Václav Havel is undoubtedly an important figure in Czechoslovak history, but did you know that he was also fond of cars? He liked to drive all his life, which is why he bought a red Mercedes-Benz W114 as his first car, which he later sold and in 1977 replaced with a yellow Zhiguli, which he basically called “Dzhiguli”. For four years, the zhigul had a new owner, actor Jan Hraběta, while Havel saddled a first-class Golf, which he later sold to Zdenek Svěrák, and at the same time (1987) bought a second-generation Golf, which will be discussed in the following lines.
Fungl’s new car came from Tuzex, under its hood was a 40 kW (54 hp) naturally aspirated diesel engine and a four-speed manual. The equipment is basic (type C), color diamond silver metallic, seat upholstery type Balear, aluminum discs – model Hockenheim. Inside, the best available optional original Volkswagen audio Gamma of its time takes pride of place. Thanks to that, Václav Havel called the car “my mobile Smetana’s house”, but otherwise he nicknamed it “Silver Lightning” because of the solid engine thrust.
The car later changed a number of owners, while the penultimate one did not treat it very well – he transported wood in it, did not take care of maintenance, crashed it several times and then threw it into the nettles. It looked like this piece of motoring history would end up in the junkyard, but in the worst of times, the savior David Hubáček appeared – a collector, Francophile and car enthusiast. At the time, he had no idea how difficult the event would be, but let’s not skip ahead and take it in order.
From Mercedes to Golf
David’s story dates back to 2013, when he and his friends organized the Sokolka žieve! festival. (which ultimately resulted in the founding of the Sokolka Luhačovice Club). The event also included an outdoor vernissage of Olga Havelová’s photographs, immortalized by Bohdan Holomíček. A red Mercedes-Benz, strikingly similar to the one owned by Václav Havel himself, served as decoration.
David Hubáček therefore thought that he would find out where the original ended up, so he picked up the phone and called Antonín Maněn – the former head of the castle police. After months of searching, it was finally revealed that the car in question survived as a collection of spare parts. However, the spontaneous idea of looking for a car continued, and in the final, it was the double Golf that fell into the spotlight. As you know from the previous paragraphs, he was indeed found, but in what condition…
What was left of the presidential car was a wreck, and the owner at the time had an extremely exaggerated idea of the price as part of the sale. It already looked like the whole project would go to waste, but based on the cooperation of several interested friends, the car was successfully bought back, but another question mark arose – renovation.
The Luhačovice association managed to raise money for the most necessary service using crowdfunding, David Hubáček financed the remaining (much more expensive) repairs from his own funds. However, he is fully aware that without the Facebook campaign and media support, the general public would probably never have known about the Golf in question.
A separate chapter was the search for missing parts, many times coming from different corners of Europe. Of course, most of them had to be paid for, but there were also sellers who sent some components free of charge as support for the project – for example, a Romanian dentist of Hungarian origin donated an original reduction frame (value of about 100 euros) for the vintage Gamma car radio to the Golf.
The demanding complete renovation took about two years. Today, the car serves the Sokolka Club in Luhačovice, participates in exhibitions, various public events with the theme of Václav Havel or figures wherever good things happen.
Before the end of the report, we received a great honor, we got behind the wheel, clicked on the cassette with “Plastics”, rolled down the windows and went on a scenic drive through the countryside. The car looked as if it had left the factory, while the historical atmosphere was enhanced by other proprieties typical of Václav Havel (lighter, cigarettes, Nikon camera, etc.), and overall we were pleasantly surprised by the solid intake of atmospheric diesel. It was only on the circuit with the sound of the four dialed in that we realized why the car was nicknamed the Silver Lightning.
We left with a smile on our faces and a feeling of satisfaction that there are still people (saviors) in the world who really like ordinary cars surrounded by a powerful story. It’s an emotional rollercoaster when you realize it, so our final assessment was something along the lines of, “Damn, man, you did an incredible job here!” We know, it’s blunt, but it’s spot on…
What else did you (not) know?
Before you jump to the next article, read a few more interesting facts that are related to the silver Golf of the second generation, whose first owner was Václav Havel.
- collector David Hubáček managed to save the original technical certificate confirming the car’s originality.
- the silver Golf was granted a Presidential Vehicle Exemption, which allowed its driver to enter curfews or park curfews. David Hubáček owes the acquisition of these documents to Antonín Maněn – the former head of the castle police.
- indeed, the car served a very short time as the official presidential car before being replaced by BMW limousines. However, Václav Havel continued to use the Golf, albeit as a private means of transport.
- the flat wrench found together with the car keys is used for easier removal of the center wheel covers. David Hubáček originally believed that it was a simple key to some interesting box/drawer.
- a Tesla mobile phone was additionally installed in the presidential Golf. This device was the only one that worked in Hrádeček, where Václav Havel liked to spend his free time. At that time, the nearest landline was located up to three kilometers away from the post office, so when the then head of state needed to make a phone call, she simply went to her mobile silver booth.
- a red Mercedes located at the festival Sokolka lives! (2013) corresponds to the original car of Václav Havel in terms of registration number and bodywork, but it is not an original. The picture shows a W115 diesel model from a private collection.
- in private, Havel was an automotive detailer. If he did not maintain his car himself, he issued a precise list of how and with what means to clean which lot. For example, the outer plastics were treated exclusively with military green shoe polish, while the inner ones were only treated with Diava brand furniture polish.
- when the slaughterhouse was organized in Hrádečka, the Golf carried most of the equipment, but the pork itself was not allowed in the car.
- smoking was common in the car, and Havel’s original IMCO lighter nicknamed “The Austrian”, donated by the Maněn family, has also been preserved.
- heartthrob Václav Havel liked to adjust the music output from the left or right speaker. Among his most popular compositions was the song “Magic Night” by The Plastic People of the Universe.
- the car was also used by dissidents, for example to transport leaflets or to visit prisons. Among the famous drivers of the silver Golf was also a well-known representative of the underground, František Starek, known as Čuňas.
- as a driver, Havel was a speedster, often running over his own bodyguards.
- The five-door Golf is also unique in that it served as Havel’s motoring clutch during the Velvet Revolution and many times replaced the experimental poster area.
Former Czechoslovak and later Czech president Václav Havel died on December 18, 2011 at the age of 75 in his beloved Hrádeček. As one of the few Czech politicians, he was recognized all over the world and his actions significantly influenced the course of our history.