Started out in 1895 as Laurin and Klement, then manufacturing bicycles. In 1899 they began the manufacture of motorcycles, following in 1905 with the manufacture of the Voiturette automobile
. After World War 1 the company concentrated on the manufacture of trucks, but fell on hard times in 1924 following a large fire that all but destroyed their manufacturing facility. Was able to avoid bankruptcy by partnering with Škoda Works, the biggest industrial enterprise in Austria-Hungary and then Czechoslovakia, then building Hispano-Suiza
designs under licence at Plzen, Czechoslovakia.
Manufacturing under the Škoda name, the company weathered the depression and emerged with the aptly named “Popular”, which was indeed very popular. During World War 2 the company was turned into part of Hermann Göring Werke, serving the German war effort. Found itself on the wrong side of the iron curtain following the war, and despite being starved of technical innovation from Western marques, continued to manufacture solid and reliable cars, such as the Skoda 440 Spartak, 445 Octavia, Felicia and 1000 MB. In the late 1980s Škoda (or Automobilové Závody, Národní Podnik, Mladá Boleslav to be precise) was still manufacturing cars conceptually from the 1960s.
Rear-engined models such as the Škoda 105/120, Estelle and Rapid sold steadily in many countries and even managed to put in solid performances against more modern marques in races such as the RAC Rallies of the 1970's and 80's. The turning point came in 1987 with the Favorit model; designed by Bertone
and, with some modern engine technology obtained under license from west European manufacturers, the Škoda engineers succeeded in designing a car every bit the match of its Western contemporaries.
Extremely popular in Czechoslovakia and other East European countries, the Favorit also sold fairly well in Western Europe, particularly in the UK where they were regarded as good value, solid and reliable. During the 1990’s the Czechoslovakian government brought in foreign partner Volkswagen, the cars quickly catching up with competition in terms of quality, innovation and design.
Also see: The Skoda Story - A Pictorial History from Laurin and Klement to Skoda