- - Thursday, December 9, 2004

As the Iron Curtain across Europe rusted away more than a decade ago, Jim Donley’s job took him to the Czech Republic.

At that time, Mr. Donley observed, the typical Czech mentality regarding cars was similar to the Cuban mentality of today about automobiles — do whatever it takes to keep your car operational. Consequently, a plethora of vintage cars populated the Czech streets, many of them drab little sedans.

Occasionally, Mr. Donley would spot an old Skoda Felicia convertible. The flashy convertibles always stood out in any crowd of automobiles. He was attracted to the flared fenders above the front wheels reminiscent of 1953/1954 Plymouth front fenders.

“What an awesome car,” thought Mr. Donley whenever he saw one on the road. He learned that “Skoda” translates into English as “pity.” He located a Czech talented in all things automotive and explained that he wanted a 1960 Skoda Felicia convertible restored to like-new condition.

“Would that be possible?” he asked.

Of course. Not to worry was the confident response.

Two antique Skoda were acquired and merged to make one complete car. The 1.1-liter, 50-horsepower, four-cylinder engine was overhauled and the four-speed manual transmission was rebuilt as well. “You don’t win any drag races in this car,” Mr. Donley says.

The shift pattern is the familiar “H” pattern, but with first gear at the upper right and fourth gear at the lower left. Reverse is to the far left and then back toward the rear of the car.

Behind the wraparound windshield nestled in its stainless-steel frame is the dashboard covered in textured black leather.

The same fabric that covers the front bucket seats and the rear bench seat is also used on the side panels and door panels as well as the blank plate that fills the rectangular space on the dashboard where an optional radio would be located.

None of the seats has a headrest but the door panels have convenient storage pockets.

On the dashboard to the left of the black two-spoke steering wheel with its 360-degree black horn ring is the ignition switch. It’s next to a lever protruding from the dashboard that operates the turn signals, up for left and down for right.

All of the instrumentation is clustered in front of the driver around the 140-kilometer speedometer, which translates to a top speed of about 85 mph.

Mr. Donley doubts that he could ever push the chrome-plated accelerator far enough to achieve such a speed.

On the side of the car at the right end of the rear seat is a metal ring dangling by a wire. A sharp tug of the ring releases the door covering the gas cap on the right rear fender.

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