what it says on the tin. There are a lot of better cars to drive out there like the Ford Fiesta to give you more confident thrills.
Generally Skoda is a very good marque and the much-missed Yeti was one of my all-time favourites but this Fabia didn't do it for me.
However, it did give the chance to remember some great rallies, one Cornish girl and a lesson in love and heartbreak.