Praga: The oldest, fastest car company you’ve never heard of

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When you think of great automotive nations, the Czech Republic is likely not top of the list. Dig deep and you might remember that VW-owned Skoda is Czech and that Tatra once made some extraordinary machines in the distant past, but chances are that Praga doesn’t ring a bell.

Praga makes planes, karts, some of the most-winning race cars in their class, and even dabbled in a wild road-going LMP-style machine.

The story begins in 1907 when the engineering firm was established in the Czech capital Prague. By 1909 it was selling its first car—the Charon. Using a two-door, four-seat phaeton design, it was powered by a two-cylinder 1.2-liter engine that mustered barely double-digit horsepower. Nonetheless, the car proved popular and would serve the people of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1913.

Praga charon

By the 1920s Praga was making motorcycles, commercial vehicles and farm machinery, and by the 1930s it expanded into aviation with its “Air Baby” single-engined sport plane. The war would intervene and, as the iron curtain fell, Praga was forced into making components for communist-era trucks.

Praga ed250

Come the Velvet Revolution, Praga was reborn. First there was an enduro motorcycle, the ED250, which came second in the 1999 U.S. Motorcycle Cross Country Series, ridden by Phil Converse. Next came a rugged truck known as the UV80.

Today Praga makes the six-person Alfa turboprop, a range of racing karts to compete in multiple categories, and the hard-to-beat R1 race car.

Praga kart

Featuring a full carbon-fiber body and chassis, the R1 is powered by a Renault-Alpine 2.0-liter engine, offering between 212 and 385 horsepower. At its lightest the R1 weighs just 1311 pounds. The sculpted bodywork and massive rear wing produces downforce that’s 1.5 times the car’s weight and Praga claims it can generate 3 g of lateral cornering force.

Praga R1

With this level of performance it’s hardly surprising that Praga won the 2019 Britcar Endurance Class 1 and its cars are currently sitting in second, third and fourth in the 2020 championship. For 2022 the company will run its own one-make series.

The R1R was a road-going prototype which Evo magazine’s Jethro Bovingdon described as “like a scaled up Formula car.” Sadly, full production never happened and the company is putting all its efforts into racing, where Praga is, finally, making a name for itself.

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