DRIVERS OF DEVELOPMENT
Today, ŠKODA AUTO is the only carmaker in the Czech Republic not just manufacturing passenger cars but also developing them.
Václav Laurin behind the wheel on a family trip connected with testing a new model (around 1909)
The success of the L&K and ŠKODA brands stems from a long line of proprietary design solutions, some of which have been license purchased – even by major foreign companies: At the beginning of the 20th century, SLAVIA motorcycles were manufactured in Germany under the Germania brand; 60 years later, the unique Czech aluminium die-casting technology was sold to competitor Renault.
Laurin, the modest pioneer
One of the revolutionary ideas of Václav Laurin, co-founder of the Mladá Boleslav factory, was the optimal motorcycle layout with the drive unit in the lower part of the frame, not above the driven front wheel. Laurin got it at the turn of 1898 and 1899 and was ahead of his time.
This extremely modest introvert was personally behind the design development of the brand at least for the first five to 10 years. He was a trained mechanic and had an extraordinarily creative imagination, but with increasing construction complexity, he withdrew into the background. Trained technicians, calculators and technologists took over. As technical manager, the experienced Laurin corrected their proposals, and his practical comments and observations from the test drives were invaluable. He also tested new cars on weekend rides with his patient family. He was a dedicated worker – while working on a “driven two-wheeler” (motorcycle), he even knocked out his front teeth in a fall.
Naughty but ingenious design child Karl Slevogt, first to the left of the steering wheel (1907)
Chief designer and driver Slevogt, without a driver’s license
The design team was international from the very beginning. In addition to Czechs, it mainly consisted of Germans, like technician Karl Slevogt. He worked in Mladá Boleslav in 1906 and 1907, but even during this short time, he boosted the development from in-line two-cylinder, via a very modern four-cylinder, to an eight-cylinder FF engine. The peak of the Slevogt era included the four-cylinder E 4.6 l/35 k (26 kW) with the so-called T-head, that is, with camshafts on both sides of the cylinder block. The Slevogt era ended with a series of tumultuous events damaging L&K’s reputation. Among other things, it turned out that he had concealed a number of traffic offences and falsely claimed to have a driver’s license.
Back then, it was a matter of course that the car designer also raced the vehicle at the top level to discover its structural weaknesses. Few people know that the company supported Slevogt’s very capable successor, the amiable Otto Hieronimus, with his passion for aviation. In 1910, he became the first pilot on our territory!
In 1925, the traditional Laurin & Klement brand merged with the West Bohemian engineering and armament giant Škoda, and design teams worked simultaneously in Mladá Boleslav, Prague and Pilsen.
30 years of being the father of ŠKODA passenger cars
In 1928, Vladimír Matouš (1896–1963) became the chief designer of ŠKODA passenger cars and light commercial vehicles. He was a talented graduate of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at the Czech Technical University in Prague and originally participated in the licensed Pilsen production of ŠKODA Hispano-Suiza luxury cars. Matouš emphasised the quality, reliability and standardisation of components. One of his first successes was the ŠKODA 430-645-860 series, introduced during the autumn of 1929. Thirty years later, before retiring, he managed to prepare further production legends: the OCTAVIA and FELICIA models.
During World War II, the factory had to make deliveries to the German army. Consequently, the giant truck for the Eastern Front, the ŠKODA RSO, was built directly in Mladá Boleslav. However, bold sabotage succeeded in “sourcing out” or devaluing a vast amount of strategic raw materials.
Design office in 1950
Active retiree Velebný visits the kangaroos
Josef Velebný was one of the most interesting people in ŠKODA’s post-war design history. He had been working at the Mladá Boleslav car factory since the second half of the 1920s, but his most important projects are connected with the post-war era. As the head of ŠKODA car body construction, he was responsible for the company reaching major technological milestones – the transition from mixed construction (i.e. with sheet metal covered wood) to an all-metal body on a separate chassis (ŠKODA 1200, 1952) and then to a self-supporting all-metal body (ŠKODA 1000 MB, 1964). After retiring, Velebný participated in developing a series of special products for foreign customers. He was designing cars right on site and also helping to launch the production of practical pick-ups and SUV predecessors – like those for New Zealand (TREKKA), Pakistan (SKOPAK) and Turkey (ŠKODA 1202 KAMYONETLERI). In 1977, his last foreign mission involved the construction of welding jigs and putting together disassembled ŠKODA 120 L cars in Costa Rica.
One of ŠKODA’s main triumphs after 1989 was that it was virtually the only company from the former Eastern bloc to have a modern car it had designed itself, the FAVORIT. The team led by Petr Hrdlička had designed it in the 1980s.
Mountain test of the masked model FAVORIT (around 1986)Hrdlička, the father of the legend
Petr Hrdlička is both the son of the pre-war car manufacturing director Karel Hrdlička and the father of the current head of chassis and unit development, Martin Hrdlička. In August 1948, he joined the Tool Shop of the Mladá Boleslav–based AZNP as apprentice number 9,809 (mechanical locksmith and car mechanic). Later he became acclaimed as an expert in hypoid gears and from 1963 to 1964, he worked in Mladá Boleslav as the chief engineer of the gear shop. He then worked in Switzerland and at the Institute for Motor Vehicle Research in Prague. In March 1983, Petr Hrdlička became the head of AZNP’s Research and Development Plant and was tasked with managing the project of a new-generation front-wheel drive car, which would later become the ŠKODA FAVORIT.
He also cooperated with ŠKODA AUTO after retiring, for example, as an external consultant on the ŠKODA FELICIA PICKUP light commercial vehicle project, including its FUN leisure derivative (1995–1997).
In the spring of 1991, at the time of joining the VW Group, the Mladá Boleslav development department had 600 employees. By 1999, it had grown to 1,170. In April of the same year, they moved into a new construction centre, a glazed building on the banks of the River Jizera. It is traditionally nicknamed Česana (from the Czech word “česat”, meaning “to comb”) after the original use of the local area in the 19th century, when it served as a spinning mill for worsted yarn.
Petr Hrdlička with car body technologist Bohumil Drbohlav (right)
Mountain test of the masked model FAVORIT (around 1986)
Prototype of the first modern generation of the OCTAVIA in the development centre
Wilfried Bockelmann in an interview with Czech Television
Professor Wilfried Bockelmann has been in contact with the Czech carmaker since 1985, when he helped to modify the Pierburg carburettor for the upcoming FAVORIT model. From 1995 to 2002, this German technician headed ŠKODA AUTO Technical Development and managed, for example, work on the first generations of the FABIA and SUPERB models, as well as three-cylinder engines. He was responsible for preserving and further developing the plant in Kvasiny and also brought the ŠKODA brand back to world rallies. He worked in Mladá Boleslav for 79 months, and the huge progress the brand made is also demonstrated by the transformation of his company vehicles: Initially, it was the 1.3 l-engine FELICIA; by the end of his time at the company, he was already driving the SUPERB V6, and all the cars in between were in his preferred colour: black. The demanding yet respected professor also liked classic cars and owned the legendary FELICIA model from the 1960s.
Among other milestones, let’s not omit 2008, when the ŠKODA AUTO Technology and Development Centre was opened. In September 2014, an engine centre was put into operation as part of it and would later also host the gearbox centre.
ŠKODA AUTO specialists have been developing, testing and simultaneously producing various important components and mechanical units for all Group brands for many years. All of it in various versions for individual world markets. For example, the exhaust system originally designed for the OCTAVIA RS 230 sports model was also used in the VW Golf Variant R. The Česana team is developing all indirect fuel injection (MPI) petrol engines for the entire VW Group and is currently responsible for the development of all Group manual transmissions and drum brakes, covering their design for the urban ŠKODA CITIGO to the large VW Amarok pick-up.
The advent of specialists
When the company was in its infancy, Václav Laurin developed new models intuitively. With the growing complexity of design and production technology, scientific work methods soon prevailed, and university-educated designers took over this role. Technical Development in Mladá Boleslav currently has more than 2,300 highly qualified specialists.
EGV/5 – VIRTUAL TECHNOLOGIES
“I started working at Technical Development after finishing my military service and stayed for 10 years in the Tool Shop. As a designer, I got my start at the drawing board. With the advent of CAD (computer-aided design) construction, I had the opportunity to be among the first at ŠKODA AUTO to work with programs like CATIA and Autoform. Given the need to display data, virtual reality software tools were gradually added. When the Virtual Technology department was founded, I returned to Technical Development in 2004. Virtual reality tools help to speed up and improve the car’s development process. We’re accompanying the model from the first conceptual phases through DDKM (digital data control models) until the end of series production.”
EGV/51 – VIRTUAL PROTOTYPE
“I also had the opportunity to witness the rapid development of virtual techniques and their deployment in the course of my career. I started my career at ŠKODA AUTO in the forged car body construction department, and after switching to EGV, I participated in introducing the collision parts analysis (DMU), digitised design models, and I’m currently creating virtual car models with my colleagues. The departments for which we are preparing visualisations can verify the design and functionality of their data in a virtual environment, and we don’t have to make so many physical prototypes. The scope of our activities is constantly expanding and requires professional specialisation. Each of us is an expert in a certain and partial area of expertise.”