Volkswagen’s Škoda division is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1000 MB. Designed to replace the Octavia, the 1000 MB was a monumentally important car for Škoda because it blazed the path that all of the company’s subsequent models followed up until the late 1980s.
The sedan was initially called NOV internally (an acronym that stood for Nový Osobní Vůz, or new passenger vehicle) but the name 1000 MB was quickly adopted as a reference to the engine displacement and a brand new factory called Mladá Boleslav.
The 1000 MB was designed to be drastically different from the outgoing Octavia because state-owned Škoda needed a modern car capable of fighting head-to-head against western Europe’s best-sellers in order to expand its presence beyond the Iron Curtain. Many of the most popular cars in Europe during the early 1960s were rear-engined, so Škoda opted to ditch the Octavia’s front-engined / rear-wheel drive layout and install the 1000 MB’s four-banger behind the rear axle.
The engine in question was a brand new 998cc water-cooled unit that sent 37 horsepower to the rear wheels via a four-speed manual transmission, enough to propel the 1,665-pound (755-kilo) 1000 MB to a top speed of 75 mph (120 km/h). Both the engine block and the transmission casing were built using aluminum die-casting, a novel process at the time.
Visually, the 1000 MB wore a rounded design with bulging headlights and a long hood that hid a spacious cargo compartment. The spare tire was accessed via a small panel located just above the front bumper, a setup similar to the one found on the Renault Dauphine in late 1950s. Around back, a wrap-around rear window helped visibility while the rear quarter panels were fitted with large vents that routed cool air to the engine.
The 1000 MB immediately became one of the most popular cars in Czechoslovakia, encouraging Škoda to expand the lineup with upmarket trim levels that boasted a generous amount of standard equipment and more powerful engines. A sporty two-door model dubbed 1000 MBX appeared about halfway through the production run, and a station wagon variant was envisioned but killed at the embryonic stage of development after a single prototype had been built.
Over 443,000 examples of the 1000 MB were sold by the time production ended in the spring of 1969. More than half of that number were exported to neighboring countries, and some examples went as far as Australia and New Zealand.
Interestingly, Škoda offered the 1000 MB in the United States in 1966 and 1967. The MB cost $1,480 in 1966, making it cheaper than the $1,585 Beetle and other struggling rear-engined imports like the Renault 8 and the Simca 1000. The smaller Fiat 600D cost $1,237.