The early days of motoring

This is where it all started! The first car in Bohemia drove through Liberec and its owner Theodor von Liebieg was the first in the country to receive a driver’s licence. Theodor also embarked on the first long-distance drive in the world and had a unique ‘car house’ built.

Absolute first

When 21-year-old Liberec textile magnate Theodor von Liebieg Jr. bought a Benz Victoria automobile in 1893, he became the first motorist in Bohemia and only the third in Austria-Hungary. The car, with the serial number 76, travelled to Liberec from Mannheim in Germany by train. However, how to clear something through customs that doesn’t actually exist? Perhaps by charging duty on the parts, instead. So, the car was eventually declared as “one carriage without a drawbar” and “one 200-kilogramme engine”.

Motoring pioneer

In the very next year (16 July 1894) the bold Theodor set off on the world’s first long-distance drive. It took him 7 days to drive the 939 km or so from Liberec to Gondorf near Koblenz (the family residence), going an average speed of 13.5 km/hour, and along the way managing to visit designer Karl Benz in Mannheim, who was suitably impressed. However, the running costs for the little Victoria were no joke. The thirsty car took 21 l of petrol and used 150 l of water to cool the engine for every 100 km it travelled. Back then, petrol was only sold by pharmacies or chemist’s shops; Theodor got the water he needed from streams or wells.

The first driver’s licence

However, people could not get used to the smoke and the noise of this self-propelled contraption; the car scared horses and terrified children. Liebieg therefore applied for an official driving permit, was thus the first person in the country to receive a driver's licence.

Car house

In 1904 a ‘car house’ was built at the Liebieg villa, evidently the first in Central Europe. On the ground floor there was a garage, an inspection pit, a washroom, a workshop and a toilet, while the driver lived on the first floor. There was a petrol tower on top of the building for storing fuel.

Linser car factory

The first car in Liberec was produced by Christian Linser. In 1858 he established a metalworking company, which in time switched to making motorcycles and cars. He designed and built his first car in late 1905 and early 1906 and presented it at exhibitions in Vienna and Liberec.

R.A.F car factory

At one of these exhibitions the car caught the eye of Theodor von Liebieg, who set up a car factory in 1907 – Reichenberger Automobil Fabrik (R.A.F.), which reached an agreement with Linser and took over his car-making operation. In 1912 the factory was purchased by Laurin & Klement and production ceased soon afterwards.

Liaz car factory

Liberecké automobilové závody (Liaz, or Liberec car factory) – manufactured trucks and special vehicles, and was based in Rýnovice from 1951 to 2002. Some of the factory’s vehicles competed in various motor races, such as the Dakar Rally.

Ferdinand Porsche’s Beetle

Ferdinand Porsche, who became famous mainly as the designer of the people’s car (Volkswagen), later known as the VW Beetle, was born in 1875 in the Liberec borough of Vratislavice. His birthplace now houses an exhibition on his life and work.