Engine Starting Systems: Decades of Transformation

Engine Starting Systems: Decades of Transformation

You probably know that the very first engines were started with a crank handle, while in the latest vehicles a dashboard button does the same job. But what happened in-between? Did you know that cars could be started with a crank handle as late as 1960? Let’s tour the history of engine starting systems by taking a look at some of the exhibits at the ŠKODA MUSEUM in Mladá Boleslav.

4. 4. 2019 Škoda World Heritage
  • 1908


    The idea of a key inserted into a keyhole in the dashboard featured very early on and can be found in some of the first cars made in Mladá Boleslav. This key, however, was used to connect the electrical circuit, not to start the engine. The driver had to activate this key, manually turn the fuel and oil supply taps, adjust the ignition advance with a steering wheel lever and only then start the car with a crank handle. After stopping, the driver had to half-turn the key to switch the engine off and close the petrol and oil supply taps.

  • 1929


    Launched in 1925 under the LAURIN & KLEMENT brand and continuing its market presence as one of the first ŠKODA models after the merger with the new Plzeň-based owner, the 110 featured an electric toggle starter. Crank-handle starting was still a common solution, although rather than fixed, the handle was snap-on. The choke lever was located on the right side of the dashboard. The choke was used to cold-start engines that used a carburettor by creating a richer petrol/air ignition mixture.

  • 1940

    ŠKODA SUPERB 4000,
    type 919

    As the reliability of electric starters improved, crank-handle starting began to disappear, resulting in a smaller crank hole at the bottom of the grille, where there is no chrome-plated trim. The choke puller was located in the middle of the dashboard.

  • 1960

    ŠKODA OCTAVIA, type 985

    In the post-war OCTAVIA the keyhole was located to the left of the steering wheel, and the choke was in the middle of the dashboard. Even this OCTAVIA could still be started mechanically, using a crank handle included in the tool box. The crank hole was hidden under the front (lift-off) number plate.

  • 1966

    ŠKODA 1000 MB

    The first ŠKODA without the option of starting the engine with a crank handle was the famous 1000 MB. The ignition box was relocated to the right-hand side of the dashboard (below the steering wheel level), and the choke lever was located between the front seats. This layout remained in place until the late 1980s.

  • 1988


    The last ŠKODA with a mechanical choke was the 125 L. Although the FAVORIT had an engine with a carburettor, the choke was automatic by then: all the driver had to do to start the engine was turn the ignition key.

  • 2009


    For many decades, the ignition key was solid, similar to ordinary door keys. This design format, however, began changing in the late 20th century. For a start, the key included an immobiliser – an electronic device that made it impossible to start the engine with an incorrect key. The first ŠKODA to feature an immobiliser was the FELICIA in 1994. The next stage was remote-controlled central locking, which meant that a key no longer had to be physically inserted in the door to unlock the car, and 1999 saw the first ŠKODA with a foldable key – the FABIA from the 2000 model year. All these features are on display at the ŠKODA MUSEUM, e.g. in the YETI.

  • 2018


    Today’s ŠKODAs, such as the KODIAQ, feature a state-of-the-art keyless entry-and-start system: the key can remain in the driver´s pocket, and all the driver has to do to start the engine is press the ignition button on the dashboard. The first ŠKODA to offer the KESSY keyless system was the SUPERB in 2010.