Eight Decades of 4×4 at ŠKODA

Eight Decades of 4×4 at ŠKODA

The current popularity of SUVs goes hand in hand with the growing popularity of four-wheel-drive vehicles. Although ŠKODA has been a leader in the European 4×4 market for several years, and KAROQ marks another addition to its SUV family, the four-wheel-drive concept has roots in Mladá Boleslav dating back to the 1930s.

14. 11. 2017 Škoda World

ŠKODA currently offers 4×4 in OCTAVIA, OCTAVIA COMBI, OCTAVIA SCOUT, OCTAVIA RS, OCTAVIA COMBI RS, SUPERB, SUPERB COMBI, KODIAQ and KAROQ. The first all-wheel-drive vehicle in its modern history was OCTAVIA COMBI in 1999. Since that time, the offer of four-wheel-drive cars has expanded. Moreover, OCTAVIA COMBI 4×4 and SUPERB COMBI 4×4 help ŠKODA maintain its leadership in the 4×4 estate segment in six European markets (Switzerland, Norway, Austria, Poland, Spain and Finland).


But the brand’s 4×4 history is much older…

The first multi-axle-drive experiments were conducted in the late 1930s. ŠKODA produced several prototypes of three-axle buses with both rear axles driven, but these projects never reached the production stage.

Next came the Type 903, an army vehicle. The Czech Army Headquarters had invited tenders for a vehicle to be used by high-ranking officers in field operations, and ŠKODA had participated in that public tender with the 903, a vehicle prototyped in 1936 (with three prototypes produced in total). Inspired by the ŠKODA 650, a passenger car, the prototype design featured a 45 kW three-litre, six-cylinder engine and three axles (six-wheels), with the two rear axles driven. No contract was ever agreed, however.

Model 903 (1939)

Type 903 (1939) - chassis

Vehicle assembly operations in the Mladá Boleslav plant were limited during the Nazi occupation, but the ŠKODA 903 was one of the few vehicles included into the production portfolio. The plant manufactured an additional 42 vehicles of this type during 1939–1942. The ŠKODA 903 had a top speed of 100 km/h, managed a maximum uphill gradient of 45 %, and had average petrol consumption of 25 l/100 km. The product was available in two versions: one with an open, six-seat passenger compartment with four doors and a convertible roof, the other with a completely open top and longitudinal benches designed to accommodate a total of eight passengers. Probably only three vehicles of this type have been preserved.

Type 956

In addition, the brand produced a few other 4×4 models during World War II. The three-litre SUPERB OHV was used as the basis for the SUPERB 3000 – Kraftfahrzeug 15 (an army vehicle). That vehicle had rear wheel drive, but the brand also tested a 4×4 version (named the 956).


Type T 805 - chassis

The company returned to the concept of manufacturing army vehicles several times after World War II. For example, the Mladá Boleslav plant produced nearly 6,500 Tatra 805 vehicles during 1952–1955, but production of this freight vehicle was then moved to the V. I. Lenin Plant in Pilsen.

Built on a shortened chassis and featuring many of the Tatra 805 (1954) components, the 971 was an armoured vehicle (also known as Jarmila, the brand produced three vehicles of this type) and the 972 was amphibious (with five vehicles produced during 1951–1952). The latter was fitted with a screw propeller enabling it to move at speeds of up to 10 km/h in water, and its maximum speed on the road was 85 km/h. The equipment included a lightweight machine gun and two rifles between the seats plus an assault rifle on the driver’s left-hand side.

Model 972

Type 972

In 1952, the brand produced the Type 973 with de-activatable front wheel drive. Boasting excellent driving properties, the vehicle was able to cope with uphill gradients as steep as 58 %, overcome vertical obstacles as high as 0.25 m, and stride through water as deep as 60 cm. Warsaw Pact forces tested similar vehicles near Dresden, and the Czech-made 973 proved to be the best of these. Nevertheless, the brand produced only a test series of ca 30 vehicles of this type and then the project was terminated, because the Russian-made GAZ-69 was chosen as the preferred product.


Type 973 (1952) - back

“In many respects, the ŠKODA-made army vehicles were better than the vehicles routinely used by the Soviet Union and/or the Warsaw Pact. Profitability, the requirement to prioritize civil production of an “ordinary people’s car”, and capacities not meeting the demands of the allied armies – all these were aspects that, in the end, led to the decision to focus on off-road vehicles for farmers rather than armies,” says ŠKODA Archive Manager Lukáš Nachtmann.


Type 973 (1952) - front

In the early 1960s, the brand cooperated with ČZ Strakonice on developing the Type 998 (known as Agromobil) and, a few years later, the Type 990. Only a few prototypes were produced – their exact number is not known, but it was probably 13 – of which at least two have been preserved. One is owned by the ŠKODA Museum, the other by the Military Museum in Lešany (together with a Type 973, known as Babeta), both these vehicles appeared in the 1964 film If a Thousand Clarinets (Kdyby tisíc klarinetů).

As part of its ŠKODA 1203 modernization project, the brand had considered producing a 4×4 version for farmers (Type 779, 1970).

Agromobil 998

Agromobil 998

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