In the beginning there were no cars
The company that later became the modern Škoda works in Mladá Boleslav was founded by the mechanic Václav Laurin and bookseller Václav Klement. They started out in 1895 with a bicycle repair and production business. In 1898 Klement brought with him from Paris a velocipede, which had a small motor attached to the front wheel. According to contemporary reports, the contraption was ‘wobbly, unreliable and hard to control’. A skilled mechanic, Klement made some improvements to the machine and, within a year, Mladá Boleslav saw the production of probably the first practically usable means of transport in Europe – the Slavia type A ‘motorised bicycle’, with a motor attached to the rear wheel and all steering elements on the handlebars. Naturally Laurin, a highly competent businessman, was soon able to sell these bicycles, to great effect. The company subsequently expanded production to include motorcycles and, in 1906, automobiles. It was at this time that they presented the Voiturette A at a Prague automobile show. While this vehicle bore more resemblance to a carriage with a motor attached, it was, in fact, the direct ancestor of modern Škodas. This vehicle can now be viewed in the Škoda Auto Museum in Mladá Boleslav, the company’s present to itself the celebrate the centenary of its founding.
The first Czech automobile
While the Škoda is the car of the Czech presidents – both the first and the most recent – the car named Präsident was produced elsewhere: Kopřivnice in North Moravia. The beginnings of the local Tatra car factory were just as modest as that in Mladá Boleslav, but it was here that the ‘Präsident’ was produced in 1897. The ‘Präsident’ was the first mass-produced car on the territory of the then Austria-Hungary, and one of the first cars anywhere in the world.
The Tatra Technical Museum, which documents the history of this world-renowned brand, is based in a modern building right in the town centre and is home to a vast collection of both passenger and goods vehicles, which naturally include the famous Tatras that have taken part in the Paris-Dakar race.
Motorsport – smell the petrol
If you’re a fan of old vehicles and motorcycles, you’ll already know the technical museums in Prague and Brno, where you can admire not only hundred-year old veterans, but also racing-cars of a much more recent vintage – recent events included the display of three Ferrari cars in the National Technical Museum in Prague. Enthusiasts also have the opportunity to see veterans in all their beauty at motor shows and races, for example the Veteran Rally, which takes place in Karlovy Vary in August, or the Historic Rally, which takes place in Zlín in May.