Reviving the Czech Rally Culture

Images: Jiří Uhlík Jr. & Ameya Vikram Mishra

My second day in Prague was intended to be a whole day of local sightseeing—so much so that I rushed right after an early breakfast, leaving my friends behind. However, as I made my way towards the Prague Castle, I got distracted by an array of old rally cars parked in the backdrop of the beautiful neo-renaissance-style Rudolfinum concert hall on Jan Palach Square.

On further enquiry, I realised I had reached the starting point of the Rally Prague Revival. Of course, my day was now going to be spent indulging in a different kind of sightseeing.

An Audi quattro, followed by a Datsun 240Z and a Toyota Celica GT-4 at the ceremonial start

The rally, currently in its 13th edition, is organised by the Central Automobile Club of the Czech Republic (ÚAMK) together with the Czech Autosport Association. This year, 164 entries were received, including participants from Germany, Poland, Slovakia, France, Italy, and many other European countries. Participants traversed North Bohemia and returned to the Panorama Hotel in Teplice at the end of each day.

Diversity was also reflected in the wide variety of cars participating in the event, which included everything from classic Mercedes and Porsches to Ford Sierras and Escorts, JDM rally legends, and humble Ladas.

The vast variety of cars is reflected in this picture

Though the Czech duo of Hubálek Ladislav and Hašek Ondřej took the top honours in a BMW 323i (E21), the most delightful bit about the rally was the umpteen number of homegrown Skodas participating in the event, a sign of Czech pride in their automotive history and culture.

A Lada in the company of a sea of Skodas; (from left to right) Skoda Rapid, Skoda 130L, Skoda 120 & Skoda 1000MB

I was immediately tempted to choose my favourite Skoda, and after some serious consideration, I picked a racy-looking Skoda 120S with white rally wheels. Based on the rear-engined rear-wheel drive family of small cars internally referred to as Type 742, the 120S was bored out to 1300cc, up from 1173 cc of the standard 100/110 line of models, as a consequence of the FIA replacing the 1150cc sports car class with a new 1300cc one.

My favourite Skoda at the rally with those beautiful white wheels

The standout technology on the 120S was an advanced system of cooling which involved moving the radiator from the engine (at the back) to the front fascia of the car. The hot air from the engine was transferred through a channel to the new grill created at the front, which is also one of the visually differentiating features of the car. This system was so efficient that the cooling system did not require any fan, and it also improved the car's handling characteristics. Thanks to such innovations, the 120S became the predecessor to the legendary 130RS when it came to the design of the cooling system and powertrain.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the participation of as many as four Trabant P601s at the event. These modest but highly desirable cars (at least for me) were East Germany’s answer to West Germany’s VW Beetle. They featured modern technology such as front-wheel drive with a transversely mounted engine and independent suspension all around, which made them a great value for money ‘people’s car’.

Some cheerful Trabants participating in the rally

These Trabants turned out to be great machines for the rally. One of them finished as high as 68th, ahead of some of West Germany’s finest, including a Porsche 944, a BMW 2002, and a Mercedes-Benz 280 CE.

My affinity for ‘fast Fords’ got me talking to a lovely father-son duo, Jiří Uhlík Sr. and Jiří Uhlík Jr., who were participating in the rally with their home-prepped Mk1 Escort. As Jiri Jr. showed me around the barebones cabin of his Ford, I learnt that this was the 11th time his father was participating in the rally with this car. A true doyen of the Czech rally scene indeed!

The Uhlíks’ Mk1 Escort

Though I missed the action on the rally stages, Jiří Jr. was kind enough to share some exciting pictures, which made me want to attend (or maybe participate in) the rally in full in the future. This is a perfect reason to visit Prague again.

Rally Prague Revival was not part of my itinerary, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of my week-long trip to Central Europe, despite having disrupted my local sightseeing plans. I eagerly look forward to next year’s edition.

Cars gather at the flag off

Ameya Vikram Mishra

Ameya is currently an LLM candidate at the Sciences Po Law School. Apart from law, he is passionate about vintage & classic cars and is a member of the Heritage Motoring Club of India.


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