By Maggie Barry on 2020-04-20 - Experienced car journalist.
Skoda has a big
birthday this year
CZECH car company Skoda launches its new all-electric SUV, the Enyaq, later this year and at the same time celebrates a big birthday.
While the Skoda name only dates back to 1925, the company can actually trace its roots back to 1895 when cycling pals, Vaclav Laurin, a mechanic, and bookseller Vaclav Klement began designing and building their own bikes.
This was brought about partly by necessity. Klement, so the story goes, had a German cycle but was unable to obtain spare parts to repair it.
Undaunted, he wrote a letter in Czech to the German manufacturer who replied sniffily they could only answer if he wrote to them in a language they could understand.
Dissatisfied and realising that here was a business opening he got together with Laurin and together they opened their own bicycle repair shop.
The cycling pair were so successful they decided to add motors to their bikes and by 1899 they had produced nearly 4,000 motorbikes.
Pietro Panarisi of Skoda said: "Klement and Laurin laid the foundation for our company's success story.
"They were outstanding pioneers of mobility in their time, and were also some of the most influential entrepreneurs in early automotive history."
The natural next step for a duo obsessed with wheels and their need for speed was to turn their attention to a new phenomenon - the motor car - and from 1905 onwards their production of cars began to replace their motorbike lines.
It was an exciting time in Europe for the car and Laurin and Klement could do no wrong - their first car the Voiturette A was a huge success.
With the advent of the First World War the company simply began to manufacture for the armed forces and by the end of it the vehicles coming off the production line in Mlada Boleslav included trucks, buses, agriculture machinery like a motorised plough and even aeroplane engines.
By 1925, however the company was beginning to run into trouble compounded by a fire at the premises.
At this point Laurin and Klement merged with the engineering firm Skoda from Plzen. Skoda was keen to develop its non-arms manufacturing base and saw Laurin and Klement as the perfect partners to take this ambition forward.
Panarisi went on: "The First World War and the post-war aftermath affected the development of Laurin & Klement to a considerable extent.
"By joining forces the company successfully branched out, relaunching automobile production in MladÃ¡ Boleslav and setting the foundations for success."
And indeed the first car under the joint partnership was the Skoda 110, available as a soft top and a hard top and even a removable rear section which enabled the family car to be converted into a two seater flat bed truck during the week.
In the 30s and 40s came the legendary Skoda Popular which weighed a mere 650kg and could reach speeds of up to 50mph. It was cheap and versatile enough to be converted into a variety of utility vehicles like ambulances and delivery vans.
The company was nationalised in the mid 1940s but went on to produce the Tudor which was sold as far afield as Australia and the Skoda 1200.
In 1950 - 70 years ago - a factory team competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Skoda Sport and the 50s also saw the launch of the Skoda 440, which evolved in 1959 into the first Octavia - so called because it was the eighth car the company produced after the end of the Second World War.
It was followed by the 1000 MB range, the 110 R 2+2 coupe and the Felicia roadster. Indeed, in May 1965 more than 1000 vehicles were rolling off the production line, boosted in 1987 by the arrival of the Favorit.
Then in 1989, everything changed. The Berlin Wall came down, Czechoslovakia's communist government was defeated and the Czech Republic formed - and in 1990 Skoda was sold to the Volkswagen group, the fourth brand alongside VW, Audi and SEAT.
Under VW, Skoda flourished and continues to do so. Between 2019 and 2022 it is launching more than 30 new models - ten of which will be partially or fully electric, including the Enyaq, which although still to be unveiled could be styled in similar fashion to Skoda's Vision iV Concept model.
Said Panarisi: "Skoda is one of the world's five oldest automobile manufacturers still active today.The courage and ingenuity of the two founders, Vaclav Laurin and Vaclav Klement, are the cornerstone of this unique success story."
To mark their place, their names are remembered today on some of Skoda's most luxurious cars as special Laurin and Klement editions.
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