125 YEARS OF ŠKODA: a lighter look at the past

125 YEARS OF ŠKODA: a lighter look at the past

In the year that is drawing to a close, ŠKODA has been celebrating 125 years of history. In its century and a quarter of history there has been no shortage of daring and amusing escapades. Here are just a few of them.

30. 12. 2020 125 let Škode


From a faulty product to his own business

It is 1894. The year would be a fundamental turning point in the life of twenty-six year-old Václav Klement, who was born in the town of Velvary and was currently selling books and sheet music in Mladá Boleslav. On Saturday 2 June he got married to Antonia Jakšová. Her dowry would pay off the remainder of the debts racked up by his bookshop, which was also a meeting place for cycling enthusiasts. Václav Klement himself rode a Germania bicycle made by German firm Seidel & Naumann, which had a branch in the city of Ústí nad Labem. In July 1894 the bookseller packed up his bicycle, whose chain was constantly coming loose, and sent it by train to Ústí nad Labem for warranty repair. But the branch had no intention of dealing with their customer’s somewhat informal request handwritten on a piece of ordinary graph paper. Although the reply from branch director Mr Foerster infuriated Klement, it also gave him the idea to turn his own hand to bicycle manufacture. He got together with Turnov-based mechanic Václav Laurin and the following year they started to produce successful bicycles with the patriotic name Slavia, derived from a Slavonic goddess. In 1899 they would start making motorcycles and six years later the equally successful LAURIN & KLEMENT motorcars – and the rest is history. Václav Klement would soon experience another kind of satisfaction. In 1904 he received a letter signed by a Mr Foerster from Seidel & Naumann, asking for a licence to produce Slavia motorcycles under the Germania brand. Klement, then company director, magnanimously gave his consent...


Victory without seats


One of the most colourful figures from the first quarter of a century of the firm’s existence was the hugely successful racing driver Count Alexander Kolowrat-Krakowský, known as Saša, who was also a great ambassador for the company in the highest echelons of society, motivated both by his stake in the firm and by his Czech patriotism. A member of one of the oldest Czech aristocratic families, he would happily spend all night assembling works racing cars. It used to be easy to tell him apart from the other mechanics: he was the one most covered in grime. One such night working on his car helped the popular Saša win a hill climb event in Gaillon, France. It was 10 October 1908. Ever the joker, Kolowrat had registered under the pseudonym Doconald, but at the local railway station he couldn’t find the wooden crate containing his FC-type works machine.

Sporting honour demanded that he fight on till the end, though. His F-type touring car had 18,000 kilometres on the clock. Given the poor quality of the lubricants available at the time, the car had suffered much more wear-and-tear than we would expect today. Even so, Saša and a mechanic spent all night taking all the unnecessary parts out of the car, even the seats, which he replaced with wooden crates without backrests or armrests. He was hoping that the car’s low weight would compensate for his rivals’ power advantage. And, lo and behold, he beat all seven rivals in his class and took home the gold medal.


Around the world in a RAPID 


On the first day in August 1936, a dark-blue semi-cabriolet ŠKODA RAPID finished the home leg of its round-the-world trip. Although the car had been gone for 98 days, the calendar showed just 97 days had passed. That's because Břetislav Jan Procházka, a businessman from Prague, and Jindřich Kubias, the co-owner of a smoked meats firm, gained one day by travelling east.

Procházka in particular was a tireless adventurer. He did most of the driving, arranged the use of the car in Mladá Boleslav, sorted out countless permits at embassies and leveraged his experience as the owner of modern service garages – incidentally, his garages still operate in the centre of Prague to this day. The RAPID expedition car differed from the standard design: it had oversized off-road tyres, a pair of petrol tanks (48+60 l), batteries and horns, fog lamps, a radio receiver and dual ignition using a Scintilla Vertex magneto. This delicate piece of Swiss machinery needed to be lubricated with a special petroleum jelly. One night, though, the tube rolled down onto one of the car seats, and his sleeping co-driver squeezed out its entire contents into the upholstery. Even then Procházka was not at a loss: he mixed some oil with cigarette ash and coated the ball-bearings with the mixture. The Vertex worked as reliably as a Swiss watch for the rest of their trip.

In the bottomless mud of tracks in the Soviet Union the Czechs devised a special driving technique: they laid down piles of branches on the softest parts of the track, and then accelerated hard, resisting the instinct to ease off the throttle when the front bumper started to disappear under heaps of branches. They kept pressing the pedal to the metal when the wheels finally surmounted this obstacle and the RAPID started forcing its way forwards, accompanied by the terrible sound of cracking wood. Service mechanics were still removing pieces of wood from the chassis on the western coast of the USA, which the RAPID reached via Iran, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, China and Japan.


The Swimmer


They called it the Swimmer. In fact, they still call it that, because this unremarkable hero, a ŠKODA 100 sedan that played a starring role in a legendary diving event in December 1974, remains roadworthy to this day. The fifty-metre outdoor swimming pool in Podolí in Prague was supposed to be drained for winter, so it wouldn’t matter if a little petrol or oil got in the water. So the bestselling motoring magazine in Czechoslovakia decided to organise an extreme safety test for the ŠKODA 100.

The magazine staff borrowed a car with 36,705 kilometres on the clock and fitted it with seatbelts and front-seat headrests. The two men who risked the jump into the water at a temperature of 5°C were journalist Vojtěch Měšťan and photographer Otakar Šaffek. An ambulance stood by at the side of the pool, along with an army crane for pulling the car out and some divers. When the car was still in the air and its front end was just about to hit the water, the driver turned off the ignition. As soon as the car started to sink, Měšťan rolled down his window and climbed out. The photographer, an experienced amateur diver, waited for the car to come to rest on the bottom of the pool. But he hadn’t counted on the car turning over: with its rear-mounted engine, the back of the car sank faster and air from the car’s interior escaped through the triangular front windows. But Šaffek extricated himself without needing help. When the car was pulled out of the water, its radiator grille was deformed from the impact with the water and the roof was dented from the water pressure. It took just 46 minutes for Josef Heřmanský, the head of the ŠKODA service firm in Prague, to get the car working again: he replaced the engine oil and spark plugs and cleaned the carburettor, distributor and filters. Hardly an hour and a half had passed from the first jump and the car was back in the water. This time the two crew members got out of the car as soon as possible through the open doors.

The point of the experiment was to prove that if the occupants of a ŠKODA didn’t lose their cool they could get out of other, similarly precarious situations. Three years later, the Swimmer was bought by one of the carmaker’s long-standing employees. After repairing it, his family got over 40 more years’ service out of the car. It even survived a third, unexpected immersion in water during the serious floods that hit the Czech Republic in 2002.


A bloodthirsty car


Czechs have traditionally loved their cars and their films. It’s no surprise, then, that filmmakers from the country ŠKODA calls home have often used the company’s models in their movies. The Ferat Vampire, a sci-fi horror from 1981, featured a unique ŠKODA Super Sport that was already ten years old at the time and was based on the popular ŠKODA Š 110 R coupé. The originally wedge-shaped body with external laminate panels was designed by ŠKODA designers at the Kvasiny plant. For the film, however, the coupé was heavily modified according to a design by Theodor Pištěk, the famous racing driver and artist who won an Oscar for costume design for the film Amadeus. The white paint job was replaced by black with blood-red lines and the original set of six tilting front headlights was replaced by two narrow, fixed lights. This unique car is today an exhibit at the ŠKODA Museum in Mladá Boleslav. Who would have thought that this racing car would run on fresh human blood instead of petrol?


The strength of a bear


On Friday, 6 May 2016, the name of the town of Kodiak in Alaska was temporarily changed to KODIAQ. This happened as part of the Czech carmaker’s worldwide marketing campaign to highlight the link between the new ŠKODA KODIAQ SUV, the biggest subspecies of brown bear and the island off the south coast of Alaska where more than three thousand of these bears live. Kodiak Island is roughly the same size as Corsica. Most of its territory comprises the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, the home of the famous bears. The local landscape is one of steep mountains, deep fjords, hidden lakes and deep forest. It is the ideal terrain for an SUV like the ŠKODA KODIAQ: these demanding conditions are perfect for demonstrating its qualities, power and practicality. ŠKODA did a lot of research into life on Kodiak Island and the language of the Alutiiq, its original inhabitants. The locals call the Kodiak bear Taq uka 'aq, where the letter “q” on the end of the word is characteristic of animal names. That’s why ŠKODA used this letter in the names of its new family of SUVs. The KODIAQ was soon followed by the KAROQ and KAMIQ, and the tradition has been continued in the eMobility era by the ŠKODA ENYAQ iV.