125 YEARS OF ŠKODA: one big family for generations

125 YEARS OF ŠKODA: one big family for generations

125 YEARS ŠKODA

Countless experts and enthusiasts have played a role in ŠKODA’s success at various times and in various professions. Devotion to the brand is often handed down from generation to generation. Get to know some "ŠKODA families”.

13. 10. 2020

Besides the Hrdlička and Velebný families that are among the best-known ŠKODA clans, there are family ties to ŠKODA in the families of many colleagues who all have one thing in common – close ties to the ŠKODA brand.

The Hrdlička clan

96 years ago, on 1 March 1924, engineer Karel Hrdlička (1888-1979) started work at the Pilsen headquarters of the brand with the winged arrow. From January 1929 on, first for a brief period as works deputy director and later as the Czech carmaker’s managing director, he oversaw the creation of the first modern factory using efficient production line methods in Czechoslovakia. Under his leadership, a new generation of ŠKODA cars was born and the company established itself as the leading Czechoslovak car manufacturer. His son, technical director of development Petr Hrdlička, chief constructor of the FAVORIT model, later played a key role in the firm’s development. And his grandson Martin Hrdlička is in charge of chassis and powertrain development at ŠKODA today. 

Karel Hrdlička (second from right), head of the successful Czech carmaker, presents new ŠKODA models to Czechoslovak president Tomáš G. Masaryk at a Prague dealership.

Karel Hrdlička directed the extensive modernisation of production plant at ŠKODA, installing state-of-the-art machinery mostly of West European and American provenance. In the mid-1930s he focused on developing rear-engine cars. He was involved in the creation of the successful ŠKODA POPULAR, RAPID, FAVORIT and SUPERB lines, as well as countless other ŠKODA cars that dominated the carmaker’s output up to the mid-1960s.

His son Petr was the father of the FAVORIT

Karel Hrdlička’s son Petr (*1934) learnt his trade at the ŠKODA apprenticeship centre and was already working on the ŠKODA TUDOR production line at the age of 14. His specialisation in transmission design meant that he helped design the gearbox and transmission systems of the ŠKODA 1000 MB that was developed after World War II. In the sixties he was head foreman of the cog shop at the Mladá Boleslav factory.

In March 1983 Petr Hrdlička became director of the ŠKODA research & development unit and was put in charge of ŠKODA 781, a project exploring the development of a new-generation front-wheel-drive car that would later become the ŠKODA FAVORIT. Petr Hrdlička played a key role in establishing successful cooperation with both domestic partners and leading foreign companies. Apart from the Stile Bertone studio, which produced the FAVORIT design, ŠKODA cooperated with Volkswagen and Porsche.

Petr Hrdlička (right) standing over ŠKODA FAVORIT designs with Bohumil Drbohlav, who was responsible for body construction.

The ŠKODA FAVORIT, one of the few eastern-bloc passenger cars not made under licence, became one of the Czech carmaker’s biggest assets as soon as it was unveiled in 1987. Petr Hrdlička has continued to work successfully with ŠKODA, as an advisor and later as an external consultant.

Chassis and powertrain development

Martin Hrdlička (*1969), Karel’s grandson and Petr’s son, is following in his technically minded ancestors’ footsteps. He joined ŠKODA in 1993 as a brake system constructor. In 2001 he became head of powertrain construction. In 2006 he was made head of the chassis department. And from March 2008 to the present day he has been in charge of chassis and powertrain development for ŠKODA cars.

Martin Hrdlička (right) is in charge of chassis and powertrain development, which is based in the ŠKODA Technology Centre.

What’s more, his team is responsible for the development of all indirect fuel injection engines right across Volkswagen Group, including all modifications for the world’s various markets. His team also develops all versions of manual gearboxes and drum brakes for the group’s global activities, including the recently launched ŠKODA ENYAQ iV.

The Velebný family in the right place at the right time

In 1925, grandfather Josef Velebný (1906-1989) was the first in his family to join ŠKODA. From 1946 he headed the body construction department and was involved in the development of the timelessly elegant ŠKODA models from the forties to the sixties, including interesting derivative versions developed abroad. He played a role in the fundamental technological changes that took place in the 1950s and 60s. The first step was the switch to the safer, more robust and more spacious all-metal bodies, which first saw the light of day in the ŠKODA 1200 “Sedan” from 1952. The start of production of the monocoque body ŠKODA 1000 MB marked another revolutionary change.

Josef Velebný with models of ŠKODA cars at the start of the 1950s: ŠKODA 1101/1102 Tudor at the back; its successor the Š 1200 Sedan at the front.

55 years ago Velebný, as an experienced technician, was also involved in the creation of the TREKKA model, the predecessor of ŠKODA’s successful present-day range of SUVs. It was New Zealander Noel Turner, the owner of Motor Industries Ltd., a ŠKODA importer that assembled MBs from parts at Otahuhu near Auckland, who came up with the idea of making a cheap all-terrain vehicle for his country’s farmers. Josef Velebný spent 15 months in New Zealand, developing the car, launching its production and getting around 50 local suppliers involved in the process.

Josef Velebný (centre) with New Zealand designer George Taylor (left), his colleague John Catchpole and their “baby”: the TREKKA SUV.

The first two prototypes were tested in spring 1966, and limited-series manufacture of the TREKKA began on December 2 that year, running until 1972. The TREKKA inspired others to follow suit. The baton was first taken up by the general importer of ŠKODA cars to Pakistan. Velebný and his team built the first prototype, known as the SKOPAK (ŠKODA Pakistan), which went into limited-series production in May 1970. As well as simple two-seater pickups with no doors and nothing but a strap to stop the occupants from falling out, a flat truck with fold-down side panels, a taxi and even a special airport modification for driver and five passengers were made. In Istanbul Josef Velebný built the spacious Š 1202 Kamyonetleri for the Turkish market. His final mission abroad was in Costa Rica in 1977, where he helped launch the assembly of ŠKODA 120 L.

A binding tradition

The saying about the apple that doesn’t fall far from the tree is exemplified by Josef Velebný’s sons. Dušan Velebný (*1939) developed engines for racing cars and later headed the testing centre of the Czech carmaker’s Research and Development Institute. His brother Milan Velebný (*1937) mainly developed engines for ŠKODA racing cars, e.g. for Formula 3 or the immortal ŠKODA 130 RS.

Josef’s grandson Michal, the son of the head of the company’s testing centre Dušan Velebný, is the coordinator of the ŠKODA Museum restorers’ workshops. Here he sits behind the wheel of a SUPERB 3000 OHV limousine (1939).

The career of Josef’s grandson Michal Velebný (*1964) is also symbolic. He works as the coordinator of the ŠKODA Museum’s restorers’ workshop, and lovers of historic ŠKODA cars from all over the world turn to him for advice and assistance. One glorious example of his work was the renovation of the unique ŠKODA VOS, originally a gift from the Czechoslovak government to Mao Zedong and now displayed in a museum in Beijing. Michal Velebný is also an acclaimed expert in the history of Czech motor sport.

ŠKODA - a family affair

Zdeněk Vrchlavský
chief controller

Having taken an apprenticeship as a panel beater he joined the ŠKODA pressing shop. After his military service he took part in the construction of the Spartak model. In 1961 he was given the chance of taking evening classes at technical college. From then on, he worked as the welding shop work controller. “Our main job was to dispatch repairmen to various locations in the event of breakdowns. Later I moved to the main control centre, where we worked 24-hour shifts.” He met his wife at ŠKODA, and his son-in-law, mother-in-law and other relatives also work there. Today his grandson works in Assembly Logistics, so there is a close link between their jobs. “He often tells me he meets people at work who remember me.”

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Karel Žďánský
interiors, purchasing

His father worked at ŠKODA, his uncle, aunt, cousins and two daughters work or have worked there, and he himself has spent more than a quarter of a century with the Czech carmaker. He is mainly in charge of steering wheel purchasing and today also airbags. “Gradually there were more and more versions for passengers, airbags for the head, the elbow, front sides and in the back as well. The latest innovation we’re working on is a central airbag between the driver and front passenger.”

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Roman Hloušek
strategic product planning, market research

“My family’s history is closely tied to ŠKODA: my great-grandfather joined the firm in 1925,” says Roman, explaining the long tradition his other great-grandfather, parents and other relatives are all involved in. Roman is a member of the market research team today. “Advertising has a big impact on shaping customers’ relationship with the brand, its image and generally the success of its products. The modern age has vastly enlarged the spectrum of channels that can be used to talk to loyal and potential customers – e.g. online video platforms, social networks and influencers.”

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Tomáš Rytíř
virtual techniques

He has worked at ŠKODA since 1991, following in the footsteps of both his parents and his grandfather. “It’s no wonder I was drawn to ŠKODA from a young age.” Tomáš started out in Technical Development and then spent ten years in the Tool Shop after his military service. As a constructor he first worked at a drawing board before gradually switching to digital technologies. “Virtual reality tools help speed up and improve the car development process. Our work shapes the model from the first conceptual stages and digital data control to the completion of mass production.”

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Jan Solnička
vehicle manufacture

“I started out in the same position as my grandfather,” says the assembly worker who can also take inspiration from other ŠKODA employees in his family, like his father and uncle. “My career at ŠKODA shows how much the opportunities for career and personal growth have grown. I first worked on powertrain assembly. Then I retrained as a car mechanic. That kind of switch was not usual in my grandfather’s day,” says Jan, adding that his work is made easier than his ancestors’ by various kinds of handling machinery and automated nut tighteners.

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