Story of Ondrej Koller, a coachbuilder and the beginning of car production in Bratislava

Ondrej Koller was one of the first coachbuilders in the Slovakian part of Czechoslovakia. The Slovak Museum of Design tried to put together the pieces of a puzzle, regarding his life and career.

Handy and creative people are not created by an ideal society. They shape their ability to overcome obstacles and the ability to reach their purpose. They do not give up, even if they take everything from them what have they built with their own work. This is also the story of Ondrej Koller, who laid the foundations of the car body design in the Slovakian part of Czechoslovakia, Bratislava.

Ondrej Koller late 1920’s

In 1918 Ondrej Koller (1905, Ptenín – 1982, Bratislava) enrolled at the Škoda engineering concern, Plzeň, where he was welcomed by Karel Škoda, son of Emil, the founder of Škoda. Karel the time was chairman of the board. In 1929 after the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, and a year after birth of Czechoslovakia, Karel Škoda resigned from all leading positions, stepped out of the company, sold his shares and moved to Austria.

Despite of these turbulences in the company, Koller successfully completed his studies as a cartwright. He had a special connection to the wood and his remarkable work was noticed by the Škoda leadership. They transferred him to the workshop for the production of wooden structures, which formed the basis of body construction.

Laurin & Klement Škoda 350 14/50 HP limuzína

Only few photos remain of the wooden bodyworks of Laurin & Klement Škoda 350 from 1925 that documents the mastery of which was realised by Koller and his colleagues. 50 units were build from Laurin & Klement / Škoda 350 (14/50 HP) with different coachworks, phaeton and “Limousine” being the better known styles.

Gradually he became a specialist craftsman in bodyworking and shortly after he received an offer, that couldn’t be turned down.

Laurin & Klement Škoda 350 14/50 HP phaeton woodwork

In 1927 he was commissioned to manage the Škoda branch in Bratislava starting with nine employees that was struck by the daunting emergence of the huge economic crisis, which broke out in 1929.

However, the company managed to overcome the crisis without any extraordinary difficulties, and in these difficult times something happened in Bratislava that changed the career of the talented bodyworker and the director of the branch office.

Mr. Müller came from Vienna to the branch with an exclusive carriage request. Mr. Koller prepared a luxury bodywork for the customer, and implemented a number of improvements. Müller paid the full sum to Škoda branch in Bratislava and in addition Koller got a generous reward himself.

 

Thanks to this generous reward he could buy out the branch and become a self-employed entrepreneur.

Škoda Laurin&Klement 350 14/50 HP (1925)
Škoda Laurin&Klement 350 limusine (1925-1927)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Though he was only 25-year-old, he set up O. Koller Bodyworks “Autokarosárňa O. Koller”, which catered for the special production and repair of car bodies of all types. It was located at Dr. Ing. Bondy 16, Bratislava (the street name was changed after 1934), an industrial park, which was quite close to Klingerka, Gummon industries (cable-works) and Apolka refineries.

Later he moved his firm to Račianska street. The perfect background was created by a large home with six flats for the employees. The Koller family lived next door in an eight room house with a garden that crossed Thurz Street.

The large courtyard was surrounded by workshops for blacksmith, upholstery, painting and car body. This is where Ondrej Koller spent most of his time. He never behaved like a towering boss, as he really loved car bodyworking so he worked together with the others. At one time there were 128 employees working for the company.

Unfortunately in 1949 the company was nationalised and Mr. Koller was forced to work as a miner in Ostrava for five years. Back from Ostrava he bought a bigger garden and was able to transfer some of his workshop from Račianska street here. And he was authorized by the national committee that he can run a car repairshop.

He worked actively almost until his death. Though he didn’t create new bodywork any more, the repaired ones came out as new. He was also held lectures at the apprenticeship schools in Bratislava and Trnava.

We would like to express our sincere thanks to Maroš Schmidt from Slovak Museum of Design and Denník N for assisting us with photos and source data for this article.

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