Škoda has been manufacturing automobiles since the turn of the twentieth century in what is now known as the Czech Republic. For many years it produced economical but quality vehicles in limited numbers. After the Volkswagen Group acquired the automaker in 1991, sales skyrocketed, reaching more than 674,000 units in 2008.
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Škoda was established as a bicycle repair business by Václav Klement and Václav Laurin as Laurin & Klement in 1895 in Turnov, which lay inside the borders of what was then Austria-Hungary. The company graduated to manufacturing motorcycles before producing its first car in 1905.
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After World War I, the partners' plant burnt down and they desperately needed a partner to remain in business. They merged with Škoda Works, in Czechoslovakia, and produced a line of cars until World War II. The Germans occupied Czechoslovakia and seized control of Škoda, renaming it Hermann Göring Werke to manufacture military vehicles for the German Army.
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After the defeat of Germany, Škoda production began in earnest with the 1101 Series automobile, which was an updated model of the prewar Škoda Popular. Despite severe restrictions under strict Communist rule and being hampered from acquiring advanced technology from the West, Škoda still produced quality cars. The 440 Spartak and the 445 Octavia were popular models for their reputation as durable vehicles.
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The 1000/1100 MB Series debuted in 1964 and featured a rear-mounted aluminium 1.1-litre engine. The car, while valued today as a collector's item, was plagued with quality control problems, prompting the 1000 MB to be nicknamed "1,000 Little Pains" by Polish buyers. Nonetheless, 440,000 units were manufactured from 1964 through 1969.
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Despite Škoda's lack of access to Western auto styling fashion, the design studio came up with the 100R sport coupe that is considered today perhaps the most attractive Škoda ever built. Produced from 1970 through 1980, the 110R was a treat to drive in road races, although it suffered from corrosion over the long-term. About 57,000 units were built. The 110R's successor, the 130RS, fared better as a sports car, winning the 1977 Monte Carlo Rally in 1977, the Acropolis the following year and the European Manufactruers' Championship race in 1981.
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Under the Communist regime, Škoda, on an international scale and certainly in Western Europe, suffered from severe image problems as most cars began to be equipped with computer sensors to maintain engine and electrical units. Škodas, however, still used 1960s technology. Yet its dated mechanics and body styling did not prevent the company from producing the reliable Estelle, Rapid and 105/120 models.
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The fall of Communism in 1989 prompted the new Czech Republic too seek a foreign partner that could turn the Škoda into an international brand. Renault and Volkswagen vied for the company, with Volkswagen winning ownership rights in 1990. The VW's powerful styling and engineering studios, now behind Škoda, produced the Felicia in 1994. The Octavia also was produced based on the VW Golf floorplan. The Fabia made its debut in India in 2008 (see Resources). Today, the Škoda is a leading European brand.