Mladá Boleslav – an industrial town with an ancient history
A rumbling engine drowns out the sounds of fellow passengers on the bus –somehow fitting on a visit to Mladá Boleslav, a town synonymous with cars and car engines. A little over a century ago, the first Czech bicycle, the first motorcycle, and eventually the first motorised buggy rolled out of what was then a modest factory in the town owned by mechanic Václav Laurin and former bookseller Václav Klement. Mladá Boleslav has been known for its car production ever since.
“In the 1890s, bookseller Václav Klement opted to go into business on his own to try and produce a Czech bicycle and he was joined on the project by mechanic Václav Laurin of Turnov. They were successful and produced their first bicycle, the Slavia, in 1895. Not long afterwards, they produced their first motorcycle – effectively little more than a bike with an engine and electric starter – and gradually shifted to car production. The first model to roll out of the factory was the famous Voiturette.”
“The vehicle exists, you can see it at the Škoda Auto Museum and it still runs. Visitors can see not only this car but also many other models as well, including many prototypes which for various reasons were never built.”
Among those is the Škoda Supercar nicknamed the “Ferat” for its role in the 1981 Czech vampire-inspired comedy Upír z Feratu. It looks like a charcoal-coloured cross between a DeLeorean and Bruce Wayne’s Batmobile and in the film it ran not on gas but blood.
The classiest cars on display are without question Škodas from the 1930s which saw production, including a limousine once used by the government, lovingly restored from functioning engine to shiny front grille. The museum is one reason Mladá Boleslav sees a fair share of visitors each year:
Historian Luděk Beneš stresses it is an understatement to say the firm has had a strong impact:
“The plant of course offers many locals employment opportunities but people here are really genuinely proud of the brand and its reputation in the world.”
Škoda spokesman Jaroslav Černý agrees:
Škoda Auto has been part of the Volkswagen Group since the early 1990s and one of the most reliable brands, today producing four separate lines from the luxury, top-of-the-line Superb to the popular Octavia sedan to the more economic Fabia, one of its bestsellers, both here and abroad. Aside from excellent service and reliability, the cars also benefit from intelligent marketing. Want an example? Some will recall an ad produced for the UK market several years ago which successfully captured the smaller Škoda Fabia’s verve.
“The idea came from Britain: the UK market is a little bit different and therefore our importer in Great Britain produces their own TV commercials themselves, advertising which has now been seen as a good example for the rest of Europe. In the commercial chefs ‘bake’ a Škoda Fabia the way one would bake a cake: putting the car together from different ingredients to make the glass, the oil and so on. Basically, they bake a cake.”
Historian Luděk Beneš:
“There is quite a lot one can see in the Old Town and there are a good number of historic buildings including a renowned Renaissance Palace one should see. But other areas weren’t so lucky: some in the 1960s and 1970s destroyed to make way for pre-fabricated apartments. The northern side of the town are all pre-fab buildings where more than half of the town’s inhabitants live.
“At the end of the day, it’s true that Mladá Boleslav is not at all a typical tourist destination. On the other hand, the town lies along a main artery to the nature park Czech Paradise and the Krkonoše Mountains, so we do get a lot of people, both Czechs and foreign visitors, passing through, stopping off for a meal and visiting for example the Škoda Museum. Cars, naturally, remain the main draw.”