How the POPULAR avoided an elephant at the Monte Carlo Rally

How the POPULAR avoided an elephant at the Monte Carlo Rally

HERITAGE

85 years ago a ŠKODA POPULAR Sport roadster set off for the Monte Carlo Rally. The journey across the whole of Europe ended in one of ŠKODA’s greatest motorsport successes of the time.

25. 1. 2021

The Monte Carlo Rally, one of the toughest and most prestigious automobile competitions in the world, was created in 1911 to attract visitors to the Principality of Monaco during the quiet winter period. Lasting from 25 January to 2 February 1936, the fifteenth year of the event featured a remarkable achievement by Zdeněk Pohl and Jaroslav Hausman in a ŠKODA POPULAR Sport roadster.

They deliberately took a circuitous route to the Riviera. In those days, it was not just points amassed for performance in Monaco that counted: the length and difficulty of the route from the official starting points also counted towards the result. Of the start locations offered – which included Palermo, Tallinn, Bucharest or Stavanger – the Pohl/Hausman team chose the Greek capital, Athens. 

In January 1936 the Pohl/Hausman crew (right) drove their ŠKODA Popular Sport to a second place finish at the Monte Carlo Rally in the category up to 1500 cm3.

The first part of their journey, 850 kilometres from Prague to Trieste, was completed by the open-top ŠKODA POPULAR Sport in seventeen hours. That left four days for recuperation and technical tweaking till the start from Athens. The crew had to do everything themselves: there were no mechanics or fully kitted-out team service vehicles to help out.  

Hallucinations on the road 

It took four days to complete the 3,852-kilometre route to Monaco via Thessaloniki, Belgrade, Budapest, Vienna, Strasbourg and Avignon. Pohl recalls: “I saw some strange things on the way. Once a horse reversed towards us at full speed and another time I had to swerve to avoid a huge elephant. No, there was nothing actually on the road, these were hallucinations after four nights without sleep. The car was humming along quietly, which made you sleepy, and there was thick fog.” 

The soft-top car was fitted with a heating system, electric heating of part of the windscreen, thermos flask and map holders and a searchlight.

72 crews out of 105 entries reached the finish. The ŠKODA POPULAR Sport made it without picking up any penalty points. It passed the technical inspection and did well in the manoeuvring agility test. Pohl and Hausman came second in their category up to 1,500 cm3. They could even have won if they had told the organisers about the victorious Italian car’s prohibited repair work they had witnessed in Budapest. But they didn’t stoop so low as to snitch on their rivals. 

Map of the 1936 Monte Carlo Rally with starting points in several European cities; the Czech crew started from Athens.

This Czech success was no accident: it was built on careful preparation. Pohl and Hausman tested their leather overalls and Baťa tyres with an off-road tread in the snow-covered Krkonoše mountains. And because they couldn’t agree on whether a wooden or metal shovel was best for digging the car out of snowdrifts, they took along both, just to be sure. 

A right royal sports car

The ŠKODA POPULAR Sport combined a modified chassis from the lighter POPULAR series with the stronger engine of the RAPID. The four-cylinder 1.4-litre engine delivered a top speed of around 110 km/h. Two fuel tanks with a total capacity of 170 litres provided enough fuel to cover 1,500 km, which works out at a fuel consumption of 11.3 l per 100 km. The car’s open-top body accounted for just 250 kg out of the total weight of 790 kg. The fully loaded POPULAR weighed around 960 kg, with the two-man crew adding a further 170 kilos. The crew’s comfort was enhanced by an auxiliary hot-air heating system, holders for thermos flasks, a removable electrically heated frame that defogged part of the driver’s side of the windscreen and a fold-down passenger seat that let the co-driver get some rest.

ŠKODA customers also profited from the car’s success: a range of ŠKODA POPULAR Monte Carlo roadsters and coupés was developed from the affordable POPULAR model. 

In June 1936 the Czech carmaker launched the almost identical ŠKODA POPULAR Monte Carlo sports car on the market. By 1939, around 70 open-top and hard-top coupés had been made. Famous customers included the then fourteen-year-old King Petar II of Yugoslavia.

Still popular

To this day, the ŠKODA POPULAR Monte Carlo is admired for its elegance and its characteristic grille. Naturally, this epitome of interwar style, with 1936 Monte Carlo Rally glory to its name, had to be one of the inspirations for contemporary designers in our Icons Get a Makeover series. The Monte Carlo* designation can still be found on specific versions of ŠKODA’s FABIA, SCALA and KAMIQ models. 

* Monte Carlo is a registered trademark of Monaco Brands.

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