Škoda 1203 still has a legendary status today. It served as an ambulance and hearse, carried cargo as a van and passengers as a minibus. It was also created as a motorhome. This year it celebrates 55 years since the start of its production. She lasted much longer in it than previously expected, but she never had a direct successor. Although various replacements were worked on.

The “twelve set trojka” actually had a sad fate. Work on it began already in the fifties, when prototypes gradually offered a truly modern concept. But there was no place to manufacture the car, so it was put into production only in 1968, when it was already outdated and weak due to the gasping engine. In socialist Czechoslovakia, however, there were no funds for modernization, so the 1203 remained in production without major changes.

Photo: Škoda Auto

The development of the Škoda 1203 began already deep in the fifties. At that time, it could look quite different from the form in which it finally went into production at the end of the sixties.

1500 V was supposed to replace 1203

However, this does not mean that innovations are not being worked on. The Škoda 778 prototype built in March 1972 responded to criticism and shortcomings of the 1203. Although the technical basis of this van was the same as that of the 1203, the angular shapes corresponded to the stylistic trends of the time. Access to the cargo area was provided by the rear hinged lid, as well as side sliding doors.

Photo: Škoda Auto

The Škoda 1500 V was technically based on the 1203.

With a length of 4,570 mm, the prototype was larger than the 1203, powered by a newly developed 15-cylinder petrol engine developed for the Škoda 720, which was being prepared at the time, which was supposed to finally ensure sufficient dynamics. After all, the considered trade name Škoda 1500 V also referred to the engine.

However, it was the end of the 720 project, a mid-range vehicle with a design by Giugiaro, that also meant a stop to the development of the new engine. And without it, even a new van, which would be bigger and stronger than the 1203, suddenly made no sense.

Photo: Škoda Auto

A big advance in practicality was the side sliding doors.

A modern replacement in collaboration with Moskvich

However, thoughts of replacing the 1203 did not stop. During the 1980s, the BAZ (Bratislavské automobilové závody) car company, which was finally launched at the time, worked on the project of a so-called small truck. This is where the name MNA 900 came from – the number then referred to the planned load capacity in kilograms.

At the same time, the interesting project was supposed to become transnational, within the framework of Eastern European cooperation with the Soviet Union. A similar car was also being developed by Moskvich at the time, so by mutual agreement the two projects were merged into one. The Bratislava evolution was renamed MNA 1000 as part of modifications and changes in shape, while the Soviet brother was newly named Moskvič 3733 (instead of the previous 2139). In addition to the personal minibus, a utility van was also considered.

Photo: Moskvič

The Moskvich 3733 was a very futuristic MPV concept.

The external shapes were modern and aerodynamic for their time, designed by Milan Biroš, BAZ’s in-house designer. He added interesting headlights to the car – the original prototype had lights from the Favorit. The drive was then provided by the same engine as in the 1203, which indicated continuity with this model.

The two entities were supposed to cooperate on the planned production as well. Škoda was to supply selected parts – for example, selected components from Favorit were used in the cabin of the prototype, from which the exterior rear-view mirrors also came, while the drive units were to come from the Moscow car manufacturer AZLK.

Photo: Moskvič

The cabin was also like something out of science fiction.

However, the promising project eventually also failed, definitively at the beginning of the nineties. At that time, the Bratislava automobile plants fell into the hands of the Volkswagen concern, which had its own plans for the factory. Without a Slovak partner, Moskvič subsequently ended the project. Only a few prototypes were built.

A van with a Škoda 742 base

During the eighties, the Bratislava Automobile Works also worked on a project called the BAZ Furgonet, which had the potential to replace the 1203. At Furgonet, however, there was an effort to reduce production and development costs as much as possible. This light box car was created on the basis of the Škoda 742 – that is, a rear-engined sedan. It is not difficult to discover that this is a completely inappropriate concept for a utility model. But there wasn’t a lot of funding back then, so they just tried it.

Photo: BAZ

The Furgonet prototypes had a different superstructure.

As a result, quite a lot has changed compared to the serial 742. The wheelbase was extended by 350 mm to a total of 2,750 mm, which, together with the rear track width of 55 mm, should ensure a sufficiently large cargo space. This was provided by a box superstructure with a decent internal length of 2,000 mm. Unfortunately, it was only 800 mm high above the engine, which seriously spoiled the practicality. As well as the loading edge lying 900 mm above the road – due to the rear-mounted engine.

In short, there were many disadvantages, so the BAZ Furgonet didn’t even have a chance to move from the prototype stage. This resulted in only a few pieces that differed in color and superstructure. One had a tinned superstructure, the other added a window, while the third was a de facto passenger van. Inside the superstructure appeared a removable row of seats accessible through side glass doors.

Photo: BAZ

It’s not hard to figure out why the practical van prototype didn’t make it into series production. It was not very practical with the engine in the back.

Work favorites

In a similar spirit, several prototypes were created based on the Škoda Favorit, where the superstructure made more sense thanks to the front engine and front-wheel drive. Conceptually, the Furgonet was directly followed by prototypes from the 1980s – the personal Škoda 784 Savana Combi and the commercial Škoda 784 Savana Furgon, which used a superstructure for transporting passengers and cargo, respectively.

Photo: Škoda Auto

The Škoda 786 was designed as a practical car for transporting physically disabled people.

Other prototypes based on the Favorit, Škoda 786 and Škoda 788, were similarly designed, using a stretched wheelbase. These were subsequently gradually transformed into the utility station wagon Forman Plus with a raised roof, later replaced by the Felicia Van Plus.

Here comes the Roomster

The Škoda 1203’s successor was finally the Škoda Roomster. The small MPV with a length of 4.2 meters was an indirect replacement for the 1203, like it, in addition to the personal version, it also offered a working derivative offered under the name Praktik.

Photo: Škoda Auto

The utility brother of the Roomster was surprisingly spacious and practical.

The Roomster first hinted at the concept of the same name presented at the 2003 Frankfurt Motor Show. It first showed the basic shapes of the upcoming car, as well as the concept. The production Roomster followed in 2006, at a time when the segment of such small MPVs was expanding. The Utility Praktik followed a year later.

The unconventionally shaped car emphasized practicality and space for passengers. An interesting feature was the VarioFlex rear seats, improving variability – they could be moved and removed. Technically, it was an interesting puzzle, the basis was provided by the front axle from the Fabia combined with the rear axle from the first generation Octavia.

The Škoda Roomster was finally produced until 2015, but already a year earlier there was speculation about the nearing end of production. The reason was the generally declining interest in this type of vehicle.

Photo: Škoda Auto

The successor to the Roomster was supposed to be a VW Caddy with Skoda logos and a mask. In the end, it did not go into production because the car company needed to save money.

At that time, it was still expected to start. However, according to the original plans, the Roomster in the second generation was to bet on a different concept. It was supposed to be a passenger van manufactured in Poznań, which would be a rebranded Volkswagen Caddy of that generation. But in the end it came down to it. Škoda Auto itself officially explained the decision by changing its strategy and betting on SUVs, the range of which it gradually expanded. The Kamiq, an urban crossover the size of the Roomster, has also arrived. But the reason could also be the effort to reduce costs in connection with the then “dieselgate” case.

After the end of the Roomster, the car manufacturer from Mladá Boleslav definitively left the segment of spacious cars. There are no plans to return to the segment even today, due to customer trends Škoda prefers to attract families to its SUVs.