It looked like a car from the future. One of the first to come with an aerodynamic bodywork and futuristic with its rear-mounted boxer engine. ŠKODA 935 was a pioneer of the new era.
In 1935, most cars were still boxy and closer in appearance to old horse-drawn coaches than to modern cars. They ploughed through the air rather than slicing through it. Even though people already knew about aerodynamics and used it on airplanes, only a few daring pioneers were trying to apply it on cars.
After many failed attempts, Chrysler and Tatra came up with first mass-produced streamlined cars in 1934. Their efforts, the Airflow and T77, are quite well-known and regarded as game-changers for the industry. While the Airflow kept the traditional layout with front-engine and rear-wheel drive, Tatra went all the way and chose a more radical solution, with air-cooled V8 engine in the back, an innovative backbone frame and swing axles.
While Airflow failed commercially due to its unorthodox looks, the Tatra became a legend. And until recently, almost no one knew there was another Czech car with similarly bold layout and futuristic design. It was called ŠKODA 935 and made its debut on Prague car show in April 1935.
Its most striking feature was, of course, the streamlined bodywork. Its shape was based on the aerodynamic principles laid out by Paul Jaray – a former designer of Zeppelin airships and assistant at the Prague Technical Univesity, who also influenced designs of Tatra streamlined cars.
There was more to the 935 than aerodynamics, though. Its low, sleek body wasn’t supported by a ladder frame, like most cars at the time. It used a backbone tube frame that was even used to house the 40 litre petrol tank. This design allowed the experimental ŠKODA to be much lower and more aerodynamics than most cars of the era.
And the innovations didn’t end there. The 935 was fitted with independent suspension of all four wheels, using swing axles. That was something you could find in Tatras as well, but there more clever solutions on the ŠKODA. Like placement of the flat-four engine not behind the rear axle, but in front of it. This allowed for excellent weight distribution, improving the car’s handling and stability.
Together with the streamlined shape, this meant that the 935 was able to comfortably drive at 130 – 140 km/h, making it exceptionally fast for its era and a precursor to the kind of fast highway travel that existed only as an idea at the time. And it was no cramped sportscar, either. With almost 5 metres in length, it offered a spacious interior for up to five adults and 300 litres of luggage in the front compartment. There was also a horizontally mounted spare wheel that acted like a sort of a second bumper.
Also remarkable is the fact that all it took to propel such a large car to highway speeds was a two-litre, flat-four engine with output of just 55 hp (40.5 kW). Such efficiency is a testament to the aerodynamics of the vehicle.
Unfortunately, we don’t even know whether there was one or more of these unique cars manufactured. What we do know is that the prototype introduced at the Prague car show was sold to a private buyer in the summer of 1939. Later, it cruised around Slovak roads in the hands of a local farmer, who finally offered it to newly founded ŠKODA Museum in 1968.
The car spent decades in storage before the time finally came to restore it. It took 6 years of difficult but passionate labour to return it to its former glory. Thankfully, the car was preserved in almost completely original condition, with only the paint and dashboard differing from the original state in 1935. A bit of original paint on the inner side of one pillar helped to find the proper shade of grey, while the dashboard and other parts of the car were restored using period photos.
Today, the 935 is one of the most cherished exhibits of the ŠKODA Museum and a reminder that ŠKODA was innovative and daring even decades ago.