MANY carmakers originally worked in quite different fields. Peugeot, for instance, was (and still is) a maker of pepper grinders.
Toyota made weaving looms, Skoda’s founder was a bookseller and Hyundai was a construction company.
Likewise, Wikov made all manner of agricultural equipment.
Wikov? What’s that?
The Czech company was established in 1918 and is also still going strong today, although its product lines have changed direction these days as a major producer of gears and mechanical gearboxes.
But back in 1922, the owners, Wichterle and Kovářik went to a trade exhibition in Vienna and came back with an Ansaldo, a classy Italian car and the product of what was then Italy’s largest industrial company.
Founded in 1853, Ansaldo started off making railway components, then diversified into arms manufacturing, hence the two crossed cannons as its logo.
It also built aircraft, ships, tanks, armoured vehicles and — from 1921 to 1931 — it built motor cars.
Five years later Wikov did a deal with Ansdaldo to build its Tipo 10 car in Czechoslovakia and called the 1.8-litre sedan a Wikov 7/28.
They were solid, reliable, efficient and beautiful and some also featured in competition, where they often achieved success, the latter mainly via its 2.0-litre 7/28 Supersport.
The cars were aristocrats among vehicles, built in small numbers, many tailored to individual buyer wants and constantly upgraded with the latest in car techniques.
Some remained only in prototype
But the brand made news in 1931 when it built something radically different: the Wikov 35, Czechoslovakia’s first streamlined car, which was immediately nicknamed the Kapka or ‘drop’ because of its wind-cheating lines.
It was the work of Vienna-born Hungarian Paul Jaray, chief designer of Flugzeugbau Friedrichshafen seaplanes and Zeppelin airships, who used wind tunnel facilities in the aviation industry to apply the principles to cars.
He had been actively involved in aerodynamics since 1912 and his first working prototype was announced on September 8, 1921.
It was Audi, with its Type K, which proved that Jaray was on to something.
While the standard production model was marketed with a top speed of 95km/h, the Type K dressed by Jaray could do 130km/h — and consumed a lot less fuel.
It had peculiar looks, but neither the Audi nor the Dixi which followed, were enough to convince the market that streamlined cars were the future.
So Jaray’s ideas went on to be applied more to racing cars than to road vehicles, without ever making much money for the Austrian-born Hungarian.
A fine example was the 1923 Ley Stromlinien Wagen racer, which used Jaray’s aerodynamic principles.
Jaray tried to sell patents and create partnerships with manufacturers, but things turned out to be more difficult than he expected.
Chrysler built a test car using Jaray’s aerodynamic principles, but never produced it, Maybach embraced the style and BMW developed a Jaray-penned concept — but a few other brands simply pinched his ideas and didn’t pay.
Tatra was an exception, using Jaray’s concept on its T77 from 1934 and successive models with Jaray’s smooth lines and tail fin right through to 1975.
It was Audi (Auto Union) with which he was most closely associated.
The 1923 Auto Union streamliner concept no longer exists, but a faithful replica was built and is the one used in the A5 adverts.
Jaray’s influence can also be seen on Auto Union’s ‘Silver Arrows’ race cars.
It was at the Prague Motor Show of 1931 that Wikov unveiled the radical Wikov 35 Kapka.
The four-seater, two-door streamlined saloon with a four-cylinder, water-cooled 1743cc OHC engine and a three-speed manual transmission created a lot of interest.
But people at the time still wanted big boxy cars and the manufacturers obliged.
So the Wikov 35 Kapka remained a concept model, like more than a few earlier Wikov models.
Then, from 1932 to 1934, there was an attempt at making a small car, called the Baby.
Several prototypes were built, but economic analysis showed it would not be viable and the plan was shelved.
All up, Wikov produced only 760 cars, including five Kapkas, in its 10 years of car making. It did build some 450 trucks as well.
So, with the car world still focused on traditionally styled vehicles, a frustrated Paul Jaray closed shop in 1938. He died at St Gallen, Switzerland, in 1974, aged 75.
Despite the disappointing end of his ventures, Jaray deserves to be acknowledged as the first true theorist of aerodynamic efficiency.
From a commercial and sports point of view, Wikov gained lots of success in races with its 7/28 Supersport, but with relatively few made, and few, if any, reaching foreign markets, it remains unknown to most of the world.
Today, the Wikov Industry Group exports more than 75 per cent of its gear production abroad, has 1000 employees and its annual global sales amount to around US $120 million.