Throughout the 1930s and 1940s Tatra cars were celebrated for their exceptionally slippery streamlining, accentuated by the often huge and always bizarre dorsal fin on the car’s sloping rear. After nationalization in 1948, the Czech company’s car production was run down until it was left with nothing but trucks.
Tatra’s talented engineers honed their skills instead by making a series of racing prototypes, including a sports car (T602), a small racing car (T605) and a Formula One single-seater (T607). The experiments enabled them to develop a new engine, ready for the new, four-door sedan they were ordered to design by the Czechoslovak government for the use of senior officials. First shown at the 1955 International Motor Show at Zlin, but not produced until 1957, the T603 was immediately recognizable as a Tatra.
Early T603s picked up where Tatra had left off. They were just as quirky, but on a more modest scale. The dorsal fin was reduced to a vestige between split rear windows, but the swooping rear streamlining remained, bounded by air louvres to cool the rear-mounted engine.
The front looked like a typically bulbous postwar design with a split windscreen — except that gathered in the centre of the bulge, beneath the cosmetic wind scoop, three headlights were grouped dose behind a single glass window. For a thumping great luxury car, they were very stylish. They were also reliable and dependably quick, and the V8 engine (tested and refined for so long) received only one upgrade, in 1963.
From then on, the Tatra 603 had its stylistic character gradually assassinated. The curves withdrew to sharper angles, the front headlights separated into two pairs and Tatra’s stylistic extravagance was tamed to conformity. By 1975, you couldn’t recognize the T603 except by its long-serving engine. It was about the only component not subject to bureaucracy.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic)
1955 (until 1975)
2,472 cc VS
Top speed of 100mph (160 km/h)
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Private individuals were not allowed to own the Tatra 603, and low demand dictated that Tatra’s engineers and designers build most of the cars by hand – especially to begin with. In its first 7 years, only 5992 Tatra 603-1 cars were made. These were the models with the real magic.