Prepare for some exceptional acronyms
The German and Swedish car manufacturers have long tested the safety of their products, with even non-car enthusiasts applying the safe label to the solidity of a Mercedes or Volvo. But hidden behind the Iron Curtain fifty years ago, Škoda was also to participate in regular crash testing with an independent team bringing such action to light.
The ÚVMV (Ústav pro vŷzkum motorovŷch vozidel), the Czechoslovak Motor Vehicle Research Institute, were tasked with providing coherent and central research for engineering companies, not solely car manufacturers. Under leadership from ČAZ (Československých automobilových závodů), or Czechoslovak Auto Works General Division, the ÚVMV beginnings can be found at the end of the Second World War.
Soon after, a directive was procured to “build a research base, with state support but with international cooperation.” Aimed at studying technology directions, unifying parts and measurements in terms of functionality, durability and economy and eliminating shortcomings, they would also provide research for other (former) Soviet Bloc manufacturers.
The ÚVMV actually became manufacturers in 1966 with the 1100 GT. Modifying a Škoda 1000 chassis, this rakish prototype was both rear engined and rear wheel drive. Development over four years saw the car debut at the Pilsen motor show, with a trip to the Palexpo for ‘71 where encouraging echoes led to a (minute) production reality – just six cars, that resemble a SAAB Sonnet appear to have been made.
Draped in fibreglass, the coupé measured 3880 x 1505 x 1125 mm with a wheelbase of 2200 mm, tipping the scales at just 816 Kgs. The revamped Škoda engine, at 1140cc with two twin-choke Weber carburettors produced 75bhp and four speed manual transmission made good for a 180 km/h v-max.
Remarkable as the two door was, communist zeal didn’t really care for the sporting element when cold, hard, Western (specifically French at first for reasons unknown) cash could be had by utilising Škoda’s manufacturing esteem. In order to accrue the filthy lucre, the exported cars required crash testing, something of which the French car industry had knowledge. It was therefore agreed to place some French testing personnel to assist and quantify experiments, but apart from a large workshop, the Czech’s had no area for such testing to occur.
1972 saw the ÚVMV gain testing authority from the Federal Ministry of Transport of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic who could grant the necessary homologation necessary to sell the Eastern Bloc’s wares elsewhere. No team of builders or contractors here, ÚVMV staff themselves layered the tarmac opposite Prague’s Ruzynê airport, along with the concrete crash barrier and all the testing equipment.
Pusillanimous is not a word to fit the Czech psyche. Whereas their German and Swedish cousins had invested heavily in safety testing equipment, the Czech teams, with undeniable tenacity had to endure some rudimentary, Victorian era, engineering. The first proper ÚVMV test on a Škoda 1000 was held in June 1972.
Before undertaking its more sober duties, the propulsion device was extensively tested. Basically a kettle on wheels, a wheeled water tank containing electrically heated coils made the steam. The tank was merely butted up against the test hack in order to hurl it against its concrete master. A road embedded steel rail which curtailed around five metres from the terminal edifice kept matters on the straight and narrow. The steam rocket would hit a wedge brake at which point the hapless Škoda would continue on its merry way for a few seconds more.
Using basic parameters such as weight of vehicle, amount of water in tank along with saturated steam pressure, practice runs were held in the opposite direction, away from the barrier. Such tests required an enduring human driver, if only to prevent the car disappearing toward an operational airport. The wedge brake once more halting this steam-punk’s progress.
That first rocket powered device was deemed HRB-001 – the Hot Water Rocket of the Security Group of the Central Ministry of Defence. Cold weather hampered such external experiments denying the long suffering engineers their required results. Attempting to circumvent heat loss, HRB-002 came replete with insulation along with a catchy new moniker emblazoned on its tank; FODRŠAMARUPUSOPR, which stands for FOgl DRmota, ŠAtochin, MAjetič, RUbkič, PUčálka, SOuček, PRažák, which one must hope means more to our Czech friends. But you have to admire the length and complexity of such acronyms.
Somehow when the research laboratory relocated, the original rocket ship was stolen, a replica having to be made.
Recording of the crash tests was by 35mm high-speed film with both actual and filmed results witnessed by delegates from UTAC, the French crash testers (who now, incidentally run Millbrook Proving Ground along with test centres in the US, France, Finland and Morocco) and masters of the prize – homologation. After much midnight oil burnt by the Czech technicians, the following day’s test proved successful – by the steering column not encroaching upon the driver.
Crash testing began to build momentum with the steam rocket used for several more years, the Ruzynê track itself serving until around 1995. The Ministry of Interior opened a new laboratory in Prague’s Letñay district in 1975. This included, finally, a covered hall which contained a drop tower to provide crash subjects with acceleration over that of steam power. By then ÚVMV had been privatised, in-turn taken over by TÜV Bayern who then built Škoda’s first dedicated crash test facility at Úhehnice. Operational by 1996, the original Octavia being its first victim.
However, recording of the tests was still by old fashioned film. Rudolf Tesárek, now Škoda’s crash lab coordinator, was in charge of testing at the turn of the new millennium. “I pressed one button to start the drop tower and through experience, the camera button a little later. The film had to go to the Barrandov studios for developing then returned here for a lab technician to cut and edit the reel. Afterwards, this would return to Barrandov who made the film proper and finally we could see the results. This process could take three weeks – maybe more!”
Škoda continued to invest and upgrade the Úhehnice facility in accordance with VW Group’s and respective NCAP requirements, alongside digital media. The rigs are capable of 65 Km/h or propelling a single car into the wall at 120 Km/h.
These days though, the kettle remains in the kitchen.
 The Czech Republic still carries the E8 mark – the eighth member of the (then) EEC
 The tarmac strip remains visible from the Hostivice Observation Mount, the crash barrier removed
Data Sources : Škoda-storyboard.com/ skodaklasik.cz