20 February 2023

WATCH: Royalla's connection to Australia's biggest Cold War story (and a Skoda)

| James Coleman
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Vladimir Petrov

Vladimir Petrov’s car crashed near Royalla on 24 December 1953. Photos: Archives ACT, Public Domain, James Coleman.

Chances are you’ve heard of the ‘Petrov Affair’.

Basically, a Soviet spy in the 1950s called Vladimir Petrov decided he should do something without telling his wife. It didn’t end well. But months before he defected to Australia and a national mess unfolded, he claims there was an attempt on his life near Royalla.

He was driving his beloved Skoda along Cooma Road (now the Monaro Highway) in the early hours of Christmas Eve, 1953, when … well, here’s what happened:

The story doesn’t end there, however.

In leaked documents, Petrov named three members of the Australian Labor Party as Soviet sources of information. Party leader Herbert Evatt was incensed and became convinced the then Liberal/Country Federal government had concocted the whole thing to stay in power. A Royal Commission was called to investigate, but Evatt’s explosive outbursts at the inquiry didn’t leave a good impression. Half his colleagues later left him to form the Democratic Labor Party in 1955.

It’s a complicated story, so we’ll move on to my Skoda. As Basil Fawlty might say, “Don’t mention the Soviet origins”, but it’s easy to see why Petrov liked his so much. Even after not getting on so well with his Soviet countrymen towards the end there.

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The Skoda Fabia has been around since 1999, but we didn’t get it until the Czechoslovakian brand returned to Australia in 2007. Now as a member of the big Volkswagen family – where everyone sleeps in the same house and shares the same food – it is, of course, a VW Polo underneath.

What set the Soviet … sorry, Czech, twin apart initially was a roofline higher than that of your ordinary hatchback, which instantly put it in the good books of everyone over the age of 60 who wanted a little run-around but one that was also as easy to get in and out of as a La-Z-Boy. And you could wear a hat while doing so.

It also meant it was a neat car but nothing to get the blood pumping, at least until the turbocharged VRS model came along in metallic green.

Mine is the all-new 2022 Fabia and wears another exciting badge, complete with chequered racing flags.

‘Monte Carlo’ was where Skoda celebrated major victories on the rally track with cars that were gutted and then fed a lot of beans to make them properly monstrous. Tack the name onto a Fabia and it means you have a 1.5-litre turbocharged engine, 110 kilowatts of power, 18-inch wheels, a black roof and we have to mention the red bits on the dash and the stripes on the seats.

There’s no doubt it’s a darty thing – Skoda claims a 0-100 km/h time of eight seconds. But I’m not sure if it’s the time it takes for the turbo to get its act together or a dual-clutch gearbox more interested in saving fuel, but power seems to be delivered in either dribbles or lumps. Prod the accelerator and not much happens; stomp on it and it all happens. Fortunately, ‘Sport’ mode helps with this because then it’s always a lump.

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What you will not do is crash. Well, it’s hard to.

Skoda pulled out all the stops on the safety front, from park assist and side assist to rear traffic alert, lane-keeping assist, and I’ve missed several, with a different beep for every single one. It even bongs to let you know the door is open and the ignition on – handy because you might have forgotten how you just got out of the car.

The Fabia might also be the size of an ant, but it definitely doesn’t feel it on the inside. You can spread your wings with impunity in the driver’s seat, and there’s still room for a human with legs behind you. The rest of the interior is littered with clever cubby holes, including one in the driver’s door purpose-built for holding an umbrella (just like a Bentley … I’ve heard).

It also has one of the biggest boots in the class, and in my test example, at least, even a little hammock for suspending Russian potatoes.

It is expensive, though.

Driveaway costs for the ACT start at $38,990, and then there’s the insurance to consider. Which I imagine is quite a bit, especially if you live near Royalla.

2023 Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo

  • $38,990 driveaway
  • 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol; 110 kW / 250 Nm
  • 7-speed dual-clutch Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) automatic, front-wheel drive (FWD)
  • 0-100 km/h in 8 seconds
  • 4.9 litres per 100 km combined fuel use
  • 5-star ANCAP safety rating

This car was provided for testing by Lennock Skoda. Region has no commercial arrangement with Lennock Motors.

Original Article published by James Coleman on Riotact.

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