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He won the race, but there was no one waiting at the finish line

Skoda recalls its unheralded victory in the 1901 Paris to Berlin race


History tells us that in 1901, 110 motorcars entered a race from Paris to Berlin. The 3-day event was contested in stages — Paris to Aachen Aachen to Hanover, Hanover to Berlin. The winner was Henri Fournier, driving a Mors that averaged 44.12 mph for the nearly 750-mile route.

Among the other competitors were Louis Renault and Charles Stewart Rolls. Oh, and Czech automaker Skoda suggests, 120 years later, we don’t overlook Narcis Podsedníček, who was the only finisher in the race’s motorbike category, riding a Slavia B built by Laurin & Klement, the company that would evolve into automaker Skoda. 

Podsedníček completed the entire route on the bike powered by an air-cooled, single-cylinder 240cc engine, which provided less than 2 horsepower and a top speed of not quite 25 mph.

“Laurin & Klement’s second motorbike model, the Slavia B, plays a very special role in Laurin & Klement’s corporate history; it was the first motorbike that the Mladá Boleslav-based company entered in an international race in 1901,” Skoda notes. 

“The long-distance race from Paris to Berlin was considered the toughest challenge of its time. Factory rider Narcis Podsedníček made history on his first attempt; he was the only participant in his class to reach the finish line but was never declared the winner.

Narcis Podsedníček
Narcis Podsedníček and an early Slavia motorcycle | Skoda photos

“When courage and fearlessness combine with a little absurdity, the scene is set for legendary success – as was the case in the early days of motorsport at the beginning of the 20th century,” the company continues in its celebratory news release. “At that time, determined pioneers systematically broke new ground and pushed the limits of what was possible and achievable – always with a firm belief in technological progress.” 

It was in 1895 that Václav Laurin and Václav Klement founded their bicycle-making company in Mladá Boleslav, Bohemia. They produced and repaired 2-wheelers and a year later employed 21 people and offered 5 different models of their Slavia bikes.

Late in 1899, the company produced its first motorized machines, the Slavia A and Slavia B. The bikes were noteworthy because unlike others being produced, the engines were installed in the lower part of the frame to improve handling and stability.

The Paris to Berlin race was the first major motorsports effort by the company, which entered Podsedníček in the 2- and 3-wheel category against 9 or 10 other competitors on a course of primarily unpaved or cobblestone roadways.

Skoda notes that Podsedníček’s success was a surprise, especially to the race organizers. 

Restored Salvia B motorbike

“No one was expecting him when he crossed the finish line at three o’clock in the morning,” Skoda notes. “The timekeeping office was closed, and no race commissioners were on duty.

“Podsedníček’s arrival was initially confirmed by local police officers. However, the organizer did not acknowledge the guards’ records and instead chose four Frenchmen on De Dion-Bouton tricycles as the winners, leaving Podsedníček with only a moral victory.”

Nonetheless, his achievement “earned his outstanding personal performance and the Laurin & Klement brand a great deal of international attention and enhanced the reputation of the young brand, which presented its first automobile in 1905,” Skoda reports. “The proverbial starting signal for the manufacturer’s future, hugely successful involvement in motorsport.” 

For more on the event, including official results, visit the GrandPrixHistory.org website.

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


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