It took me nearly an hour to reach the ŠKODA headquarters in Mladá Boleslav and then another half an hour sporting along narrow, rural roads. The place is called Ledče. Be careful not to follow the GPS navigation blindly as I did, which resulted in a trip to the woods and ending up in the middle of nowhere.
“The same happened to several people including a truck driver with a long trailer. It took him almost an hour to get back using only his wing mirrors,” says Best Modell founder Martin Smutný. Luckily for me, I forgot about hooking a trailer to my car today.
Best Modell is an inconspicuous Czech company based in an even more inconspicuous Czech village. If you eventually get there, you might not even notice the company hidden behind a front yard full of old and used cars. Attention is not desired anyway, as most company activities fit into the ‘classified’ or even ‘top-secret’ category.
In a workshop divided into three halls, some of the future ŠKODA models are designed and shaped. Some of them will be introduced five years from now, which is the reason why all visitors must leave their smartphones strictly switched off.
The project that brought me here, on the contrary, is something millions of Tour de France fans watch on their screens these days. The workshop I’m about to enter is a place where the cars of the Tour de France director and other main officials are modified. These vehicles will follow the entire peloton throughout the most famous cycling event in the world.
Mr. Christian Prudhomme will start the Tour de France on June 26 from one of the ENYAQ iVs hidden behind a gate with a sign reading: “Enter accompanied by authorised personnel only.” With the kind permission of Martin Smutný, I enter the hall just to come across a big surprise.
While on TV the cars are beautiful and shiny, their poor metal bodies are now concealed underneath a semi-transparent plastic. It only takes a few more steps to get me completely mesmerised. All the cars are now stripped of their upholstery. Looking at them more closely, I find most of the interior lining is gone, with many cables, wires, clamps and seals poking out from every corner. Did they really deserve that?
“Well, they did indeed,” Mr. Smutný assures me. All the cars were stripped down to the bone so the additional devices could get plugged into the power supply from two extra batteries. The list of the devices was meticulously composed by commissaries of the Tour to turn ordinary ŠKODA ENYAQ iV cars into mobile offices on four wheels.
Before Mr. Prudhomme can wave at the spectators through the sunroof, somebody has to cut it out. First, the technicians have to dismantle the whole interior, cut out the hole while also cutting the existing reinforcements, then weld the sunroof, seal it and connect it to the power supply. The entire ceiling is now waiting for a new lining. For the director to have something to hold on to, the roof racks are raised a few centimetres so he can comfortably grip them.
Aside from the sunroof, an additional radio, six antennas, beacons and horns will be installed. The famed refrigerator can be found between the rear seats to accommodate two bottles of champagne that will be served to VIP guests during the race. Two seventy-five ampere batteries have been placed in a special compartment in the boot to power all of the additional devices.
The team works under tremendous pressure. Due to last year’s experience, commissaries have much more detailed requirements now.
“This year, we had to take care of brand-new radios and all the equipment since the commissaries decided to replace the current model with Kenwood,” Mr. Smutný says. Since these radios were not available anywhere in Czechia, the team’s retailer had to buy some from Belgium and the rest from Canada. The antennas were acquired in France while the beacons were imported from Italy. Moreover, the air conditioning has been modified to allow more chilled air to reach the rear seats.
Traditionally, the installation of a refrigerator between the rear seats turned out to be a tough one. The cooling box was upholstered with the same leather that covers the rest of the car’s interior. A custom-made central control panel responsible for the operation of all the new devices also comes into the space between the rear seats. This also includes sockets and chargers: both USB and USB-C are available for the crew. The most significant exterior change features an advertisement banner carrier mounted on the front hood.
Although it seems impossible at the time of my visit, all four cars will be finished in under four days. All the cables will be connected to the batteries and concealed behind the new lining. Even upon close inspection, one could hardly tell that the adaptations were not factory fitted but made in a relatively small garage by a private custom company. We wish them good luck on their mission.