While exploring the artworks in the Hungarian Collection, I stumbled upon a relief depicting two workers in a machine factory that had the logo of Skoda Auto in the bottom left. The logo immediately caught my attention because of my interest in cars and automobile racing. As a result, I started to research Skoda’s history and explore Eastern Europe’s automotive landscape under Communism.
During the Cold War, countries under the Warsaw Pact emphasized the need for industrialization as a way to move society forward. The Hungarian government, for example, promoted industrial and agrarian reform in order to advance national identity through communist ideology. Manufacturing companies like Skoda Auto benefitted from the command economy because it gave them access to a larger pool of workers. Furthermore, this philosophy also allowed Eastern bloc countries to take pride in the products they produced and encouraged the proletariat to see the value of hard work and its importance in modernization. Their presence in artworks validates the importance of the people who represented the backbone of communist society. Reliefs like the Skoda Machine Factory Wall Decoration (above) exemplify the people’s ability to help their nation move forward through working together as a collective.
Skoda Machine Factory Wall Decoration depicts two factory workers manufacturing parts for a car. The iron relief highlights the importance of industrialization to the eastern bloc as a way to progress to the same level as their western counterparts. At the same time, the object illustrates the high quality goods made in the Eastern bloc by emphasizing the ability of Skoda to create excellent vehicles that rivaled those from Western Europe, the United States and Japan. Furthermore, the piece affirms the fast pace of industrialization in eastern bloc nations through the products they produced.
Founded in 1895, Skoda is a Czech car manufacturer that began as a producer of bicycles. During the Cold War, Skoda was the only automobile marquee that marketed its products in both the eastern and western blocs. The company manufactured its cars, buses, trains, and locomotives in the former Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Under Communism, however, the process of developing new products changed, causing Skoda to “reuse and recycle” parts from older models and sell them as “all-new” products. This became evident in the 1980s when
Skoda’s cars fell behind with technology that dated back to the 1960s. Nevertheless, unlike car makers in the Eastern bloc such as Trabant and Lada, Skoda maintained its reputation for producing reliable automobiles, allowing it to continue selling cars in both Eastern and Western Europe. In 1952, Skoda’s 1200 models became the first cars exported to East Germany, selling 8,000 examples in various body styles. They followed up with the Octavia line at a cost of 15,000 marks, which sold 70,000 examples, and the Felicia convertible, which commanded 19,000 marks from 1954 to 1971. By the 1960s, Skoda began manufacturing vehicles with engines in the rear that sold for 15,000 Marks. During the 1970s, Skoda developed the S 100 model, which cost between 16,000 to 23,000 Marks depending on body style, selling some 400 examples in East Germany. The 1980s saw Skoda develop the S105, S120, S130 and S135 models, which continued a rear engine design and commanded around 20,000 Marks. The models from the 1950s to the 1980s were the first Skoda vehicles to use the names “Rapid,” “Favorit,” and “Octavia” that the brand continues to use today for its contemporary product offerings.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Skoda became part of the Volkswagen (VW) Group, which gave the company access to new technologies and innovations developed by their parent and partner companies. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Skoda built its automobiles using platforms and technologies co-developed with VW Group companies such as Audi and Volkswagen. Positioned as a competitor to Fiat, Toyota, Ford and Opel, Skoda kept its reputation for building quality cars for the people and became a transnational company, selling its vehicles in Europe, Asia, Africa, South American and Australia.
The association with Volkswagen also allowed Skoda to resume its participation in motorsport particularly in rally events where it had competed since the 1960s. Skoda began competing in the World Rally Championship in the 1990s under Skoda Motorsport, funding various teams and companies with modern automobiles and engines to build race cars. Furthermore, the alliance with the Volkswagen Group allowed Skoda to offer performance-minded cars under the “RS and “vRS” monikers.
– Stefan Ogbac