Cultural heritage

Family stories based on real events from the long history of the Gavrilović family.

The First Automobile of Gjuro Gavrilović I

From today’s perspective, when hundreds of thousands of cars are whirling past us, and we are nerve-wrecked from all that traffic, we don’t even notice that we ourselves drive kilometres and kilometres on vast freeways, overpasses and elaborately-lit tunnels. It definitely isn’t easy to picture the pioneer years of the automobile industry. Those who owned cars could be counted on one’s fingers. Their names were spoken in awe and respect, for everyone knew that one had to be very wealthy to afford such an expensive and rare four-wheeled toy.

The car in the picture, is that the very first car?
That’s the first car owned by my great-great-grandfather, Gjuro Gavrilović i – And he goes on to proudly show a good quality photograph of Gjuro Gavrilović’s grandfather. – And this car came with a chauffeur, to boot. The chauffeur was there the whole time the car was being built and assembled. In those days there were no auto-mechanics, nor chauffeurs. This driver came as a highly-trained chauffeur… It was as though you were to own an airplane in today’s day. The driver was acquired together with the automobile. Gjuro’s chauffeur settled in the city of Petrinja up until World War I; then he married a Viennese woman. Of the wages earned from our family, he purchased himself a coffee-house!

What model car was it?
Isotta Fraschini, Italy’s Rolls Royce then.

So the man was Italian?
Yes, yes. That car cost a fortune. Who could afford such a thing?! The only person who could afford it was my grandfather, Gjuro I, who along with his brothers ran our family business. He was Mayor of the city of Petrinja as well

What was the car like?
It had a soft, leather roof that could recline during summer, and close during the rain. During the winter, it was like a carriage, with a closed cabin. The driver would sit outside like a coachman, in the open air, with only a glass windshield in front of him. The vehicle even had carbide lamps.

How fast could it go?
Well, some eighty km per hour. In those days, people travelled for work, and the car was used to drive to Vienna. However, on their trip, the tires needed to be replaced a number of times due to their wearing out, given the length of the journey. That car was the first one to have pumped tires, but in those days they still did not know how to proof their tires. Gas was purchased at Grajzler’s General Store* It was stored in barrels, then pumped out, and poured into the car. There were no gas stations as of yet. This was the absolute beginning of automobiles here for us. However, when I tell you what year I’m talking about, you’ll realize how early it really was.

What year was it?

That year, Zagreb was still using its „horse-pulled tram“. Newspapers would write with great enthusiasm how „the main square was lit up like a ballroom“  – as street-lights were being introduced throughout the city. The main square and Ilica Street were slowly becoming paved, while the central market in Ilica Street was still just a gravel surface. Petrinja, the city where Gjuro Gavrilović was Mayor, was still entirely unpaved. One of Zagreb’s well-known architects and future Mayor, Vjekoslav Heinzel, unites with Gjuro Gavrilović, as a fervent automobile fan and car-racer. My father, Gjuro Gavrilović II, was also a very successful motorcycle and car-racer.