► This car holds a land speed record
► Stripped-out and upgraded for max velocity
► We've driven it 10 years on in the UK
The 19th August 2021 marks 10 years since Skoda broke a land speed record. Its relatively humble Octavia vRS managed to clock 227.080mph on the salt flats of Bonneville, making it the fastest 2.0-litre forced induction car production car, a record it still holds to this day.
Of course, behind the livery, this is far from a standard Octavia vRS. CAR has driven the wild brainchild of Skoda's record attempt on the massive high-speed bowl at the Millbrook Proving Ground, restored to full working order a decade after its achievement.
I need a history lesson...
It began as a wild idea from Skoda UK's communications team, with the aim of breaking the 200mph barrier in a car with a 2.0-litre engine. The Corrida Red Octavia vRS used was meant to join the brand's press fleet but it was whisked away for modification to attempt the record. Skoda worked with performance outfit, Revo, to help carry out the modifications.
There were complications from the very start. The car was so new that few aftermarket suppliers made high-performance parts for it, only a select number of modifications would be permitted by the Southern California Timing Association and the deadline was insanely tight to make sure the car was ready for the Bonneville Speed Week in 2011. So much so that Ricky Elder – superbike racer, boss of REPerformance and one of the key project engineers – told CAR he had to carry bags of car parts through airport security for the event.
The Bonneville-spec Octavia vRS was completely stripped out, a whacking-great turbocharger was fitted to the engine, its injection system was uprated, and a 10-litre radiator was part of the upgraded cooling system. Skoda says total power output hovers around the 600bhp mark.
Skoda swapped out the vRS gearbox for the longer-legged one of the eco-friendly Greenline model, added skinny tyres with aerodynamic dishes and removed the brakes in favour of a parachute to stop the car during the speed runs. The car was piloted by motoring journalist, Richard Meaden during the record attempts.
When Skoda arrived at Bonneville for the 2011 Speed Week, its modified Octavia clocked in at 195.69mph on the very first day, with that speed figure rising to 202.15mph by day six. Towards the end of the event, though, it smashed the 216mph record; 225.513mph on Thursday 18 August 2011 and 228.647mph on Friday 19 August 2011, averaging out at 227.080mph between the two runs.
It's a record Skoda still holds to this day.
And they let you in it?!
Yes, something I couldn't quite believe myself. Skoda's team restored the car to its former glory for us to get a brief glimpse of just what the record holder was capable of.
Even just climbing inside it could not be further from a normal Octavia. The huge rollcage takes real acrobatics and flexibility to shimmy into without hurting yourself or pulling a muscle.
Ricky talked us through the controls, and there are still bits of standard Octavia in here including the throttle pedal and, er... the gearkbob attached to a hilariously long gearstick. For safety during the speed runs, Meaden had to be fully harnessed including straps on his arms limiting movement in case the worst happens during a crash on the salt flats. Thankfully, I'm not doing a speed run here, despite those unnerving details.
Another spot of relief came in the return of stock vRS wheels and tyres and, thankfully, the brake discs had been replaced – no need for the parachute during our run.
What strikes you first is the deafening noise. I'm not underselling it when I say it is biblically loud at any revs, even as I'm just rolling out to start our run on the high-speed bowl. Once on the move, though, you can still feel bits of trad Skoda in the way it drives – the steering is light and direct, and the ride isn't track car firm. This'll be easy!
Right up until you need to change gear. To say the gearbox is baggy is an understatement; Ricky warned us that finding the right gear might not be as simple as that massive gearstick should really make it, and the race-spec clutch is much more binary than your average Octavia vRS. You'd better be in the right gear as you lift that pedal as the clutch'll ram it in whether you like it or not.
But once I'm on the bowl, the Octavia comes alive. That bellowing exhaust doesn't for one second calm down but it's a key part of the experience here, and it's definitely not slow. I was limited by the bowl's speed limits, and a pace car I had to follow was keeping to them religiously (excuses, excuses etc.), so I didn't squeeze every horsepower out of it on the run, but just a flex of my big toe mid-gear and (even with the long gearing) it'll kick hard with the raucous, ear-splitting soundtrack to match. It's absolutely thrilling.
I hit 103mph, and what's telling is just how at ease the car feels at this speed. Of course it does, it's capable of 125mph more. This is child's play to it, even 10 years on.
After a few laps, my time is up, with the pace car sifting back down the banked lanes to exit the bowl. Lifting off the throttle and shifting down the gears, I go for the brakes. While I was thankful Skoda replaced the discs, the pedal has no servo, requiring all your body weight to even shave off some of the speed. Bum squeaky to say the least as you're coming down off the high of being inside a record-breaking car.
But all is well as I roll through the Millbrook facility, exhaust howling in low gears despite doing no more than 30mph, and we're still filled with adrenaline and beaming the whole way back to the meet-up point. An utterly surreal experience, but one I'll never forget.
Skoda Octavia vRS Bonneville: verdict
What a machine. Whatever you think of land speed records, the engineering and dedication to the cause of the Skoda team has to be massively applauded. The car itself is raw and thrilling, but what should be commended is that the record hasn't been broken since. I hope it stays that way for many years to come.
Read more Skoda reviews here