After 70 years, Skoda returns to Le Mans. Yes, you read that right, Skoda is set to make a comeback at the pinnacle event of endurance racing. The carmaker is planning a surprise comeback next year – the target was for a 2020 return, but the global health crisis put an end to that. Sadly, it will not be with a new car, but with the exact one that raced successfully in 1950.
The ‘Tudor’ – whose name is derived from the English ‘two-door’ – first raced at the 24-hour race in Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium. This gave them the confidence to make even more ambitious plans. On 24 June 1950 the ŠKODA factory team finally made it: The enhanced version of the 110 Sport was in front of the pit wall of the ‘Circuit des 24 Heures’, ready for the Le Mans start. Václav Bobek and Jaroslav Netušil were behind the wheel. Their car weighed just 600-kilogram and had a wheelbase that was extended to specifically compete at Le Mans.
Shaped air vents were installed next to the headlights to direct cooling air to the drum brakes of the front wheels. The rest of the technology was largely based on the standard ‘Tudor’, such as the 12-volt electrical system and the cross-ply tyres. The unchanged 1,089cc, water-cooled four-cylinder engine had, among other things, a slightly higher compression ratio and a Solex 40 carb. This enabled it to deliver 50 hp an increase over the 32 hp of the production engine. The Skoda Sport reached a top speed of 140 km ph.
This combination gave the drivers, Jaroslav Netušil and Václav Bobek, both Le Mans debutants, a fighting chance. With an average speed of 126 km/h, they fought their way up to second place in the 1,100cc class in a field of 60 contenders. However, at dawn, after 13 hard hours on the fast track, the car with the number 44 pulled out on its 115th lap. The locking tab of a crankpin had snapped. There was no way to repair it in time. The team had no choice but to retire.
1950 was the height of the Cold War, which was terrifyingly heating up. Sadly, for Skoda, this was the only Le Mans race in the company’s history. In the years that followed, the brand’s cars were no longer able to participate in the French 24-hour race due to the political situation after the implementation of the Iron Curtain.
It will be terrific to see this original historic Skoda Sport, which today belongs to a private Czech collection, back on the track. It will appear in front of crowds of spectators at the beginning of July to mark the 70th anniversary of its Le Mans debut and Skoda’s 125th anniversary.