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Post by Leot »

The story of devising Jernej Kožar's Naš car

In 2003, the Museum of Contemporary History in Ljubljana hosted an exhibition titled The First Five-Year Plan in the Eyes of History. An exhibited article from Dnevnik described the achievements of 1948: the first post-war census in Slovenia (1,391,873 residents), the openings of the Museum of National Liberation of Slovenia and the Museum of Modern Art in Ljubljana, and the founding of the Automobile and Motorcycle Association of Slovenia. In addition to these great collective accomplishments, the article also listed a personal accomplishment of Jernej Kožar, who made a passenger vehicle called “Naš”. But who was Jernej Kožar with his unique, unlabelled car, intended for both Sunday family trips and car racing victories?

Jernej Kožar was born into the Žorž family in Hrovača near Ribnica in 1907. At school in Ribnica, he was known as an excellent pupil of exceptional technical talent. At the age of fourteen, he was sent to St. Stanislav’s Institution grammar school and boarding house in Šentvid near Ljubljana, so that he would, after finishing grammar school, continue his studies for the vocation for which St. Stanislav's Institution prepared its students. He soon found this course unappealing and more and more often lingered in the nearby Krušič body shop. With the help of the owner’s son, his peer Štefan, and without his parents’ knowledge, he moved from the boarding house into master Gregorin’s apprentice apartment and completed his apprenticeship with him with distinction, becoming a locksmith. Then he took a job with master Gregorin and contributed to certain important creations of his garage. Since body shop work was not creative enough for him, he started visiting masters Levičnik and Lovše's garages in his free time and later took a job with one of them, but only for a short while. He also passed his master craftsman examination for mechanics. During that time he was friends with Mr. Karl Abarth, with whom he exchanged many a practical experience in reconstructing motor vehicles of the time. In 1937, he returned to his home town of Ribnica and, in partnership with Mr. Burger, opened a garage next to Mr. Burger’s technical store. With the help of Autounion representatives from Ljubljana, he bought Mr. Burger out and became independent. He became a local Autounion representative and obtained a licence for the export of vehicles. In the years after the war, he worked as a renowned expert at the Ministry of Local Transport of the government of the People's Republic of Slovenia.

What about the “Naš” car? Between 1938 and 1940, Kožar made a few sketches and began thinking about integral automobile bodywork. In his sketches he combined the fenders into a single unit with the rest of the bodywork, because he noticed as an Autounion representative that all traditionally built vehicles, with fenders separate from the bodywork, had a critical breaking point of the chassis transversely in windscreen line. However, the idea was not all his own, because many factories were making such vehicles, for example, Mercedes-Benz 540K Streamlined from 1938, Touring Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS Spider MM from 1940, Ferrari Auto Avio Costruzioni 815 also from 1940, BMW 328 MM Touring Berlinetta, etc. Yet, Kožar could not have seen these cars, for he did not have access to the global design guidelines for rare and innovative vehicles of the time. After the war, his work duties at the Ministry were restoration and repair of trophy vehicles. In Ajdovščina, on one of his depot visits, he saw a vehicle suitable for realising one of his pre-war ideas. He found a military Tatra truck which had been reconstructed for the needs of the Third Reich. Kožar sent a request to the Directorate of Car Traffic to obtain the car wreck so he could design and make a sports vehicle on his own. He soon received a positive response from the Directorate, which granted him the purchase of the passenger car for the price of 12,000 dinars. Jernej brought to Ljubljana only the chassis, without the passenger cabin, the dashboard, seats, and doors. It was only operational so much that he could drive to the garage on a “footstool”. A body shop mechanic Lovro Osredkar, who had been working in the workshop where they made wooden moulds for bodywork since 1929, helped with further work. In the first stage he redesigned the blueprints, following by making the wooden moulds in which they made the bodywork in a few months. At the same time, Kožar did the mechanical and auto electrical work and reconstructed the chassis. In autumn 1947, master Škander did the paint work and upholstery. The result was a lovely two-seater convertible, 410 cm long, 172 cm wide, and 134 cm high, with a ground clearance of 22 cm. The weight of the drive ready car was 1,050 kg. It had a retractable linen roof with scissors-like opening, which for the first time completely folded behind the back seats, as well as detachable side screens. The chassis was shaped as a central supporting tube which also contained a cardan shaft and to which two transverse beams were attached. The bodywork was a box-like construction. The bonnet with the fenders was mounted on the hinges in front of the windscreen. The large boot had makeshift seating with a backrest integrated into the boot lid. The front seat was lengthwise immovable, made in one piece, and upholstered in leather. The back seat was modest, but large enough for three people. The fuel tank was mounted on the front wall above the engine with a downdraft fuel-injection system. The original chassis had front and back transverse leaf springs without shock absorbers, which Kožar added. Tatra’s engine remained a four-cylinder four-stroke engine with 1,256 ccm engine displacement. The air-cooled boxer engine could propel the vehicle up to 110 km/h fast.

Jernej Kožar's vehicle was registered with the Internal Affairs Section of the National Militia Administration on 15th April 1948. Kožar registered it as a “Naš” passenger vehicle, home-made, convertible, greyish brown, privately owned. The committee members signed the report on 30th April 1948 and the vehicle got the licence plate number S-2000. Since the car had no external factory or model label, people called it by many names, most often “Kožar's Tatra", but also “Gipsy”, meant affectionately due to its wandering hither and thither. However, it was filled in on the attestation form as “Naš” because of the inscription on the dashboard which had been brought from Ajdovščina together with the Tatra. The dashboard belonged to an unknown vehicle of American production by the pre-war automobile manufacturer Nash Motors Company from Kenosha in Wisconsin. The new car made great publicity. There were talks about launching serial production of such passenger vehicle in Maribor in cooperation with Czech factories Praga and Tatra. Tatra would supply mechanical parts, but that did not happen. By federal decree, licensed production of Prague trucks began in Maribor while Tatra continued producing its own cars alone. Kožar’s convertible was interesting to the point of finding a place at the exhibition at the White Palace in Belgrade; besides the people of Belgrade, it also delighted Tito, who even took it to a test drive. In 1948, it was given the People’s Technical Award and was mentioned and pictured in media numerous times. Jerney Kožar won the third Yugoslav national championship race from Kotor to Njeguši with it on 7th August 1949. This very accomplishment made him the champion of the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia.

The glory quickly faded over the years. The car became outdated, even for his constructor, and changed several owners as a result. Its last owner was Josip Klobučar from Ravna Gora in Croatia, where Kožar’s “Naš” finally became a myth and vanished in a pile of waste. Only memories remain: photos and a few documents which leave a bittersweet taste at the thought that a vehicle with an advanced shape, soft elegant lines, good performance, and great publicity was made in Slovenia at the end of the 1940s. Perhaps it could have competed with Farina’s creations? It might have been launched for serial production or impressed in a race outside Yugoslav borders. It could be drawing people’s eyes among other exhibit items of the Technical Museum of Slovenia in the present; or would contemporary historic vehicles enthusiasts be making absurd hypotheses about it and waving their certificates? We will never know. All we will ever know is that once upon a time one Jernej Kožar had the vision and courage to put his dreams on the then dusty Slovene roads. He proved that one can turn myth into reality even if one does not live in a country with a strong car industry and without the backing of an entire team of promising engineers and a pile of money.

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