Wheel out the cake and party poppers: Autocar is 120 years old this month - so it's time for a trip down memory lane to sample a vehicle almost as old as the magazine.
It's actually a bit of a belated birthday celebration as this publication reached the golden 1-2-0 on Monday 2 November. Autocar was founded by William Iliffe and Henry Sturmey back in 1895, after someone brought a new-fangled horseless carriage to their offices. Iliffe’s family owned a printing company while Sturmey was editor for The Cyclist magazine. The former was looking to produce a new magazine, so asked the latter if he thought cars had a future. After getting yes as an answer, Iliffe exclaimed: “Then we will bring out a paper about them… tomorrow!”
The first issue may have only had 12 pages of editorial but it proved to be an instant success, even with a sub-24 hour deadline. By 1896 the first road test had been completed, while the 1920s saw these reviews become more structured, turning into the test we know today. Road test number one didn’t come about until 1928, but we are now on 5241 - and counting.
Autocar has also had plenty of scoops, even back in the early days. We were the first publication to reveal pictures of the Ford Model T’s replacement, the Model A, and the first to get behind the wheel WO Bentley’s first car, in 1918. We also drove the first Mini on a marathon month-long, 8200-mile journey, starting five whole days before the milestone model was even announced. But while the core of what makes Autocar the magazine we know and love hasn’t changed much in the past 120 years, the cars themselves have gone through an astonishing transformation.
Skoda will know this better than most, as it is also celebrating its 120th this year. The Czech firm started building bicycles in 1895 before moving on to motorbikes four years later under the Laurin & Klement name. In 1905, Laurin & Klement produced its first car, the Voiturette A. By 1925 it was also producing buses, trucks and even aero engines. A merger with engineering firm Pizen Skodovka in 1925 brought about the name change to Skoda.
Four years later, in 1929, Skoda produced the 422 four-door saloon you see above. Its 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine produces a gentle 22bhp at a leisurely 2800rpm. Thankfully, it only weighs 730kg, so the top speed is a respectable 47mph in third - or top, as you may prefer to call it.
You also have to contend with throttle and brake pedals that are the opposite way round to what you’d expect - a bit of a worry at first. Despite this, plus a gearbox that also works the other way round, the 422 proves to be far easier to drive than you’d think. After a few minutes you stop worrying about the odd positioning and just get on with it. At this point I realise the steering is far more talkative than that of any modern system I’ve yet encountered. It’s also remarkably light for an unassisted system, thanks to hilariously narrow tyres. It does like to follow cambers and suffers from a little bump-steer.
The ride itself i bouncy but the amply sprung seats (stuffed with horsehair, don't you know) do soak up the worst of the bumps. Out of respect, I don't push it too hard, but there is significant body roll even at low speeds. Cable-operated brakes that require a firm foot are a little alarming at first but do work with a hard enough shove.
It really does highlight how much we take modern cars for granted in their ability to do so much so well, but despite this, it’s one of the most enjoyable drives I’ve had for a very long time. Not only is it the most charming little car I’ve ever had the fortune to have a go in, but it also shows that you don’t have to go fast to have fun.
Considering this is the progress we’ve made in ‘just’ 86 years, as opposed to the full 120 years that Autocar and Skoda have been around, it forces you to dwell on the future. With alternative fuel sources, connected technology and even autonomous cars just around the corner, the next 120 years will be just as exciting. And you can count on Autocar to be at the cutting edge of it all.