To say that Eastern European cars are hard to find on this side of the pond would be an understatement. However, if there is one Eastern European marque that enjoys a certain recognition in the West, it is probably Tatra.
A few weeks ago I took a ride in a Tatra 613, one of the few (less than two dozen) that have found their way to North America. This time we’re back with a look at the 613′s far more imposing predecessor, and an iconic piece of Czech design and engineering.
Like ZiLs and GAZes, for a long time Tatras were known largely in their own neighborhood, serving as chauffeured government cars for Eastern Bloc officials and diplomats. Before World War II, leaders of Eastern European countries tended to use western cars as state limousines. But it wasn’t until the late 1930s that the nations that later made up the Eastern Bloc really acquired the ability and capacity to produce their own state cars. One of the few exceptions was Tatra, whose aerodynamic (and from a modern perspective, slightly steampunk) cars served as government sedans since the 1920s.
The 603 can be viewed as the continuation of the engineering thinking behind the streamlined T77, T87, and T600 Tatraplan cars, which combined a rear engine layout with a slippery, sleek exterior born from Tatra’s aerodynamics studies in the early 1930s. The T603 represented an advance over the Tatraplan in all areas, with first and foremost an all new air-cooled 2.5 liter OHV V8, rack and pinion steering, independent suspension with hydraulic shock absorbers in the back, and struts and coil springs up front. The 603 has a steering column-mounted shifter, mated to a 4-speed manual transmission.
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