It has been twelve years in the making.
Between 1965 and 1977, ŠKODA developed their new mid-sized car under the name 'Project 720'. The car would be positioned above the existing 1000MB and move away from the rear-engined and rear-drive concept.
The new ŠKODA had to take buyers away from customers who opted for cars such as a Taunus, a Rekord, a Simca 1300-1500 or a Fiat 1500. A not too small family sedan, with a choice of an economical 1250 cc, a somewhat more robust 1500 cc and in the future a sturdy 1800 cc four-cylinder in the front. The drive traditionally remained on the rear axle, the Czechs took no risks with front-wheel drive. They did design a modern front train with MacPherson struts and a brand new engine. The car had a length of 4.31 m, a wheelbase of 2,50 m and a mass of 930 kg.
That engine was at the top of its class: aluminum block and head, cross-flow, overhead camshaft and one or two Jikov carburetors licensed from Weber. The 1250 version delivered 65 hp, the 1500 85 hp. That should be seen.
Then disaster struck. On August 12, 1968, a fire broke out in the interiors department. The factory, which was full of synthetics, carpets, rubbers and glue, caused a blazing conflagration that spread to offices and workshops. The extinguishing lasted two days and nights. When the inspectors were able to view the collapsed halls, it turned out that in addition to the cladding factory, 600 machines had also been lost and the design department with models and mock-ups was lost.
Surprisingly, ŠKODA managed to start production of the new S100-S110 two weeks later, but the new model was put on hold for the time being. The entire three-year investment was lost.
The restart did not come until 1970. Technically they continued on the chosen path, but the bodywork drawn in-house was rejected by the Motokov group (the national exporter of everything on wheels). Too old-fashioned, too much chrome. Ital Design, the design agency of Giorgietto Giugiaro and Aldo Mantovani, was called upon.
Their four-door sedan, two-door hatchback and five-door station wagon could be there! The engineers, sheet metal workers, painters and welders got to work and 1971 samples of the sedan were built in 1972 and 60, to start the road tests. The earlier design of the interior was abandoned, instead the test cars were fitted with matte black dashboards with the well-known PAL built-in meters and 'stove knobs'.
The second blow came in 1973. During an International Comecon Congress, or whatever it was called, the Czechoslovak government had agreed with the GDR government that AZMB (ŠKODA) and VEB Automobilwerk Eisenach (Wartburg) should work together on a new middle class. Independent thinking and working was no longer allowed. The East German Wartburg still used the pre-war three-cylinder two-stroke, while ŠKODA had a new four-stroke. The political deal was soon closed. Now for the technical details.
Not that they felt like it, in Mlada Boleslav! Older employees had not forgotten that ŠKODA had been renamed 'Reichswerke Hermann Göring' during the war, which mainly involved robbery, forced labor and Jewish employees who never returned. In 1945 the Germans had taken what they could and destroyed everything they had to leave behind. Maybe there were other things at play. Anyway, it didn't click. The collaboration failed miserably. Project 720 once again went into a deep drawer.
Out of the mothballs again
The project was restarted in 1975. ŠKODA was planning to introduce the new S105-S120 series by then, which was actually not much different from a modernized S100-S110. Funny to see that style elements of the 720 can still be seen in the 741, the S105-S120. But the auto press began to be a bit sneering at the once-proud car brand. Another engine in the back, and pendle axles. It was now the last of the Mohicans.
Customers also wanted to be able to take a little more than just a few suitcases and overnight bags. Because even though the front door of the new models hinged to the side so conveniently, there was not much luggage space and not everyone was warm to the ŠKODA 1203 van (which, incidentally, did end up with the new 1500cc engine). This is how the plan was born to at least test the 720 model as a station wagon.
This resulted in a few test models with the well-known 1500 engine and styling adapted to the times. The car was ready for production by 1977. And again the plug went out. Why this time? Nobody knows. In any case, the country's party leadership and government did not excel at exploiting the technical potential in their factories.
Meanwhile, the gray veil of standstill had descended over Eastern and Central European countries. In the once industrially powerful GDR, nothing new was developed after the 60s. The FSO Polonez still appeared in Poland, a modern appearance, but still a Fiat 1500 from 1961 under the skin. And so the communist world in Europe faltered in its last decade. Old Renaults came from Romania and Bulgaria, old Fiats from Yugoslavia. And the USSR was also quite on the automotive gum: their most successful car remained the now ancient Lada and their least successful the much more modern Aleko. In all those countries the politicians became grey, the achievements invisible, the streets gray and the products scarce. It was not until the very end of the 80s that ŠKODA introduced the Favorit, which was largely developed under its own steam. The West could once again be looked straight in the eye. And then the Wall fell.
What if 'Project 720' and 'Project 765' could have counted on a little more party support? Then ŠKODA could have taken a nice bite out of the Western European market. It wasn't supposed to be.
Of the sixty ŠKODA 720 units built, three are still on the road. All three with the 1500 engine. A 1250 can be admired in the ŠKODA Museum in Mlada Boleslav. Two copies of the station wagons have been preserved and none of the hatchback.
In 1990, after communist governments fell across Eastern Europe, the new government decided to split its property, the huge ŠKODA factories in Prague, Kvasini, Pilzen and Mlada Boleslav, and look for partners. The car factory received offers from Volkswagen and from a consortium of Volvo and Renault. The Czechs foresaw disaster if their old brand were to fall back to an assembly plant, as had happened with Wartburg. (In Eisenach, Opel Vectras were now being screwed together after a mass layoff.) One requirement was therefore that ŠKODA should retain its own steel mill and foundry and machining plants (engines and gearboxes are the heart of the production) and its own R&D department. department. The brand wanted to continue developing its own models at all costs, otherwise they would fall from the communist rain into the capitalist drip.
Fortunately that didn't happen. Volkswagen completed the takeover and the old brand is very much alive.