The story of two ŠKODA 130 RS rallycars, nicknamed “Porsches of the East”, claiming a double victory in 1977 Rallye Monte Carlo is quite well-known. The same cannot be said about another victory ten years later. In 1987, two ŠKODA 130 L rallycars went to Rallye Monte Carlo, with crews of Ladislav Křeček/Bořivoj Motl and John Haugland/Petter Vegel. The ban of Group B in late 1986 meant that it was slower, less powerful Group A cars that represented ŠKODA Motorsport in the “Queen of all Rallies”. And, once again, the tiny, rear-engined ŠKODAs were able to beat much more powerful competitors. We talked with John Haugland, who managed to finish 14th overall and win his class, about his recollections of the rally.
The 1987 season was a bit of a turning point in the world of rallying, with the ban of Group B cars. We all know how much the top level of competition changed – how big was the difference between B and A group cars at the lower levels, where 130 LR was replaced by 130 L/A?
Of course, going from ŠKODA 130 LR to ŠKODA 130 L was a step down. The biggest difference was the engine power and weight, as the 130 L had 25 less horsepower and 100 more kilograms. It also had non-adjustable brake balance and was generally more similar to the road version, with drum brakes in the rear and production rear axle, instead of the one specifically designed for motorsport that was fitted to 130 LR. However, as a driver, you have to make the best out of what you got. No problem. And I enjoyed driving the 130 L, as I enjoy driving anything I can drive flat-out.
In some older interviews, you praised the 130 RS as being especially great handling – you even said that you liked it better than 911. The 130 LR and 130 L/A tend to be underestimated as the are visually similar to run-of-the-mill saloon. How did they compare to 130 RS in reality?
When we first got the ŠKODA 130 RS in 1976, it was fantastic! What a rallycar compared to our old 120 S. It was low and wide, with fantastic stability and road-holding. The weight distribution was great and the low centre of gravity helped, too. As a result, the car was incredibly fast in the corners on tarmac.
I still have the last works 130 RS at home, and I’m still driving it from time to time. It was like a mini-Stratos, and I say that having driven both Lancia Stratos, Alpine A110 and Porsche 911 many times. I have to say that ŠKODA 130 RS was, when it came to cornering on tarmac, the best rear engined rally car I have driven.
When we got the 130 LR Group B rallycar in 1985, it came with many advantages. It had disc brakes in the rear, adjustable brake balance, much improved driving position and a 5-speed gearbox. The power was roughly the same as with 130 RS. Where I liked it better was on a loose surface, like gravel or snow. It handled really well, which may have been the result of new rear suspension design.
How was the 1987 Rallye Monte Carlo? Can you tell us more about the event – the weather, the competitors, how it went? Was it a smooth ride, or did you run into any difficulties?
In 1987, twelve of the special stages were on snow, which was well-suited both for me and our car. With the rear-mounted engine, the 130 LR had lots of traction and it handled real well. We started with two cars, one with me and Petter Vegel, the other driven by Ladislav Křeček with Bořivoj Motl as co-driver – but they had to retire early, so it was all up to Petter and Me.
We owed a lot of our success to careful preparation and co-ordination, things our competition manager Jiří Kotek was in charge of. He’s a great organizer and he made sure everything went as smoothly as possible.
What was the best moment of the rally?
Driving the Chartreuse special stage, a long, snowy one through the mountains and villages. I knew that one from making ice-notes for other drivers. Some parts of the road were quite wide, so we could choose a good racing line, and the profile was interesting, with lots of corners, going up- and downhill all the time. And there were crowds of spectators lining the roads, with bonfires in the dark and the smell of sausages everywhere.
Col de Turini is a great stage as well, but for me, Chartreuse was one of the best special stages I have ever driven.
And, on the other hand, what was the worst?
That moment when a Renault ice-note car forced out off the road. It was just after Ladislav had retired, so all the pressure was on Petter and me. We met this car on a road section (transport stage), he was in a hurry, overtaking another car, and he miscalculated. He was coming at us on the wrong side of the road, and I had no choice but to drive into a snowy ditch.
I angrily jumped out of the car and ran over the road towards the Renault, screaming. The driver locked himself in and I was banging and yelling at him. I think he was afraid – and he had the reason to be!
Then, the Renault competition manager came in the next car, stopped and grabbed me. I knew him, he used to be Hubáček’s boss. He told me to calm down and think about the special stage I was about to do, then he helped us get our car back on the road.
When we met the Renault ice-note boys in Monaco after the rally, they just turned around and ran away!
With its 1.3-litre engine and around 100 horsepower, the 130 L/A could look slow and tiny compared to modern cars like FABIA R5. How different of an experience was is compared to modern sports cars? Would you say that it was exciting to drive one?
The main difference between today’s rallycars and the rear-wheel-drive ones we have in the 70s and 80s is mainly that the old ones required much more physical work to drive. There was no power steering, you had to use the clutch to change gears, and the cars were sliding and oversteering all the time.
Today, the modern rallycars have light, precise power steering, and you need just two pedals to drive them. Driver can basically have just one hand on the wheel and use the left foot for all the braking. No clutch is needed to change gear.
The biggest improvement, though, is the suspension. Today’s rallycars have so much grip and stability, and such a good ride. The modern suspensions can absorb just about anything.
At the time, most of the competing cars were 4×4 or front-wheel-drive. Was the rear-engine, rear-drive layout of 130 L/A an advantage in rallying? How did this change with conditions?
The biggest advantage of ŠKODA 130 L in Monte Carlo was the traction in snow. And it was very docile and easy to drive. Very enjoyable, really. In general, the advantage of ŠKODA rallycars from 1970s and 1980s was their superior traction on snow and gravel. Thanks to independent suspension front and rear, they also had great grip on tarmac, which was helped by good weight distribution as well.
And the brakes were pretty good as well, I can’t remember any case of problems with them running hot or even fading.
Those cars were also easy to set up, and we had incredibly good engineers and mechanics at ŠKODA Motorsport. I have a car-focused technical education and I enjoy working on and improving competition car, so it was lucky for me to be able to work with such fantastic engineers. When I got older, I realized how much I learned especially from the engineers in Česana.
How did it even happened that you, a Scandinavian driver, ended up driving for Eastern-bloc manufacturer? It wasn’t usual at the time, was it?
I started as an apprentice at the Norwegian ŠKODA importer, F. E. Dahl &Co AS. I was interested in motorsport and this company had a rally team, running ŠKODA OCTAVIA TOURING SPORT. That inspired me and that’s when I decided that I would like to be a racing or rally driver. I started out with a ŠKODA OCTAVIA TOURING SPORT that I built and prepared myself.
After first year, I bought a ŠKODA 1000 MB, which I prepared for gravel and ice circuit racing. This was in 1966, and in 1967, a ŠKODA technical representative by the name of Karel Švábek arrived in Norway. He saw what I was doing and gave me a lot of advice on car preparation. This helped us get better results and my bosses wanted to help me do more.
They started supplying me with cars and parts and soon, I was mostly employed to build and race cars. Karel arranged for us to get better parts and cars, which helped us improve even further and we went to Mladá Boleslav to a meeting of European ŠKODA drivers. We got our own Group 5 ŠKODA 1100 MB with a 1,150 cc engine, and we won two circuit and hillclimb races. Then, both ŠKODA and Motokov noticed us. I was invited by ŠKODA to drive works cars at Nürburgring in 1970 and 1971, and to Austrian Alpine Rally and Tour d’Europe in 1971. We won our class in both, and came in 6th and 4th overall.
Then, in 1972, I was offered a deal from Motokov to drive international rallies for ŠKODA works team, which I kept doing until 1990. And I have been working in motorsport ever since.
I owe my motorsport life to Karel Švábek, who died last spring. He did everything for me.
Feature photo courtesy of Jiří Kotek.