When I was little, my aunt had an old Embé in the garage. It was yellow and had an OVA “espezette” attached with screws with small red reflectors. It didn’t drive, I don’t know why, but that didn’t stop me from sitting behind its wheel, pulling the levers and pretending I was going on a trip.
Let’s jump thirty years into the future, to one sunny Saturday in April. I’m sitting behind the wheel of the Embéček again, but this time when I turn the key, the engine starts behind me. Although the Embéčko is red and has only one pair of doors instead of two, I remember well the thin steering wheel rim and the incredibly simple instrument panel, the clarity of which would be envied by today’s displays.
I’m sitting in a red 1969 Skoda 1100 MBX, a rare and AZNP collector’s item incredibly prized coupe with no window frames and no B-pillar even. And before I realize that you have to work with the carburetor differently than with the “syringe”, I start the cold engine twice without success.
Treasures in the form of historic cars can still be found, says the collector
It is Friday, the eve of the 100th rally 7 Castles Trial 2023, to which I received an invitation behind the wheel of a previously unknown old Škoda. I’m lucky that I’m sitting in just this car – just old enough to be interesting, but at the same time not unpleasant to drive due to, for example, the absence of synchronization rings in the transmission.
Old, but not too old
I came to try the Škoda so that I wouldn’t be surprised at the sharp start, how things are controlled. It’s not so different from today’s cars – the steering wheel turns left and right, the three pedals do what you expect them to do, and the gearbox is sometimes stiff, but with a little feeling for the mechanics, there’s no problem.
Sure, there are differences. The blinker lever turns up and down depending on where you want to go, there is a button for the wipers, and the other lever on the right turns on the lights, including high beams. Nothing has a booster, and my Chrysler LeBaron, only about 20 years younger, is spaceship-like with its anti-embéiks electronics.
And there is also no real mirror, so I can only guess how far I am from the shoulder on the narrow roads around Prague, and I simply have to turn back when backing up. “Fortunately” passive safety was an almost unknown concept back then, so the pillars are slim and do not obstruct the view. “Almost” because there are three-point seat belts, which were the hot new thing in the 1960s.
The soft leather seat doesn’t offer much support, and forget the headrests, but that doesn’t mean the MBX handles badly at all. Everything is just slower. Around the village I drive forty, outside it about eighty; what would strike me as a snail’s pace in a modern car is perfectly normal here. I’m quickly getting used to the car and I’m looking forward to the next day, the hundredth rally.
Centinovka is not an easy thing
I organize such events from time to time and I go even more sporadically, so I roughly know what to expect. Mainly the fact that it will really be a matter of hundredths of a second and that the best of the best can really hit the mark in the individual accuracy tests within a few hundredths of the set time. I have no ambitions to win, but it would be nice to be in the top half of the results list, I think to myself as the marshal waves the flag and I cross the starting line at exactly 8:52 a.m.
Several well-known and several secret accuracy tests await us and the navigator across more than two hundred kilometers of central and northern Bohemia.
We don’t hit the first one by about two seconds, and we get roughly two hundred penalty points, but it wasn’t difficult. Hopefully things will get better, I say to myself and continue following the instructions of the navigator, who is holding an arrow itinerary in his hand and in front of him is a mechanical distance counter elegantly hidden in a compartment in the dashboard.
The principle of the 100th orienteering rally is that you follow a predetermined route not according to a map, but according to an itinerary, in which the intersections and the distances between them are drawn with an accuracy of tens of meters. According to the counter – the so-called tripmeter – you have to find out which intersection you are currently at, and according to the arrow drawn on it, make the right turn.
The trick is that not all intersections are drawn; on those that are not in the itinerary, you drive either along the main road or straight. In this competition, the itinerary was, let’s say, for beginners, because it also included the names of some villages through which the route led, so we managed not to get lost. Although we went over the turnoff twice, we figured it out very quickly and turned back.
What was no coincidence for the beginners were the accuracy tests – the key thing in the centenary rally. There were several of them on the track, and their principle is to cover a certain section in a certain time, but to the hundredth of a second exactly. One would never believe how long a second can be.
Tests that have one start and one finish are still relatively simple; that’s how we managed to run by a few hundredths of a second outside the set time, usually into a hundred penalty points. But then there are those that have one start and three goals. Each of the sections is different in length, has a different number of seconds and must be driven at a different average speed. And on one of these, we managed to collect almost eight hundred points together.
A wonderful Saturday
We didn’t go for victory, but it still got a little cold. Fortunately, however, the breathtaking rest of the route following historic paths carved into the sandstone rocks and waving children around together with the beautiful weather made up for it all.
The Škoda handled everything beautifully, it fought decently with winding roads and really bad asphalt. I enjoyed every kilometer, even though she didn’t want to accelerate up the steep hills to even a three, let alone a four – after all, an eleven-speed car that fifty-four years ago had only 52 horses and who knows how many are left there today, is not an asphalt ripper.
The resulting fortieth place out of 63 crews is nothing to brag about. All the more so when we were able to get only 50 and 15 penalty points from the results of the individual accuracy tests; three relatively big mistakes pushed us deep into the field of defeat.
Despite that, it’s hard to imagine a better Saturday. A return to childhood, many kilometers through beautiful countryside in an interesting and rare car and a little competition. Even though there are a lot of centenary or orientation rallies in the Czech Republic – just search the internet for a while and you will surely find one that you will like – this one had a lot of added value for a lover of old cars and I am very glad that I could be a part of it.
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