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Five prototypes of this open-top lightweight vehicle, for trips to the beach on sunny summer days, were built by hand in the mid-1970s
Throughout its 125-year history, Skoda Auto has presented many concepts as unusual as they are exciting. we have already spoken about a few such examples in the past few weeks. Adding to that list today is the Buggy Type 736. It was based on the standard notchback model 110 and continued the tradition of building autocross racing cars, with which the Czech carmaker celebrated championship successes in the early 1970s. The 1100 series engine of the doorless convertible, which was particularly impressive off-road, had an output of 44bhp. The last of a total of five prototypes was built in 1975 and today belongs to the Skoda Museum in Mlada Boleslav.
So how did it come by?
At the end of the 1960s, ‘Autocross’ made its way onto the European motorsport scene. In entertaining and exciting races, drivers competed against each other on unpaved circuits, fighting for victory in minimalist, lightweight vehicles. In Czechoslovakia, the first official autocross event took place in autumn 1969 in the town of Prerov and a little later Skoda also took part in the new motorsport discipline: In November 1970, works driver Milan Zid won the upto 1000cc class at the Steeplechase horse race track in Pardubice. To optimise the weight of his Skoda 1100MB, the bumpers and rear doors were left off when the car was being constructed, and the interior was stripped back to the bare essentials.
Skoda dominated the first Czech autocross championship in 1971 with a buggy based on the Skoda 100/110 L. However, the floor assembly of the racing car was 400mm shorter, and the bodywork had largely been replaced by roll bars. Milan Zid remained unbeaten again in the one-litre class, and Oldrich Brunclik, another factory driver, dominated the next category up – the engine of his buggy was increased to 1150cc. Despite these successes, the Skoda factory team ended its involvement in autocross the following season, as the sports department was running at full capacity preparing racing and rally cars.
As the enthusiasm for autocross continued to grow, a trend was spreading from the beaches of California and Florida to Europe: purist dune buggies or beach buggies. These technologically simple vehicles were great fun and offered a thrilling driving experience, which in turn generated interest in purely recreational vehicles. These cars, which were often sold in kit form, were usually technically modified small cars with lightweight bodies made of fibre reinforced plastic (FRP).
In Western Europe, several manufacturers made use of Skoda’s modern and competitively priced technology, especially in the one-litre class. Francois Vernimmen from Namur in Belgium was one of the most active European buggy manufacturers at that time. In 1971 he used the reinforced floor platform of the Skoda 100 and built two copies of his Buggy VF on it. He shortened the wheelbase from 2400 to 2240 mm, latched on a tarpaulin roof over the open body, and stripped the interior to little more than a sports steering wheel and bucket seats. The four-cylinder 988 cc engine in the rear had an output of 42bhp and was derived from the notchback series model as was the four-speed transmission.
A breakout success
In January 1972 the vehicle celebrated its world premiere at the Skoda stand at the Brussels Motor Show. Within three years, it had ‘inspired’ many similar models, chiefly across Europe. From 1973 it was known as the ‘VF Okap’ with an engine displacing 1,107cc. Motorest, an Italian Skoda general importer of the time, also sold similar special products. The ‘Kirby’, a development by the small-car manufacturer Autozodiaco from Pianoro near Bologna, debuted at the Turin Motor Show in November 1972. This open-top two-seater was also based on the Skoda 100 but with an unmodified wheelbase. For safety reasons the Kirby, like the VF, had a tubular frame supporting the windscreen and a rear roll bar. In total, however, only two copies were built; the 1107cc engine with one or two carburettors was never used in the ‘Kirby’.
In Mlada Boleslav, Skoda was paying close attention to the construction of these vehicles and eventually decided to launch Project 736 in 1973: The Skoda Buggy was created to find out whether a similar vehicle had export potential and made economic sense. Two years of intensive work followed before the test drives were finally completed in the summer of 1976. The 110 L served as the basis for the prototype. The designers had shortened the wheelbase to 2000mm, while two longitudinal struts, a tubular frame around the windscreen and a higher roll bar above the heads of the driver and front passenger ensured that the floor platform was more rigid. Josef Cech was responsible for designing the open metal bodywork, which as a 2+2 seater could carry four people. The first model was created with the help of the development department, which also took care of painting the car. By October 1975, the car manufacturer’s apprentices at the company’s vocational school had completed the other four units by hand. This makes the Skoda Buggy an early forerunner of the now six ‘Apprentice cars’ students of the Skoda vocational school have built in recent years.
The buggies built by Skoda differed from those from Belgium and Italy mainly due to their more sophisticated construction. For instance, the radiator, battery and 40-litre fuel tank were located at the front of the vehicle, contributing significantly to a more favourable weight distribution and balanced axle loads. Massive tubular frames protected the front and rear sections. The headlights on the front body cover were particularly eye-catching, as was the spare wheel on the rear bonnet, protected by a cover.
The 1107cc four-cylinder motor from the Skoda 110 made 44bhp and 74 Nm of torque from as low as 3000rpm, so not only could it easily power the 3.32m long, 710kg Buggy along, but could also carry a load of 400kg, or four adults and their luggage (though there were no dedicated storage compartments on board). Conversely, if two people were travelling together, the back seat could be used as a 980mm wide storage area.
The occupants were protected from the elements by a textile soft top and side panels made of transparent film. The prototype reached a top speed of 107kmph with half of the load on 165 SR 13 road tyres (the off-road tread was 175 SR 13), with an average consumption about 12kmpl.
The Skoda Buggy Type 736 covered almost 30,000km in test drives and received almost exclusively positive evaluations. However, this was still not enough to start series production of the niche model, even though the developers had presented possibilities to simplify production and thus reduce costs. The ideas ranged from using an FRP body, to considerations of offering the Buggy to the police, emergency services and border patrol, all of which ultimately fell through due to the legislation at the time. After the project had ended, however, one of the prototypes went into service at Prague Airport, where it was used as a ‘follow me’ vehicle, to guide aircraft to/from a parking location to aid pilots unfamiliar with the airport.
One of the five copies now belongs to the Skoda Museum in Mlada Boleslav, after being carefully renovated in 2017. The restoration of the vehicle was carried out by the former students of the company’s vocational school in Mladá Boleslav who had originally been responsible for constructing this unique car in the 1970s.