History of the Praga car maker
Praga is a car manufacturing company based in the Czech Republic with a history going back to 1907. The company produced passenger cars and trucks, motorcycles, aeroplanes, tanks, tractors, bicycles and car parts, it introduced dozens of patents in the world of motoring.
1907 – the First Republic
The “Pražská továrna” plant was established in 1907 as a joint venture between the company První česko-moravská továrna na stroje (“First Bohemian-Moravian Machine Works”) in Prague (merged into the Praga parent company under the concern Českomoravská Kolben Daněk in 1927) and the Ringhoffer works. It produces several vehicles under licence from the Italian company of Isotta Fraschini, and under licence from the French brands Charon and Renault a year later. Only 6 vehicles were made in 1908, leading to Ringhoffer's withdrawal from the contract.
At the end of 1909, the Praga brand was established (“Prague” in Latin in order to make the name international). However, the demand for cars was very low, vehicles were expensive, the production was inefficient, the plant built 9 models, but only 15 cars were sold during the first two years of its existence. In 1910, serial production of the Praga 01 and Praga 02 models was commenced, but it did not help to boost the company.
The first success came in 1911 when František Kec, a Czech designer, joined the team as head designer engineer. He designed the Praga V 1911 military truck, known as the “motorail” and renowned for its quality and reliability. With it Praga won a tender invited by the Austro-Hungarian army and the empire subsidized its sales.
Before the First World War, the production of Praga passenger cars designed by František Kec was commenced. The cars were reliable, high-quality and able to compete at an international level. The production mainly included the Praga Mignon 1911 (a medium size car), Praga Grand 1912 (a big car, winner of the 1912 Alpine Rally, used on the battlefront by Karl I, the last emperor of Austria-Hungary, and by T. G. Masaryk in the 20s), and Praga Alfa 1913 (a popular small car at a favourable price, available to a larger group of people, the first Czech car to reach the speed of up to 100 km/h).
In 1919, František Kec was appointed the managing director of the company. Under his management, the plant became innovative and introduced a number of novelties. In addition to success in sales, Praga received a number of awards in international contests and competitions. After the First World War, in the times of the First Republic, Kec constructed the Praga Piccolo 1924 (a smaller family car, titled the most beautiful car of the exhibition at a fair in Geneva).
František Kec left Praga following disputes over the company strategy in 1933. Soon after the recovery from the economic crisis, the production continued with the Praga Super Piccolo 1934, Praga Baby 1934 a Praga Golden 1934 and Praga Lady 1935 models. Praga Lady Roadster 1936, made by ČKD a.s., car division, Prague, The Praga Lady convertible boasts a special bodywork by the company Uhlík based in Prague and won the first prize in the elegance competition at the motor show in Paris in 1937. The vehicle was remarkable not only for its design but also for the original construction of the folding roof. It is stored behind the front seat back and when unfolded, it covers also the emergency seats placed in the luggage compartment. Praga Lady – Uhlík is a unique specimen of bodywork from the extensive collection of Praga cars compiled by Mr Emil Příhoda from Prague. This car was owned by Lída Baarová, a Czech actress.
After the Second World War
At the end of the Second World War, on 25 March 1945, nearly the entire car factory was destroyed in an air strike. After the war, ČKD Sokolovo (later ČKD Lokomotivka and ČKD Kompresory) commenced production in the reconstructed buildings of the former car plant, and Praga moved to the former Junkers plant in Vysočany. In 1945, it was nationalized, in 1946 it became a production division under ČKD, produced only trucks and military vehicles (the renowned Praga V3S, “vejtřaska”) and was renamed Automobilové závody Klementa Gottwalda. Since 1964 it only produced transmissions for trucks and buses (seven-speed transmissions designed by František Kec).
In mid 80s, the prototypes for the universal UV 100 and UV 120 trucks were designed which were intended as a domestic alternative to the imported Unimog trucks. Gradual development led to the Praga UV 80 model which went into production in 1995.
After 1989, the company was privatized. In 1992, Praga got a majority share in the company OASA based in Čáslav (formerly ČSAO) and engaged in the production and repair of buses. In 1997, the new joint-stock company Praha Čáslav started manufacturing all the Praga vehicles. In addition to the UV 80 model, the company also offered larger types – STNA (UV 100) and NTS. In 2001, the product line was modernized and the UV 80 was replaced by Alfa TN / UN. The modernized larger vehicles STNA and NTS were renamed Grand and Golden. The key customer was the state sector. However, the company contended with insufficient sales. During the years 2001–2003, it made less than 120 vehicles in total. In January 2004, Praga Čáslav went into liquidation. Apart from that, Praga tried to renew its motorcycle production but to no avail. In June 2006, the brand was purchased by the British company International Truck Alliance with the intention to produce trucks with the name of Praga in Lublin, Poland, from 2007.
The present-day company Praga-Export s.r.o., which owns the Praga brand, has re-established the production of cars, motorcycles and road supersports and is engaged in motor racing.