Cohort Pic(k) of the Day: Skoda 1203 – Made For 42 Years; No Wonder It Looks Tired

mncarspotter posted a couple of pictures of a tired looking Skoda 1203 in Bulgaria that had obviously been an ambulance. It’s a bit sad looking, in more ways than one, but the 1203 had a rather happy—and very long—career as the most widely used Czechoslovak commercial vehicle in the 20th century. Of course being pretty much the only vehicle of the type being made there at the time assured it a virtual monopoly, hence the accolades. It’s a vehicle that’s never had its 15 minutes of fame at CC, and given that it was built for 42 years, it more than deserves it. Let’s celebrate the 1203 and hopefully it will cheer up some.

Prior to the 1203, Skoda’s only commercial vehicles were essentially station wagon versions of their sedans. Here’s the chronology, starting with the post-war 1101/1102, seen here as an ambulance too. These were built through 1952.

In 1952, Skoda’s first pontoon-style model arrived, the 1200. And here’s the wagon version of that. All of these were strictly commercial vehicles, and only sold to socialized entities during the Communist era. There was no Country Squire version.

In 1954, the 1201 replaced the 1200, with only minor changes.

In 1961, the 1202 replaced the 1201. It was based on the Octavia, but was larger than the Octavia Combi, and with three doors; two on the passenger side and one on the driver’s side. It should be noted that all of these Skodas were RWD and with a swing axle rear suspension as used by Skoda (and Tatra) since 1933.

In the mid ’50s, plans for a light truck/van were started. It was to have a fully unitized body, unlike the Octavia which used a tubular center frame member. This is a prototype from 1959. Due to the realities of the planned economy of the time and place, it did not come to fruition (i.e. production) until a full decade later.

Here’s the original version as first shown in the fall of 1968.

This cutaway shows its configuration, with the 47 hp 1221 cc ohv four located between the front seats. The swing axle rear suspension does allow for a lower floor, almost as low as a FWD version would have been. Later versions had a larger 57 hp 1433 cc engine.

The 1203 played a very wide range of roles, given that it was essentially the only light commercial vehicle in Czechoslovakia at the time.

A people mover.

And goods mover.

And a combination of both.

Moving sick people was a particular specialty of the 1203.

As well as dead people.

There was even a camping version, but just how many—if any—ended up in the hands of private owners is likely none. More likely it was available for members of social groups to use.

The 1203 was also made by two Skoda subsidiaries, TAZ, and later Ocelot Auto. There was some attempt to modernize its front end, as this one and our featured 1203 ambulance shows.

But it doesn’t end there. The TAZ 1500/1900 continued on with a new face, until 1997.

And then Ocelot Auto took over, and made some more updates, including wider tires, but the rear swing axle is clearly still there. These were built from 1994 to 2010, although in rather limited numbers. Just ten years ago, you could still pick up one of these new.  Forty-two years of production; imagine if the gen1 Econoline had made it until 2002.

And here we are back to our featured 1203 ambulance. It’s looking like it needs to go to the hospital, to the oncology department. Hopefully it’s not terminal.