Made in the Czech Republic – Zetor

A Smart Tractor, You Say? 

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Variations of this logo have adorned many Zetor products since 1946.

Since 1946, Zetor tractors have represented the Czech lands on the global agricultural market. Over the years, the company’s tractors have been exported to over 130 countries and were produced under license in nine countries from 1964 into the 1990s.

Starting as a division of the manufacturing giant, Zbrojovka Brno, Zetor eventually became a company in its own right in 1976. Right from the start, Zetor tractors were revolutionary in their design and quickly became recognised worldwide for that.

Zetor was the first tractor manufacturer to take driver comfort and safety into account, theirs were the world’s first tractors to incorporate a roll cage and engine noise dampening features into the design of the driver’s cabin as well as ergonomic and practical arrangement of vehicle controls and instrument guages in easily visible places.

They also pioneered the concept of parts unification in tractor design. This meant that a series of tractor models could be designed with a high amount of components common between them, thus simplifying both construction and maintenance processes.

Through radical restructuring and a shift from state to private ownership in the early 1990s, Zetor was bought out of bankruptcy in the early 2000s to still be with us today and have bright plans for the future.

That said, let’s spend some time with this legendary Czech product:

Child of Zbrojovka 

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The model 25, which was prototyped in 1945, was the first of many tractor types to come from Zetor’s production lines.

The genesis of Zetor is to be found in Zbrojovka Brno, a manufacturing company that can trace it’s own lineage to the 1800s and the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s artillery workshops.

Zbrojovka Brno came into existence as a state owned firearms factory in 1918 as the newly established First Republic of Czechoslovakia rose as an independent nation in the wake of the First World War. The factory quickly established itself as a manufacturing giant, producing a wide range products for both military and civilian markets

During the First Republic period, Czechoslovakia’s agriculture sector was served by tractors of both domestic and imported origin. Praga, Škoda, Svoboda and Wikov were the major domestic tractor producers while imported tractors were primarily of American origin with products from US Fordson, International Harvester and John Deere being predominant.

In the same period, Zbrojovka Brno added cars to their growing list of products. As history would show, involving themselves in car design and manufacture would give them valuable experience to draw upon when they started tractor manufacture after the Second World War.

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Historic models of Zetor machines with a model 25 in half-track form in the foreground.

World War Two changed manufacturing prioritites and agricultural equipment became a decidedly low priority for nations involved in the conflict. After the war was finished, around 2,000 tractors were imported to Czechoslovakia through the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) while factories in the country got back on their feet after German occupation.

While the pre-war domestic tractor producers planned to resume the tractor business in the post-war period, Škoda was the only one who managed to do so. It was in this vacuum that Zbrojovka Brno entered the tractor business.

The company established the tractor arm of their business in 1945 and staffed it with many former members of their inter-war automobile operations. The newly formed division was placed under the leadership of František Musil, an automobile and aircraft engine designer who had joined the company in 1935.

The catalyst for Zbrojovka Brno entering the tractor business was a June, 1945 state requisition for domestic companies to design an economical, lightweight tractor suitable for mass production within a time limit of only six months. By November of that year, musil and his team had succeeded in producing their prototype tractor. Škoda was the only other manufacturer to come forth with a prototype in response to the requisition. After a brief competition of prototypes, the Zbrojovka design was declared the winner. The victorious prototype would form the basis of the company’s first tractor, the model 25.

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Built between 1947 and 1949, the model 15 was designed as a lower cost alternative to the model 25.

Spring of 1946 saw the company’s tractor division officially named Zetor and trademark protection extended to it. In the same period, the first model 25 tractors began to roll of the assembly lines. The model 25 would see a production run of 16 years with a total of 158,570 of the type being made and 97,000 of those going to export customers. Such figures place the model 25 amongst the most produced European tractor types.

Before the 1940s were out, Zetor had begun to distinguish themselves as one of the first tractor makers in the world to take operator comfort and safety into consideration. Succesive versions of the model 25 featured a padded driver seat with spring support and a small back rest incorporated into the design. The model 25 also moved away from the traditional cartridge starting system to an electrical starter for the engine. Thought was also given to the visibility and layout of the instruments and guages on the dashboard.

Another Zetor development of the 1940s was the model 30 of 1948. The model 30 was significant in tractor development by being one of the world’s first tractors to feature a fuel injected diesel engine, a feature which reduced fuel consumption considerably.

The company saw the 1940s out by celebrating the construction of their 10,000th tractor in February of 1949.

On an Open Field 

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The model 35 Super P crawler, a Zetor product of the 1950s.

Entering the 1950s, Zetor had very little to compete with at home except their own success. Indeed, they were having some problems satisfying both domestic and export markets for their products at the begining of the decade.

Škoda had remained, to a small degree, in the tractor business until the Communist government that had taken over the country in 1948 dictated that Zetor would be the country’s only tractor producer. Škoda had faded from the tractor business by the mid 1950s and Zetor had the home market to themselves from then on.

1952 saw Zetor moved from the main Zbrojovka Brno factory to a factory site in the Líšeň suburb on the east side of Brno. Here, they would not need to compete for factory floorspace with other Zbrojovka products and could conduct their own research and development on site. The Líšeň location continues to serve as Zetor headquarters today.

1955 saw the debut of the Super 35, a model that brought with it an improved suspension system and a heating system in the driver’s cabin for increased operator comfort.

In 1960, the Super 35 was extensively modernised and renamed the Super 50.

A Revolution on the Farm 

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The model 2011, introduced in 1963, is a member of the UR1 range of tractors.

Zetor introduced a true watershed event to tractor production in the late 1950s with the introduction of their parts unification concept.

Under the parts unification concept, entire ranges of tractors could be created using a system of common parts. This concept captured the manufacturing world’s attention as it meant significant savings in materials, money and time with regards to production and maintenance. It also meant that tractor dealers did not have to give valuable shelf space to components unique to a single model of tractor.

From 1958 into the late 1990s, Zetor created three distinct ranges of tractors under the parts unification system: UR1, UR2 and UR3. Each range featured baseline models and specialised versions.

UR1: The First Unified Range 

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The model 5511 of 1966 represents an early modernisation to the UR1 range.

The UR1 range proved to be a solid start for Zetor’s new system.

While Zetor had designed a completely new transmission for their new range, they had retained the fuel injected diesel engines and associated starting systems. The engines made Zetor tractors very popular on the export market as they could be started and operated reliably in a very wide range of climatic conditions around the world.

Zetor used the UR1 range to introduce their Zetormatic weight transfer system. This system shifted part of the weight of the field implement being pulled to the tractor’s rear axle so it could be used for more traction in the soil.

Inside the UR1 family, there were a number of specialised variants including a half-track version for working in forested areas, a fully tracked version for work on the steep slopes of vineyards as well as a narrower model for working between trees in fruit orchards.

Through the bulk of the 1960s, the UR1 range was very well recieved at home and abroad. However, with a power range covering from 25 to 60 horsepower, it was not powerful or robust enough for the larger farm operations of Central Europe.

While the UR2 range debuted in 1968, the UR1 family has been revisited and modernised several times over the years.

UR2: Redefining the Tractor 

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Introduced in 1968, the Zetor Crystal brought with it an entirely new vision of what a tractor could be.

The UR2 range, collectively nicknamed “Zetor Crystal”, consisted of around 8 versions and was produced between 1968 and 1989.

The Crystal not only answered the call for the increase in power and structural strength that the UR1 range could not provide, it was also heralded by tractor manufacturers worldwide as a true technological leap forward in tractor design from almost every aspect.

The Crystal added to Zetor’s established reputation for operator safety by being the world’s first tractor designed with a safety cage integral to the cabin in order to protect the driver in case of a rollover.

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The roomy and, for the time, quite modern cabin of the Crystal.

The new cabin was mounted on special noise reducing blocks. This, in conjunction with changes to engine mounting systems, made the Crystal the world’s first tractor with a noise level below 85 decibels inside the cabin.

Outside of the inovations to the cabin, the Crystal had a number of features as standard equipment that other manufacturers at the time were offering as options if they were offering them at all.

The Crystal was available with four and six cylinder engines. During the UR2 production run, turbocharged variations of the Crystal were developed. With turbocharging, the four cylinder engine could generate 100 horsepower and the six cylinder could generate 160.

UR3: Keeping it Going

Zetor introduced the third incarnation of their unified range of tractors in 1991.

The primary reasons for the introduction of the UR3 series were to replace the Crystal and to fill a gap that existed in the medium power tractor market in the early 1990s.

The UR3 family was made up of eight models ranging from 70 to to 105 horsepower.

Building Abroad 

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The HMT 6522, an Indian built tractor based on a licensed Zetor design.

With as widely popular as Zetor tractors had become by the mid 1960s, it made sense for the company to grant licenses for production and maintenance of their products overseas.

From 1964 into the 1990s, Zetor tractors were assembled from factory provided components or fully produced under license in Brazil, Burma, Ghana, Greece, India, Iraq, Japan, Mexico and Poland.

Between 1993 and 1996, Zetor entered a contract with John Deere in America to produce a number of tractors under the American company’s name and badging for markets in Latin and South America. The tractors were Zetor designs though finished in the well known John Deere green and yellow paint and assembled in John Deere’s manufacturing facilities in Mexico. These tractors were marketed by John Deere as the 2000 series.

Under the terms of the sort lived contract with John Deere, Zetor was barred from being active in Latin and South American markets. However, in 1997, Zetor moved on those markets through a deal with Brazilian vehicle manufacturer, Agrale. Zetor continues to provide Agrale with components to produce their tractors for the Brazilian market today.

The 1990s and the New Millenium 

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The Forterra: the relaunched and modernised UR3 range which Zetor put on the market in 1998.

As it was with many Czech companies, the early post Socialist period was a tumultuous time in which many legendary firms either adapted well to or died in bankruptcy.

Zetor spent the 1990s going through a number of changes after being privatised in 1993.

In the 1990s, the company relaunched both the UR1 and UR3 ranges in much modernised forms.

The turn of the millenium was a particularly rocky period for the company that saw it change ownership a few times, enter a revitalisation program and go through a bankruptcy before being purchased in 2002 by its current owners.

Under the current ownership, Zetor has flourished and regained its strength as a company. Today, the company manufactures several models of tractor under the Forterra, Major and Proxima names. In 2015, Zetor brought the name “Crystal” back to the tractor world in the form of a fully modern design.

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The Zetor of the future? In 2015, Zetor announced a partnership with Pininfarina of Italy to give Zetor tractors a new look.

Zetor marked their 70th anniversary in 2016. Part of marking that milestone was to develop a new look for future Zetor products. To this end, they partnered with world famous Italian car design firm Pininfarina.

Pininfarina created a new design concept which was unveiled to the world as a full scale mock up in 2015 at the Agritechnica exhibition in Hannover, Germany.

Zetor plans to apply Pininfarina design concepts to all their future models and updates to existing models.

With classic Italian car firms such as Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and Maserati on their client list, Pininfarina is certain to bring a whole new level of excitement to the world of agriculture through their partnership with Zetor.

Learning More 

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The Zetor Gallery is an interactive museum run by Zetor in Brno.

If you like tractors and happen to be passing through Brno, Zetor Gallery really should be on your itinerary.

This small museum was established by Zetor at their Brno headquarters in 2013 and is a fantastic opportunity to get up close to a number of historical and contemporary Zetor models. The museum has a permanent collection of its own plus a rotating selection of historical Zetor tractors loaned by private collectors.

Zetor gallery is quite interactive and visitors are encouraged to examine many of the tractors at close quarters and even sit in them.

The following links will give you more information about much of what’s been covered in this blog entry:

Here, you’ll find a historical timeline of Zetor:
http://www.zetor.com/history

This page gives a good overview of the organisation of Zetor’s unified ranges:
http://www.zetor-dealer.co.uk/zetorhistory.html

These links are to the Zetor Gallery website and my own existing article about the museum respectively:
http://www.zetorgallery.cz/en/

https://beyondprague.wordpress.com/museums/zetor-gallery-tractoring-through-time/

These links will give you information about the partnership between Zetor and Pininfarina:
http://www.zetorbypininfarina.com/

http://www.pininfarina.com/en/zetor_by_pininfarina/

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Czech Beer 2 – The Suds of Change

Back to the Taps 

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Czech lager in a rather anonymous mug, what could go wrong?

I wrote an article about Czech beer on this blog a couple of years ago. Primarily, that article was an examination of the hype that surrounds Czech beer and if Czech beer lives up to it. The conclusion was that who makes the beer was often less important than who serves it. Basically, a great beer can be ruined by careless handling on the part of the pub or restaurant selling it.

After doing the requisite research to compile this new article, it is a conclusion that I still stand by today.

In this follow up article, I’ll be examining changes on the Czech beer landscape and the Czech relationship with beer that have taken place over the past few years. There have been quite a few changes to say the least.

Veteran brands than many nostalgic Czech beer drinkers lament as being mere shadows of their former selves due to foreign ownership and EU legislation are still with us, though their makers have had to come up with strategies to stay competitive.

Well established brands that are still Czech owned and often treated as preferable by Czech lager drinkers to the foreign owned veteran brands are still strong.

The microbrewery sector and their craft beers have made a huge impact in the last few years on the Czech beer scene and have had a profound effect on how Czechs drink beer these days.

I’ll take a look at each of these aspects in turn, plus a few other topics in this article:

Selling off the Big Names 

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Pilsner Urquell, first introduced in 1842, is a true icon among Czech beers

Almost immediately after the fall of socialism, some of the big names in Czech brewing were sold off to foreign owners. The Prague based Staropramen brewery has been passed from one foreign owner to another since 2000 and has been owned by American based Molson Coors since 2012.

Other examples of well known Czech breweries that are in fact foreign owned include Krušovice and Starobrno; both of which are owned by Dutch giant, Heineken.

Gambrinus, Kozel, Plzeňský Prazdroj and Radegast all came under ownership of Asahi Breweries of Japan in the 2016-2017 period.

Happily, not all the big names in Czech beer were sold to owners abroad. Budějovický Budvar, creator of the original recipe Budweiser beer, remains Czech owned.

The upside of foreign ownership is a much heightened brand awareness at the international level and larger budgets for advertising to maximise brand visibility. That’s why these brands are typically the ones you see sponsoring large events in the Czech lands and abroad and it’s their logos you most often see emblazoned on disposable plastic cups at such events

The downside is a percieved decline in quality owing to greater levels of bureaucracy and governmental regulation that have often forced unwelcome alteration to time honoured and proven recipes.

An additional downside is that through a combination of foreign ownership and sheer size, you don’t get a lot of variety out of the big names beyond their set standard line of beers. Most don’t experiment much at all beyond some dark beers and wheat beers and that makes them boring after a while.

Still Proudly Czech 

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Polička is one of a number of well established names that have remained Czech.

In this section, I’ll be looking at some very well established smaller and medium sized breweries that have managed to evade foreign ownership. The ones I mention here are an example of the ones which have nationwide, or nearly so, distribution.

These names are reflective of the fact that so many smaller Czech towns have their own breweries and those breweries have their own ways of doing things. It’s through these operators that you can experience how varied Czech beer really can be, even if you only stick to traditional lagers.

The family owned Bernard brewery as well as the Dalešice and Poutník breweries are from the Vysočina highlands region.

In the north-central regions, you’ll find the Polička brewery in the Pardubice region and the Primátor brewery in Náchod, near the border with Poland. A bit east of those, in the Olomouc region, you’ll find the Litovel brewery.

To the north-west, in the Liberec region, is the Svijany brewery. Svijany is a special case as Czech beer goes. Not only is it one of the oldest still functioning Czech breweries, it also has the distinction of having returned to Czech ownership in 2010 after a number of years of foreign ownership.

The plus of these breweries is that their traditional recipies have remained largely intact over the generations and will give you something much more authentic in the way of a traditional Czech lager experience.

Breweries in this category are in a position where they are big enough that they can challenge the big names in the lager game and yet small enough that they can, to some degree, also challenge the burgeoning microbrewery and craft beer movement with regards to ales and other specialty beers.

Beyond lagers, these small to medium operators usually carry wheat beers in their ranges and some of them have developed ales and seasonal special beers.

The Microbrew Invasion 

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Clock is one example of the many microbreweries that have emerged on the Czech beer scene in recent years

In the last decade or so, the world has seen an ever increasing number of microbreweries with their craft beers establishing themselves and gaining strength against traditional beer producers. The Czech lands have not been immune to this movement.

The growing popularity of microbrewing in the Czech Republic is understandable from a couple of points of view:

Firstly, in spite of all the stories about all the different kinds of Czech beer there are, lager still reigns supreme and more than 90% of Czech beer falls into that category. Some microbrewries make lagers, but most try to focus on other beer types. For those desiring a change from lager, the microbreweries offer that alternative. APA and IPA beer types as well as traditional ales and stouts are quite popular subjects of Czech microbrewery output these days.

Secondly, and this is by my own observation, younger Czechs in their 20s and 30s seem to have a rather different attitude to drinking beer than the generation before them does. Many younger Czechs seem to be taking a quality-over-quantity approach to their beer intake and often seem to prefer slowly drinking one or two glasses of a stronger beer type on a night as opposed to more quickly downing five or six pints of standard lager.

One of the big plusses of Microbreweries is that they have been something of a wake up call for the long established players of the Czech beer industry. Some who had been complacently resting on their laurels quickly adjusted their product lines to compete or came up with different strategies.

The two edged sword of microbrewries is their penchant for experimentation and pushing boundaries. Sometimes the experimentation feels as if there was a sincere effort to create something great while at other times it just feels as if the brewmaster is showing off with no regard for the customer’s subsequent drinking experience. I’ve experienced craft beers with flavour combinations that were truly vile and alcohol levels high enough that you could barely call them beer anymore.

A disadvantage, if arguably so, is that in some quarters craft beers have bred a level of snobbishness in their drinkers that is normally connected with stereotypes of wine aficionados. This, to me anyway, is at odds with the image of beer as an unpretentious beverage.

Battle of the Beers 

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Tank pubs, like Lokal, are a Czech beer culture tradition and one way the big names are staying competitive

Of course, on such a competitive playing field, the players need strategies.

In recent years, the big players have been exporting the idea of the traditional Czech “tankovna” or tank pub across Europe and it’s been a hit for them.

While long established in the Czech Republic, the tank pub is new elsewhere. The principle of the tankovna is that rather than shipping beer to pubs in smaller kegs, the beer is shipped in a tanker vehicle and transfered to copper holding tanks in the pub that are connected directly to the beer taps. This ensures freshness as the beer in tanks is replaced regularly while beer in kegs could have been sitting around in a warehouse for months before delivery to pubs.

So far, Czech style tank pubs have made major inroads in Austria, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Sweden.

Closer to home, several big name breweries have opened “own-brand” pubs and restaurants to offer a slightly more upscale feel from the average pub. Staropramen was the pioneer in this, having established their Potrefená Husa chain of restaurants at the end of the 1990s.

As mentioned earlier, the main strategy of the small to medium sized breweries seems to be one of adding more specialized items to their product lines that will compete with some of the microbrewery output. APA and IPA type beers are very common from the microbreweries and I have noticed several of the small to medium sized breweries have at least added an IPA or two to their product lines in recent years.

Microbreweries operate largely on the strategy of simply being different in both their products and their marketing. However, many of them are savvy enough to have a lager or two in their catalogues for safety.

Beer Alternatives 

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Kingswood cider, a product of Plzeňský Prazdroj and one of many ciders on the Czech market currently

So, what happens when a person is bored of traditional lagers but the microbrewery products just aren’t doing anything for them? Pubs surely must have alternatives in place for such people.

Not so very long ago, commercially made ciders started showing up in Czech pubs and shops. Initially, they were imported from Ireland or the UK before Czech producers started making their own.

One of the more widely available Czech made ciders is Kingswood, made by Plzeňský Prazdroj. Initially it wasn’t particularly good, but they have been working on the recipe and it has improved since being introduced.

Another beer alternative you can find, particularly in the summer months, are radler type beers. These citrus juice infused beers came across the border from Austria and Germany. While they are still available, their popularity has diminished somewhat over the past couple of years. the introduuction of cider may have had something to do with that.

Cider is experiencing an upswing in popularity and it’s not really a surprize when you consider the long history Czechs have with producing their own alcohol at home. Cider is one of those beverages you can make at home and many Czechs have taken to doing just that.

Beer Tourism 

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Dalešice beer, fresh at the source

Tourism based on beer is nothing new in the Czech Republic and it’s as strong as ever.

Breweries of all sizes and categories typically have restaurants on site where you can drink their beer at maximum freshness. A large number of these breweries also offer tours of their beer making facilities and may have displays of both contemporary and historic brewing equipment and processes on display.

Typically these tours are only for groups and most breweries will have a set minimum and maximum number of people for group size. You shouldn’t worry if you’re alone though, you may be able to get yourself a free spot on a tour if there is one.

While there are a multitude of companies who you can pay to take you in a group to a brewery for a tour, most breweries who offer tours have information about them directly on their websites. This can allow you to save some money by going directly to the brewery youself and bypassing the tour companies.

Learning More

With as interesting as the past few years have been in Czech beer, certainly the next few will be equally so and I’ll likely be writing a follow up to this article in a year or two.

These two recent news articles talk about recent changes to how Czechs drink beer and the exportation of the tank pub concept around Europe:

http://www.radio.cz/en/section/business/czech-beer-habits-evolving

http://www.radio.cz/en/section/business/czech-tank-beer-taking-europe-by-storm

This link will take you to my first article on Czech beer from a few years ago:

https://beyondprague.wordpress.com/czechs-and-czech-culture/food-drink/czech-beer-up-to-the-hype/

This link is to an article I wrote about visiting the Dalešice brewery. It will give you an idea of what a tour at a smaller brewery can be like:

https://beyondprague.wordpress.com/vysocina-region/dalesice-brewery-hops-and-history/