The cars that got away
Museum annex showcases models that never made it to production
Posted: October 16, 2013
Can you remember the pint-sized hatchback that Škoda produced in the early 1980s? Or perhaps you recall the front-engine version of the company's popular 120 model? And how about the coupe version of the Škoda Superb from a decade ago?
Most Czech residents, even if they are motoring enthusiasts, would probably answer "no" to all three of these questions - and with good reason. None of these cars ever made it into production.
However, prototypes are on show at an annex to the Škoda Museum in the company's home town of Mladá Boleslav. The annex opened earlier this year, at the same time as the museum itself opened its doors after a major refurbishment. While the main museum largely showcases important models in history, many of them bestsellers, the less-visited annex also displays a wealth of fascinating view of what might have been.
With some of them, such as the Škoda Tudor, there was never any intention to go into full production. This two-door four-seater car, shown at the 2002 Geneva Motor Show, was not ever likely to join the standard sedan-shaped car on the production lines.
When: Daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: třída Václava Klementa 294
Some other prototypes at the museum did however secure the go-ahead, among them the Škoda Roomster, which was displayed at the Frankfurt Motor Show the following year.
With its bold interior colors and smooth shape, the prototype at the museum annex appears slightly more space-age than the car eventually unleashed on the car-buying public.
Back in the 1980s, Škoda had become the butt of jokes in many European countries, the aged rear-engine designs by then outclassed by vehicles made on the other side of the Iron Curtain. It is interesting to see that Škoda was then experimenting with more conventional front-engine prototypes, even if they were ultimately not produced for sale.
A 1978 example of the 120 model with the engine in the front - and with the front hood open to prove it - is among the most fascinating exhibits. Externally, it looks the same as the rear-engine car that was produced for sale.
Even long before this, Škoda made prototypes of a front-engine, front-wheel-drive sedan that had a completely different design, one that remains unfamiliar to the public. A blue example of the 760, which was the product of a collaboration with the design house Ital Design, is on display. Prototypes with 1100, 1300, 1500 and 1600 cc engines were tried out, but sadly never made it into the showrooms.
It is tempting to speculate about how Škoda's commercial profile in Western Europe, a key export market even during the Cold War, might have been different had this attractive car ever been offered to customers.
With its neat, modern design, it might well have struck a chord with motorists and helped Škoda avoid the embarrassment into which it sank in the following decade.
In the 1980s, Škoda produced prototypes of another design that, like the 760, could have had a rejuvenating effect on the then-struggling marquee.
The early prototypes of the 781 were neat little front-engine hatchbacks designed in-house. Red, blue and orange prototypes of this design, dating from 1981 and 1983, are on display at the museum.
These cars are seen as precursors of the Favorit, also designated as the 781, although they have little in common in appearance and indeed were designed by different people. The appearance of the red prototype at the museum was the work of a Czech, while the Italian Nuccio Bertone was responsible for the look of the Favorit.
Just as with the 760, it is easy to imagine that the 781 prototypes, which appearance-wise were up to the standard of Western European and North American cars of the time, would have received a more enthusiastic reception in export markets than the cars Škoda was producing for most of the 1980s.
It was not until 1989 that Škoda began its renaissance with the release of the all-conquering Favorit, a car that was followed by a string of other competitive models, these ones unveiled after the takeover by Volkswagen.
The fascinating museum annex at Mladá Boleslav suggests that, had the formerly investment-starved company put some of its earlier prototypes into production, the fightback could have started much earlier.
The annex can only be seen with a guide from the museum, so those interested in taking a glimpse inside might be advised to call in advance to check when visits are taking place. Also on display at the annex are various motorsport vehicles and production Škodas from the 1930s and other periods.
Opening hours at the main museum are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The center can be contacted on 326-832-038.
Daniel Bardsley can be reached at