One of the Coolest Cars Ever Made
By Brendan Moore
The Tatra automobile was produced in
what is now the Czech Republic and previously part of Czechoslovakia, starting in 1898 and ending in 1998. Both passenger cars and heavy trucks were manufactured during this time, with only truck production continuing after 1998. Unless you lived in Central Europe, there’s a good chance you have never heard of a Tatra automobile and an even better chance that you have never seen one in person.
Tatras were engineering marvels in their day, particularly when the cars started offering powerplants that consisted of rear-mounted, air-cooled V8 engines in a lightweight streamliner body, first seen in the T 87 model in 1946.
1964 Tatra 603
This was followed by the equally fascinating Tatra 603 in 1956. The looks of the 603 were unique then and would be considered wildly eccentric now (as an example, a Tatra 603 is the car driven by Jim Carrey’s character in the Lemony Snicket movie). And of course, it had an updated version of the rear-mounted, air-cooled engine, now with 192 horsepower.
Tatra 613 Concept by Vignale
In 1969 Tatra contracted with Italian auto designer Vignale to design the 603 replacement, which is called the 613. The 613 is a very handsome car, with the rear-engined, air-cooled V8, but not a streamliner. Production of the 613 begins in 1974, and production of the last 603 (#20,422) occurs in 1975. Streamlining has come to an end. But the Vignale body was wonderful to look at, and Tatra cars were still something special.
1995 Tatra 613-5
Cosmetic changes happen in 1980, and the wonderful Vignale design starts to lose its luster. More changes occur during the Eighties, and the car is much the worse for them. In 1989 Czechoslovakia undergoes its Velvet Revolution, Tatra’s customer base shrinks to almost nothing, and the company is reduced to a shell of its former self.
1997 Tatra 770
In 1996 the 613 was shaped into the T700 by British designer Geoff Wardle (now at Pasadena Art Center College of Design) and introduced to the press at the Hilton Hotel in Prague. But it was all too little too late, despite having 300 horsepower available in performance versions, and in 1998 car production ceased. One hundred years of unusual cars with real character had come to an end.
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