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Illustrating History: Reviving Laurin & Klement – From Tragedy to Artistic Triumph

In the heart of a small and tranquil town called Dryanovo, nestled in the center of Bulgaria, lived a man named Stefan Ivanov. Born in January 1987, Stefan’s life took an unexpected turn that led him down a path few could have imagined. For seventeen years, he embarked on a journey that defied norms and kindled a passion that shaped his destiny.

Stefan’s journey began in November 2005, a fateful day when he was involved in a motorcycle accident that altered the course of his life. Two weeks spent in a coma, two fractured skull bones, injuries to his back and neck, partial memory loss, and a myriad of secondary injuries marked his physical and mental struggle. From that point on, his life shifted from being a two-time national champion in athletics and an athlete of the year in his town to a bedridden existence, contemplating the fragility of life.

Despite the odds stacked against him, Stefan’s indomitable spirit refused to waver. He had always been a fighter, and he wasn’t about to let circumstances define him. Six months after the accident, he decided to channel his determination and willpower into a new pursuit: drawing. Through intricate lines and vivid strokes, he aimed to not only heal his brain and motor functions but also to rekindle a passion for life.

Laurin & Klement type FC race car at the start of Bosnian rally 1908. Behind the wheel is american born count Alexander Kolowrat. He was one of the main shareholders in L&K company as well as one of the main race drivers.

It was during the summer of 2006 that Stefan’s true calling unveiled itself. Alongside his artistic endeavors, he delved into the history of Laurin & Klement, an automobile company that had long faded into obscurity. This Czechoslovakian company, the precursor to Skoda, possessed a story that fascinated Stefan to his core. As he unearthed the tales of innovation and triumph that defined L&K’s history, he became an amateur expert in the annals of the Czechoslovakian auto industry.

Stefan’s artistry and research became intertwined, as he embarked on a monumental project. With unwavering dedication, he began illustrating the entire history of Laurin & Klement. Through his meticulous strokes, he brought to life the racing victories, the groundbreaking advancements, and the enduring legacy of this forgotten pioneer of the auto industry. From their humble beginnings as a bicycle workshop in 1895 to their iconic racing victories and innovations, Stefan’s drawings encapsulated the essence of L&K’s journey.

Over time, Stefan’s artworks gained recognition within auto societies, particularly in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. His exhibitions, displayed in prestigious museums, showcased his passion for both art and history. The National Polytechnical Museum in Sofia and a private classic car museum were venues that celebrated his dedication and talents. An invitation from L&K’s hometown in the Czech Republic to exhibit his works there became a beacon of success, a testament to his dedication to resurrecting the forgotten tales of this remarkable company.

Laurin & Klement type FCR race car 1909. Two units were made. This car sets speed record with almost 119 km/h in it’s class up o 5000cc.

But Stefan’s aspirations reached beyond borders. His dream was to share the story of Laurin & Klement with the world, especially in the United States, where the appreciation for classic cars and their histories ran deep. He longed to open exhibitions across continents, to have his artworks cross the Atlantic and resonate with enthusiasts on a global scale.

As time marched on, Stefan’s artworks continued to weave the intricate tapestry of Laurin & Klement’s history, intertwining his journey of recovery with the story of innovation, resilience, and triumph. And while he had already left his mark in his homeland and beyond, his ultimate dream remained: to take flight across the Atlantic, to stand before an American audience, and to share the legacy of Laurin & Klement through his art.

Stefan Ivanov’s story was one of transformation, of turning adversity into an opportunity to shine light on forgotten history. With each stroke of his pen, he painted a vivid narrative of Laurin & Klement’s journey, illustrating not only the evolution of an auto company but also the remarkable capacity of the human spirit to rise above challenges and create something truly extraordinary.

Laurin & Klement Voiturette A 1905.L&K first automobile.

Automotive Industries asked Stefan, where are you from?

Ivanov: I was born in January 1987, and I hail from a small and peaceful town in the heart of Bulgaria known as Dryanovo.

Automotive Industries: What unique hobby have you been pursuing for the last 17 years?

Ivanov: For the past 17 years, I’ve been engaged in an exceptional endeavor—creating the entire history of the Laurin & Klement (later Skoda) automobile company through illustrations.

Automotive Industries: What inspired you to embark on this history illustration project?

Ivanov: An unusual event catalyzed my passion. In November 2005, I experienced a motorcycle accident that resulted in a two-week coma, along with multiple injuries including skull fractures, back and neck injuries, and memory loss. This life-altering event prompted me to reflect deeply on existence, propelling me towards this artistic journey.

Automotive Industries: How did your recovery process lead you to your current artistic pursuit?

Ivanov: Following the accident, during a six-month recovery period, I started drawing as a means to enhance my cognitive and motor functions. By the summer of 2006, I had not only taken up drawing seriously but had also started delving into the history of Laurin & Klement. This exploration of Czechoslovakian auto industry history captivated me, driving me to become an amateur expert on the subject.

Automotive Industries: Could you share some highlights from the history of Laurin & Klement (L&K) that you find particularly fascinating?

Ivanov: Absolutely! L&K boasts an incredibly intriguing story. They raced across the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Germany, France, Italy, and Russia, securing numerous victories. They introduced the first inline 8-cylinder car in Central Europe and produced the first hybrid car in 1908. Their legacy includes exporting cars to Japan, equipping the Mayor of Tokyo with one. Before World War I, L&K exported one-third of their production to Russia. They even set a speed record at the Brooklands race track in England. Moreover, L&K crafted an array of vehicles, from cars and trucks to buses, firetrucks, ambulances, and aircraft engines.

Automotive Industries: How did Laurin & Klement evolve from their beginnings as a bicycle workshop to becoming a significant player in the automotive industry?

Ivanov: The journey of Laurin & Klement began in 1895 as a small bicycle workshop. They later unveiled their inaugural motorcycle, the Laurin & Klement-Slavia. A decade down the line, they introduced their first car, the Laurin & Klement Voiturette A. This milestone solidified L&K as a prominent car manufacturer within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Following the dissolution of Austro-Hungary after World War I, new countries emerged, and L&K, along with companies like Tatra and Praga, began to rebuild. In 1925, L&K partnered with Skoda Works, an industrial giant, marking a significant turning point in their history and further cementing their position in the automotive world.

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