The history of ŠKODA – Over 100 years of getting people from A to B
1895 to 1905 – From push bike fanatics to motorcycle madness
You might think it strange but our founders started by making push bikes! In Czechoslovakia during December 1895, keen cyclists Vaclav Laurin (a mechanic) and Vaclav Klement (a bookseller) started designing and manufacturing bicycles. At that time, most Czechs were fervently patriotic, so they called their first company Slavia. Their bicycles sold well, so Laurin and Klement decided to take the next step – and add motors. They started making motorbikes in 1899, changed the name of their company to the Laurin & Klement Co and chalked up several racing victories. While making nearly 4,000 motorbikes of various types, they started experimenting with a new phenomenon – the car – which began to gradually replace motorbikes from 1905 on.
1905 to 1933 – From cars to planes… to ploughs
In the early 1900s, the Laurin & Klement Co could do no wrong and their first car, the Voiturette A, was a huge success, becoming a classic in Czech motoring history. The company established a stable position in the developing international market. When war began in 1914, it started manufacturing for the armed forces too. Because of the economic conditions in Czechoslovakia at the time, Laurin and Klement needed a strong industrial partner to strengthen and modernise their company. They were now not only producing a range of cars, but also trucks, buses, aeroplane engines and agricultural machinery, such as motorised ploughs. They merged with Pizen Skodovka Co in 1925 and became ŠKODA.
1933 to 1939 – A popular legend
In the early 30s, ŠKODA had some difficult times. Luckily, they made a breakthrough with the Type A ŠKODA Popular, which was to become a legend in the second half of the decade. Weighing only 650kg the ŠKODA 420 Popular could reach 80km/h and was offered at a fantastic price too (sound familiar?). At one end of the scale, Populars served as reliable utility vehicles, such as ambulances and delivery vans, while at the other they completed a four-month trip to India with Czechoslovakia’s most famous goalkeeper in tow, and the roadster version performed brilliantly in the famous Monte Carlo rally of 1936.
1939 to 1960 – From the Second World War to the first Octavia
In 1939 came World War 2. Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Germans and the period until 1945 was a disruptive one for ŠKODA. The civilian car production programme was very limited and the majority of manufacturing was to support the German war effort.
After the war, as part of large-scale nationalisation in Czechoslovakia, the company became a national enterprise and took over all passenger car production. This period saw the ŠKODA Tudor successfully exported as far as Australia and the introduction of the mould-breaking ŠKODA 1200 which was modernised several times before, as the 1202, finally ceasing production in 1973!
ŠKODA also manufactured the ŠKODA 440 which, in 1959, evolved into the first Octavia, named because it was the eighth model to be produced after the end of World War 2.
1960 to 1989 – Lots of innovation, not enough production
The Czech economy performed well up until the 1960s, then began to suffer because of new technology in the western world. ŠKODA continued to make new and improved cars – in the form of the Octavia, the Felicia, the MB range and the Rapid – but production really only grew again with the arrival of the Favorit model range in 1987. Such was its success that the final, very pretty version of the Favorit was designed by the legendary Italian, Bertone.
1990 onwards – The new era of driving happiness
With the political changes of 1989, when the Berlin Wall was brought down, came new market economy conditions. The government of the Czech Republic and the management of ŠKODA began to search for a strong foreign partner in an effort to secure the company’s long term international competitiveness.
In December 1990, they decided on Volkswagen and a joint venture began the following year. ŠKODA became the fourth brand in the Volkswagen group, alongside Volkswagen, Audi and Seat. Since then, ŠKODA has gone from strength to strength, manufacturing not only many excellent cars but many happy drivers.