Le Mans Redux: Racing Ahead

Whenever Soffa features an article about Michal Froněk and Jan Němeček of Olgoj Chorchoj, or David Karásek of Mmcité, it’s usually in connection with their latest creation. All three men rank among the Czech designer elite. Besides that, though, the designers enjoy a shared hobby: veteran cars and old racing autos. Along with a few friends, they’ve managed to acquire the Aero Minor Sport, a made-in-Czechoslovakia racing car that finished second overall in the legendary Le Mans race in 1949. Thanks to Le Mans Redux, the club established by these designers, the car is scheduled to take part in the Le Mans Classic in 2020.

People usually associate Czech veteran cars with Tatras, Pragas, or Škodas. Minors, however, have unjustly been forgotten. The Minor was launched by the Aero Aviation Factory shortly after World War II and became the first Czech motor vehicle with front-wheel drive. The initial model had been designed in secrecy at the Jawa car repair shop during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia. Designer Rudolf Vykoukal created five prototypes of this popular little vehicle. For the test runs, he used petrol supplied by the Wehrmacht that was normally used for refurbished army tanks. At the end of the war, Jawa had produced a functional vehicle, and it soon became a commercial success. In 1945, the government decided to manufacture the Minor under the Aero brand, and started producing sports cars as well.

Illustrations by  Maria Giemza

Illustrations by Maria Giemza

In June 1949, two Minor cars took part in the first post-war 24 Hours of Le Mans race. The model piloted by driver-duo Krattner and Sutnar was assigned the number 58, and acquired a blue stripe to indicate its Czech origins.

In June 1949, two Minor cars took part in the first post-war 24 Hours of Le Mans race. The model piloted by driver-duo Krattner and Sutnar was assigned the number 58, and acquired a blue stripe to indicate its Czech origins.

In early 1949, Aero created the Aero Minor Sport prototype, a two-seater with a cigar-shaped body, shorter than the standard model by ten centimetres and capable of reaching a maximum speed of 130 kilometres per hour. In June of the same year, two of the prototypes took part in the world-famous sports car race, 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Minor, displaying the number 58, managed to achieve an unexpected feat: drivers Otto Krattner and František Sutnar came first in their category and won second place overall, measured by the Performance Index: a tremendous success in Czech car-racing history and for the Aero brand. Sadly, the subsequent events proved dire. Despite Western Europe’s huge interest in the Minor, Aero discontinued production at the onset of the Cold War, focusing exclusively on the manufacture of military aircraft from then onwards. Both of the Le Mans drivers, Krattner and Sutnar, were arrested by the Communist regime ‘for political reasons’, and spent 15 and 11 years in prison, respectively. Today we know next to nothing about these two men. But the Les Mans Redux club, headed by Michal Froněk and Jan Němeček, has managed to unearth more facts about the Minor’s history; Petr Vykoukal, grandson of chief designer Rudolf Vykoukal, is currently set to finish his design degree at the Academy of Art, Architecture & Design in Prague. Interestingly, Le Mans driver František Sutnar was the nephew of famous graphic designer Ladislav Sutnar. The club members are very enthusiastic about the possible Czechoslovak comeback in the 2020 Le Mans race. By then, it might just be possible to piece together the Minor’s history in more detail. We reckon it’s a story worthy of a book or a movie.

More info at www.facebook.com/lemansredux

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text: Adéla Lipár Kudrnová | illustrations: Maria Giemza / www.mariagiemza.com