From coaches to combustion engines
Besides the capital city, the centres of motorisation were Miskolc, Székesfehérvár and Szeged, but after the turn of the century, motor vehicles spread increasingly in the whole country, and not only civilian ones. According to the figures of the Hungarian Central Statistical Office, there were more than ten thousand registered motor cars in 1926, including trucks and buses. They started by modernising the well-tried coaches typically, thus these functioned as “engine-driven coaches” actually. Regarding car structures, makers usually made only undercarriages (like MARTA), and other companies were entrusted with the car bodies. In Hungary, carmakers undertook producing undercarriages first.
A similar development sample can be observed at Gyula Varga’s car factory of Pécs. The factory started operating under the leadership of Gyula Varga Sr. in 1894, at 45 Rákóczi Road. First, they created sensation with their coaches that local aristocrats loved buying; the Majláths of Bakóca and the ducal family Benyovszky of Siklós were regular business partners as well. Still, the first significant success of the company was to become one of the largest coach suppliers to the post office. It was not a coincidence, because Varga, who knew the winding and steep mountain roads, knew that he had to design strong but not heavy vehicles. Even the jury’s eyes were caught by the light and slim coaches that weighed two hundred kilograms barely. This is how more than a hundred green mail cars were produced for the order of the Hungarian Royal Post Treasury.
Of course, the engine-driven vehicle did not expel coaches immediately. There was an obvious transition that the stock of the factory also showed; you could find there carriages just like omnibuses. First, they operated at 45 Rákóczi Road next to Hal Square, but the manufacture fought against an acute lack of space there. According to recollections, the master’s labourers had to push out prepared cars to the street before starting work, and pull them back after work. During the 1920s, Gyula Varga Jr. also took part in the factory life actively, and that time the company started opening towards the undercarriage production too. They moved their headquarters to 34 Rákóczi Road gradually. According to a letter-paper, a double heading still existed in 1918. Finally, in 1926, the company started operating under a new name: Gyula Varga Motorcar Undercarriage- and Car Factory. Neither building exists nowadays; the Konzum Department Store is on one of the sites and the Court of Justice is on the other.
The elder Varga received an order from the city Pécs, when World War I broke out, to construct an ambulance car. Masses of war casualties had arrived at the railway station by then, and the city was not prepared for their forwarding to hospitals, understandably. The project that was funded by public subscriptions carried Varga as well, and he constructed a vehicle the most up-to-date that was available. Even the local press reported on his constructing resourcefulness, because the ambulance doctor and the driver could talk to one another on a special phone in the car. The vehicle was equipped with strong adjustable headlights that allowed assistance at night accidents too. These generated such a fame to his business that he installed the telephone in 1915.
In May 1926, the first fuel station started operating on the site of the factory in Pécs. It was a public station, but not on a public place, and Steaua’s gasoline called “Rex” was available there. As part of the network, they sold 135200 litres of gasoline during the first ten months, pumped by hand, through built-in glass containers and by external blending in cans. It seems that 1926 was a significant year for him in several aspects. Among others, an advertisement reported on the news that Varga’s factory would be the representative of the Steyr Company in the county. Besides the structures made for Steyr undercarriages, you can also find vehicles built on Magosix, MÁVAG-Mercedes and T-Ford undercarriages; the latter went down in history as the First Taxi of Pécs. The six-seater car was made for the order of György Gaál, and the photo shows its first test drive in Harkány.
In 1926, Pécs decided to buy two 24-seater buses to serve the public cemetery transport. After purchasing undercarriages, they entrusted Gyula Varga with the bodywork. The first bus service in Pécs was launched on 19 August 1926, we have already written about the tram transport of Pécs. The two 47-horsepower Renault buses, decorated with the city blazon, shuttled between Széchenyi Square and the Public Cemetery. Buses usually ran in every 30 minutes, until 19:15 in summer and 18:15 in winter. Season tickets were available just like for the trams. Although the population felt some antipathy to buses, due to the gasoline smell, apart from that buses carried more than a hundred thousand passengers in 1927. No wonder that the city decided on another vehicle purchase in 1928 and the undercarriage supplier was the Varga factory again. The name Mecsek Garage was first used in 1938, thus Gyula Varga Jr. separated his company legally from his father’s car factory. Mecsek Garage kept on serving the public transport of Pécs, producing buses and ambulance cars.
Day to day in Pécs – life of a special family in photos
Excursions on Tettye, sitting on a bench at the Basilica, working in the factory. The photos collected by Dr. Csaba Varga revive not just the story of the factory. You can see growing children in family photos, and some memorable moments from their parents’ lives as well. Initiated eyes can observe the development of the city Pécs in unknown street images or in well-known details. You can study the Zsolnay statue in all existing views or the beautiful building of the Railway Headquarters. The idyll of pictures is spoilt only by the terror of the World War II, but so subtly that it might not attract attention that bloodily serious events happened here. We did not introduce the members of the family, but maybe the photos speak instead. What kind of people could they be? Very ambitious, hard working and talented, because without these features the company would not have been able to run until the socialisations.
Translated by Zita Aknai