Zdeněk Pilát and His Lidovka

The Lidovka was the forerunner of all Czechoslovak post-war minicars. Libor Kiss put together the pieces of its story with assistance from the car’s current owner, Tomáš Hušek

During his youth Zdeněk Pilát spent his free time in the garages of the Protivín brewery and glancing through the fences of the Walter aircraft engine factory.

His design activity began during military service, when, after graduating from the military aviation school, he constructed three new types of aircraft engines. He also redesigned the Avia Ba-33 fighter of the famous aerial acrobat Ján Ambruš for higher acrobatics and flights upside down. Pilát in the Jawa factory of ing. F. Janeček designed a sports aircraft engine with a reducer, which had almost twice the performance compared to other Czech and foreign sports engines.

At the age of twenty-four, he became chief engineer of the Prague factory of Jawa, where he later worked on the Jawa Minor prototype. It first used a transaxle construction. He even worked on the Tatraplan in Kopřivnice as head of passenger cars’ design office. At ÚAMK (Central Automotive Club of Czechoslovakia) he submitted plans for a small car concept with an underfloor engine. The prototype was planned to be manufactured at ČZ factory in Strakonice, but it never materialised.

Tatra used his new patent-pending concept with an engine at the rear above the drive axle later for Tatra 613. For the first time, he solved the regulation of light fuel injection by a space cam. He also worked in other engineering fields, as evidenced by his activities in the Prague aviation department. In ČKD Sokolovo, he commissioned to build the then most potent air-cooled tank engine in the world with an output of 736kw / nearly 1000hp and devise a traction combustion turbine for a military belt transporter. He also holds a patent for the construction of a large-calibre machine gun.

Building a People’s Car – The Lidovka

The initial criteria that Zdeněk Pilát set for constructing the people’s car was structural simplicity, efficiency, minimum weight and cheap production. Work began at the beginning of World War II in 1939 during the evenings, Sundays and holidays as the vehicle was constructed during the occupation. The work bordered on illegality and was was complicated and limited by a lack of material. Some parts were lifted and modified from other Czech-made cars, others were self-made. All this would have not beeen possible without the considerable support and help of friends who participated in creating the prototype. Due to the lack of funds, Pilát compensated them mostly with cigarettes. The power unit was also a problem. Zdeněk Pilát originally intended to use an engine from Jawa Minor.

Zdeněk Pilát and his Lidovka (© Tomáš Hušek)

He managed to get an engine from Ing. Rudolf Vykoukal, an engineer at Jawa. However, it was too big for his car, which he called Lidovka (referring to the car being a people’s car). When Jan Andrle confided in Pilát intending to build an avant-garde vehicle, the Dálnik, he exchanged the engine with Andrle to mutual satisfaction. It was a two-cylinder, 500 cc DKW unit with a dynamo starter and a fan for air-cooling.

In 1943, a prototype without a body was completed. Pilát finished it after the war with assistance from Tatra. The end result was a very handsome and promising people’s car which renowned factories such as Aero, Walter, Jawa, Zbrojovka Brno, ČKD Libeň, Praga, Škoda, Tatra showed interest in. Baťa Zlín was also interested. Eliška Junková (known outside Czechoslovakia as Elisabeth Junek), who was head of Baťa tire department also took part in the demonstration ride. Tipsy, an Anglo-Belgian aircraft factory also expressed some interest. Pilát also negotiated the possibility of serial production with Sodomka, the renowned Czech coachbuilder.

In 1948, at the exhibition of microcars in Prague, visitors awarded Lidovka second place. Zdeněk Pilát received an Honorable Mention by the Autoclub of the Czechoslovak Republic and a monetary reward of CZK 6,000.

However production never took place as most of the local factories were nationalised and a new economy emerged.

Lidovka, just like other late 1940s prototypes behind the Iron Curtain showed promise, but never became a reality. At that time car ownership was a privilege due to lack of raw material and fuel, so the car remained a prototype.

Pilát worked on a transaxle which was put into production by Porsche 30 years later.

Mr Pilát constructed the vehicle as a two-seater; with a third seat option as an emergency seat.

© Tomáš Hušek

Very Special thanks to Mr Hušek for providing us with the photography/archive material and text about history of Zdeněk Pilát and Lidovka. You can read more about this and other post-war Czechoslovak minicars in the next issue of Rare and Unique Vehicles due out in early March.

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