The start of production was preceded by an unusually long development, due to the centrally controlled economy, lasting twelve years. The ŠKODA engineers started work on the new light “utility vehicle” already in the spring of 1956.

They worked with a progressive concept for the time with a self-supporting single-compartment body, which does without a traditional chassis frame and a separate engine compartment, worsening the use of the built-up area. Independent suspension of all wheels was also considered, and the designers for the new utility vehicle designed a consistently rounded body with abundant glazing.

Although the first prototype hit the road already in September 1956, the car company did not have the investment funds to introduce the new technology of self-supporting bodies, so Škoda offered customers the model Š 1202 of the classic concept for the time being – and continued to refine the shape of the future 1203. And as we already know, production started after many years.

Only for state or cooperative enterprises and organizations

In the centrally controlled national economy of the then Czechoslovakia, only state or cooperative enterprises and organizations could order the new Škoda 1203. They submitted an application to the State Planning Commission, officials assessed the legitimacy of the request and assigned a so-called “balance voucher”. Only then could the organization pay the purchase price and take over the Škoda 1203. The “twelve sets” came into private hands only as used ones.

It was different abroad, the Škoda 1203 was freely available there. At the same time, it was sold not only in the countries of the Eastern bloc, but also, for example, in France, Belgium or Egypt.

As part of the unification, a number of components from the mentioned “twelve hundred two” were used in the upcoming car, including a four-cylinder gasoline four-cylinder OHV with a volume of 1,221 cm3 and an output of 49 horsepower (39 kW). The car shared the dashboard and rear lights with the new personal Škoda 1000 MB.

First, in 1969, the compact van “twelve three” reached customers, which, with a length of 4,520 millimeters, a width of 1,800 mm and a height of 1,900 mm, weighed 1,170 kilograms. The carrying capacity was 750 kilograms and up to 5.2 m3 of cargo could fit inside.

Photo: Škoda Auto

Škoda 1203: detailed comparison of minibus and van versions.

The Škoda 1203 reached a top speed of 90 km/h, and at a constant speed of 60, they measured its consumption of 11 liters of gasoline per 100 km.

The van was soon followed by a minibus, followed by a number of other variants, from a flatbed to various assembly designs to ambulances and hearses. In several pieces, an extended version of the flatbed was also created, which the factory team used to transport racing specials.

Between 1968 and 1981, a total of 69,727 Škoda 1203 cars were produced in Vrchlabí, after which the final production was transferred to Slovakia, specifically to the Trnava Automobile Works (TAZ), where a number of components had been produced for years.

The “twelve set trojka” was continuously modernized. In 1988, i.e. 20 years after the start of production, it received a larger and more powerful engine, a one-four with an output of 57 hp (42 kW). Another innovation was the five-speed gearbox, which reduced engine speed at higher speeds, which had a positive effect on aggregate noise and consumption.

Movie star

Škoda 1203 also often appeared on television screens and cinema screens. She played, for example, in the well-known scene of an intervention near a crashed plane in the series Ambulance, in František Vláčila’s film Smoke from Potatoes, in the first parts of the series about poets by director Dušan Klein or in the ageless crazy comedy of the couple Svěrák-Smoljak Jáchyme, throw him in the machine! You will surely remember the “regrettable oversights” of the pair of paramedics Arnošt and Arnošt, sent to the field by associate professor of psychiatry Chocholoušek.

Double-circuit brakes contributed to increased operational safety, minor retouches refreshed the body design. And in the 1990s, a four-cylinder 1.9-liter diesel from Volkswagen even appeared under the hood.

The TAZ enterprise was privatized after 1989, but the production of the model continued under the original name. Starting in 1993, it began to be offered as the TAZ 1500, three years later the already mentioned diesel version with the TAZ 1.9D designation was added, and the gasoline classic, newly with fuel injection, was renamed the TAZ 1.5i. From April 1973 to August 1999, approximately 89,000 cars of all designs were produced in Trnava.

The relay, if only in the form of individual orders and assembly of parts, was then taken over by a company from Žaclér in the Czech Republic, i.e. a place only about 16 kilometers from the plant in Vrchlabí. Initially, the production ranged around one hundred pieces per year, later the annual production dropped to several tens of pieces. Back in 2017, the company delivered two new cars abroad, after which it began to focus only on general repairs and the production of bodies and spare parts.