Locklin on science

Tatra 603: wacky commie hot rod

Posted in Design by Scott Locklin on February 20, 2016

Every now and then I run into a piece of technology which I find completely mind boggling. Something that shouldn’t really exist, but does anyway. The Tatra 603 is one of these things.

For one thing, it’s a communist automobile from the former Czechoslovakia, released in 1949. You know; the communists -the people who brought us the Trabant and the Lada. First thing you notice is, unlike the Trabant or Lada, or even a Skoda, the Tatra is pretty.


Looking under the hood, well, you’ll find … nothing, because it’s a rear engined car, like an old Porsche. Looking in the trunk, you find … an air cooled V-8 which is insane and amazing. The only air cooled cars most people ever see are Porsches. So basically what we have here is a 6-passenger Porsche with a rumbley motor in it.


Apparently it handled like a giant Porsche also. It was also hand-made like an old Porsche. It was only a 100 horsepower V-8, but it was also a light car with a stick shift. Sort of like one of the 1930s era Jaguar sedans, except with a rear engine and the power curve of a V-8, rather than a straight six.

This mind blowing 1962 communist ad for the Tatra 603 … well, gear heads have to promise to take 13 minutes of their lives  to watch this. First off; consider the fact that this was a car only allowed to high communist officials who got professional chauffeurs. I guess high communist officials just sat around all day and watched 13 minute long commercials about the glorious products of people’s Tatra factory. Second … I mean, look at the driving insanity. Road hogging, drifting … in a rear engined car, reckless (I’ve been on the very same roads; these guys are nuts) Steve McQueen style hot-dogging, off road mud-bogging, outrunning them silly Boss Hoggski policemen, hill climbing, driving on sidewalks, and doing doughnuts in Chesky Krumlov: they even rolled the damn car down a hill and drove away; just to show it could be done. What the hell, communist block leaders? Either these guys had more fun being communist officials than any other group of people in all of human history …. or I don’t know what to think. Either way, try to imagine any of this in an American car ad at any point in history. And then, remember this was communism; communism was never sold as a fun ideology; it was a grim and serious ideology covered in human blood. Just skip to the middle if you don’t have the same amount of free time as a high communist party official.

The vague resemblance to the VW bug is no coincidence. The 1930s Tatras were innovators in streamlined cars. The Tatra-77 was a direct ancestor, and the designer (Paul Jaray) was involved with Zeppelin design before he started fooling with cars. The aerodynamics of old Tatras were often better than modern cars, and the VW bug design was lifted directly from Tatra economy cars such as the V570 and the T97.


The communists had only been running the country for a few years when this thing came out in 1956, so it’s really an old capitalist/Paul Jaray design that ended up being made by commies, but it’s pretty damn cool that they kept it going until 1976. Also, the commercial makes me want to study dialectical materialism, so I can have a chauffeur and decorous, refined bimbo to drive around like a maniac with. I’m presuming that everyone in the car was completely schnockered on pivo and slivovitz, and am just a bit disappointed they weren’t all smoking like chimneys through the whole adventure.




9 Responses

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  1. William O. B'Livion said, on February 21, 2016 at 1:50 am

    > The only air cooled cars most people ever see are Porsches.

    I learned to drive in a 1965 Corvair convertible.

  2. Rohan Jayasekera said, on February 21, 2016 at 11:17 am

    I quite enjoyed that film (yes, I watched all of it). Also, I’d earlier seen photos of the 603 with a grotesque fin at the center of the rear window and wondered what happened to it; I’m happy to have just learned that it was not included in production models.

  3. Toddy Cat said, on February 23, 2016 at 9:20 pm

    Amazing. Holy crap, what a weird ideology Communism was, the farther away we get from it, the more difficult it is to believe that it ever existed…

  4. LH said, on February 25, 2016 at 11:31 pm

    This car (and its successor, Tatra 613) was used mainly by high level managers in Czechoslovakia. It became part of their image. The vehicle was bloody expensive, like four times the common Škoda model.

    You would be surprised how little people cared about communist ideology. Initial frenzy of the 1950’s dissipated and was replaced by consumerist society always short on consumer goods. No one gave a shit about the ideals, all the rulers required was a lip service.

    • Scott Locklin said, on February 25, 2016 at 11:39 pm

      Thanks; I’ve heard similar things from folks who lived under Brezhnev Russia and Jarulzesky.

    • Toddy Cat said, on March 11, 2016 at 7:29 pm

      Thatks, LH, always interested to hear from those who lived behind the Curtain, especially since we seem to be headed in that direction ourselves…

  5. […] Read More: Tatra 603: wacky commie hot rod | Locklin on science […]

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