From a limo to a fire engine and back again

From a limo to a fire engine and back again

This Škoda Hispano-Suiza 25/100 KS from 1928 has had a busy life. It started out as an industrialist’s limousine and then was saved from the scrapyard by being converted into a fire truck. Now it has been refurbished and restored to its former glory.

12. 4. 2023 Škoda World

Of the hundreds of Škoda Hispano-Suiza cars produced between 1926 and 1930 only a handful have survived to this day. Among the most attractive is the Škoda Museum’s exhibit with the engine serial number 1181. Numbered 469, the chassis was finished in Pilsen on 4 May 1928. The renowned Prague coachbuilder J. O. Jech then handed over the complete car to the thriving Czechoslovak Sugar Refineries Association on 22 September 1928. Its president, the industrialist Robert Mandelík (1875-1946), used the Škoda Hispano-Suiza until the mid-1930s.

As was customary at the time, the rugged chassis with powerful engines capable of high speeds were adapted to firefighting vehicles when they were no longer wanted as passenger cars, and this is what happened to Mandelík’s car during World War II. The rear section of the original bodywork was removed and replaced with benches for the fire crew. In addition, the car that was once a prestigious status symbol was fitted with a towing device for a fire hose.

Conversion into a fire truck saved the veteran Hispano-Suiza from the scrapyard.

A Slovak collector bought the now vintage vehicle in the 1970s. In 1995 another owner, this time from Prague, started an exacting ten-year-long renovation process. A structure designed by artist Václav Zapadlík (1943-2018) and inspired by the original style of J. O. Jech was fitted onto the original chassis with the original front body section. Subsequently, the car changed hands two more times.

First restoration from the 1990s – making of the Zapadlík bodywork

Original looks

The unique vintage car with a diverse history was steered to safer waters in 2010, when it became part of the collection of the Škoda Museum in Mladá Boleslav. In August 2019, the museum launched a demanding restoration project, based on thorough research of period materials and aiming to restore the car to its original form. The experts studied the archive of Škoda Plzeň stored in the town of Nepomuk, as well as photographs, film footage and documents from the Mandelík family. The aim was to restore the car to its original form as faithfully as possible down to the last detail.

The salvaged model was once the limousine of an industrialist called Mandelík, who was president of the sugar refiners association.

The Hispano-Suiza’s family tree

In 1925, the Škoda engineering and armaments concern became the strategic partner of the Laurin & Klement motor works in Mladá Boleslav. The Škoda concern based in Pilsen was controlled by a French investor at the time. Škoda decided to base its future on non-military production, mainly cars, including high-quality foreign cars under licence. The Škoda Hispano-Suiza 25/100 KS was a typical example. It was based on the H6B model made by the renowned Hispano-Suiza company, which owned production plants in France and Spain (hence Hispano) and had a Swiss (Suiza) chief designer. The mysterious type designation 25/100 KS of the Czech product was a code for a power out of 25 hp, calculated for tax purposes according to an official formula, and after the slash the actual output of 100 hp (74 kW), achieved at just 1,600 rpm. The structurally and aesthetically refined 6.6-litre OHC six-cylinder engine delivered up to 135 hp (99 kW) for short periods. This enabled the colossus – two metres tall and, in some bodywork versions, over five metres long – to accelerate to more than 120 km/h (74.5 mph). The Pilsen factory did not have its own bodywork shop, so more than half of the bodies were produced for them by the plant in Mladá Boleslav. Others were “dressed” by independent companies: Aero, Brožík, J. O. Jech, Petera (which is now the Škoda plant in Vrchlabí), Pokorný & Beiwl or Uhlík.

It was not only the bodywork, much of which was not original and no more than a quarter of a century old, that had fundamental defects. The engine did too as a result of various inexpert interventions. These were put right by the Škoda Museum’s experts in cooperation with external colleagues. In 2019, after the engine had been removed, the car was moved to a workshop specialising in the restoration of historic coachwork, including wooden struts. The shape of the rear section had to be adjusted, and the pair of rear doors needed to be lengthened and metal-plated. This was followed by the making of new rear mudguards and running boards, as well as new front door metal-plating.

Restoration of the seats

This was followed in 2020 by the removal of the bodywork for painting and fitting to the chassis. The folding roof mechanism was modified, new seat structures were made and the dashboard was repaired and repainted. Even Covid-19 didn’t stop the work. In 2021 it was the turn of the seat upholstery and marquetry. We shouldn’t forget that marquetry is a traditional craft: the folding and glueing of wooden veneers of different colours and textures, in this case the door ornaments. The luxurious Škoda Hispano-Suiza also had marquetry above the richly appointed dashboard, however, and on the partition separating the front-seat area from the rear passengers.

After painstaking study of archive materials, the Škoda Museum’s professionals restored the car to its original form.

The work schedule was long and detailed. A new roof covering had to be made, as well as the door handles, which were made from the only surviving atypical material: ebony. The four-spoke steering wheel was also carefully restored, as was the mechanically operated turn signal with a rotating illuminated arrow, the precursor of turning indicators. By the way, in the late 1920s, chrome was not usually used for the surface treatment of the body parts – nickel plating was the most common. This too was repaired or restored during the restoration.

Restoration of the door marquetry

Star of the Techno Classica show

The restored Škoda Hispano-Suiza 25/100 KS from 1928 will be the star attraction of Škoda’s stand at the Techno Classica exhibition of historic vehicles and youngtimers, held from 12 to 16 April 2023 in the German city of Essen.

“Heart” operation

The engine overhaul was also a challenge and eventually took three years. Here, too, the experts had to redeem a number of old sins and deal with the consequences of a botched crankshaft repair, for example, and with the engine block cover that was deformed and oxidised after an inept renovation effort.

One of the most exclusive European cars of its day: an impressive 6.6 litre engine and bodywork custom-built by the Prague firm of J. O. Jech.

During the professional refurbishment the engine parts were cleaned, the bearings of the crankshaft and connecting rods were alloy-cast, and new upper connecting rod bushes were added. The valves needed grinding to sit properly and form a tight seal; the carburettor was repaired and calibrated; and the entire oil system was repaired and cleaned.

The icing on the cake of this meticulous restoration are the faithful replicas of registration plates Č-26.960 from the First Czechoslovak Republic. If we remember the original owner’s line of business, we might say that the reborn Hispano-Suiza is as sweet as sugar. It’s not for sale, of course – it will adorn the Škoda Museum in Mladá Boleslav and sometimes grace vintage car meets with its presence.