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Air-Cooled V8: 1971 Tatra 603


This isn’t something you see every day! Thanks to reader Charles H for this great find from the Netherlands–although the car was manufactured in what was then Czechoslovakia. Tatra had long been marching to the beat of a different drummer when this 1971 left the factory. I love that it’s been largely left as-found; most classic car dealers I know would have cleaned it up immediately upon arrival. The car is located at a dealer and is advertised here. It’s listed for 12,950 Euro (about $14,240 today) and the engine is said to run well. The interior looks fairly complete, although it needs a really good cleaning and is missing a window handle, although that may be in the crate of parts contained in the “frunk”. Of course, the main attraction for an engineer like me is the rear-mounted, air-cooled V8. I would love to drive one of these; I know there are a few in the USA but when I’ve seen them advertised they are quite pricey. Can any of our European friends shed some light on this car and what the oddball little rods with spheres on them mounted to the front bumper are?


  1. Olaf E

    This car has never been registered in the Netherlands. I do not recognize the plates yet, will get back on that (I hope).

    This dealer is run by father, son and staff, focus is on export/import and I was told by them that about 80 % of the cars sold is exported out of the Netherlands. Dad also features in a 5 minute item in each episode of a carshow on TV.

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    • Olaf E

      The plates tell me this Tatra was registered in Chechnya.

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  2. Bobsmyuncle

    These are just so cool. The older ones with the dorsal fin are especially so.

    Love the idea of the air cooled V8 and the engine looks great too!

    The devices on the bumpers are used to locate the extreme corners of the car while parking.

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    • mark

      Tatra – this car was design back in1948 – 1950’s – hold for production several years because Russia controlled Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hungry, Easter Germany. This is car like a American Tucker.
      Was unbelievably fast. Only upper class people could afford this type vehicle.
      Yes – V8 – air cooled engine.

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      • Brakeservo

        Yes, I enjoyed telling people I had a Hemi musclecar, but the Hemi V8 was rear engined and air cooled, and they’d suspect I was nuts, then to finish it off I’d conclude by saying it was made by Communists too!

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  3. David

    The rods are standard carriers. This must have belonged to a local party official.

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  4. George

    The “bumper balls” are to see the corners of the car. Very helpful in seeing where the corners are when you have no reference point. With most of today’s cars, maybe they should make a comeback? I can’t see the front end on any of my recent cars in the last number of years. Have motorized ones that raise up during slow speed handling/parking.

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    • Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

      Normally I’d agree with you guys on the “bumper balls”…but could you really see those from the driver’s seat?

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      • Sam

        It looks like the sight line is okay from the driver’s seat to the bumper balls. I could use those on my Tahoe – can’t tell where the bumper is sometimes.

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    • The Walrus

      There’s a guy locally who has one of these. He’s Czech and imported it himself. His also has those posts. They are for flags. You can’t see them from the drivers seat. These were super high end for the eastern block and most were used by high ranking government officials.

      I’m not sure they are ‘fun’ to throw around in corners. One thing to note is that is an air cooled V-8 Aluminum HEMI! Even so, it’s a lot of weight hanging out the back.

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      • RayT Member

        If memory serves, the rear suspension is swing axles and leaf springs. Not a recipe for ideal handing, especially with the aft-mounted V8. Don’t know if anyone offered a “camber compensater” for Tatras, but it might have been a good idea!

        My absolute favorites are the previous large Tatras, the T87s, followed by early examples of the 603 from the 1950s. Never found one that was for sale at a price I could afford. Almost bought a T97 “Tatraplan”, the “compact” version of the 87, which had an air-cooled flat-four out back. Too much rust and too many missing bits finally killed the deal.

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    • Grr

      I want to hear more about these motorized balls…

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  5. Olaf E

    Those oddballs little rods with spheres on them were probably optional or just fitted on the bumper in a later period. Usually there were (extra) lights fitted in the place those oddball little rods now are. I cannot find any pictures of a Tatra 603 with those things on the bumper and none of the Tatra sites mentions them.

    BTW: the Tatra 603 was designed and build especially for high executives of companies controlled by the state or the higher dudes of the Communist party.

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  6. St. Ramone de V8

    I’d love to have a chance to hear one of these running. Always thought they were interesting. Engine looks great.

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    • George

      Do a search on YouTube. There are a number of videos of one running. Including a video from Jay Leno’s collection.

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  7. Dolphin Member

    Agree with Bobsmy…, the earlier Tatras with the rear dorsal fin are cooler looking, but any car with an air cooled V8 at the rear is going to be special. We know now that air cooled 2-valve technology will never match water cooled 4-valve, but that wasn’t necessarily appreciated decades ago, so it’s good that it was tried.

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  8. Bobsmyuncle

    If you havent seen this…even if you have, watch this!


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    • FeloniousSkunk

      Great video. Q should’ve used it for 007 instead of a DB5. And who knew the Czech police were all so handsome?

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  9. David

    The little rods on the front are “Standard Carriers”, also known as “Automobile flag holders, vehicle flag poles,” etc. Modern ones are magnetic, but on autos in permanent government service, permanent ones like these, mounted on either bumper or fenders are more usual. I posted a photo of a more modern car with these mounted to the bumper.

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  10. charlie Member

    that link is really amazing! Makes you want to own one.

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  11. Bobsmyuncle

    I dont think these are flag standards they are too short. A flag would be pinned against the front of the grill.

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    • Mark

      The 1962 Tatra ad is a hoot. I read that the driver is a Czech Formula 1 champion so he makes it look easy. Tatra’s got a reputation in WWII as the “Czech secret weapon” for offing German officers, more likely due to excessive alcohol and unfamiliar roads than any inherent handling defect. Still, their tail happy reputation apparently remained, hence the film.
      The scenery in Czech Republic has not changed much…

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  12. Jason

    Is this legally for sale? I heard some time ago that CZ was trying to reclaim many Tatras.

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  13. Kustombart

    Speaking as an owner of a Tatra 603, I can confirm handling is a bit hairy, especially if you lift off in a corner. Like an early Porsche or any car with rear mounted engine. Suspension is mcpherson up front and swing arms and coils in the rear. Handling does improve with radials, playing with tire pressure and a little lowering, standard cars have high ground clearance for rough roads.

    The aircooled engine is quite advanced for it’s day (designed first in 1951) but less complicated than earlier Tatra engines with overhead camshafts. Just google Tatra 603 V8 and you’ll hear some engine notes. If you search for a Czech company named Ecorra, you’ll find several racing 603’s, including a monoposto with a great engine sound.

    I have been slightly messing my car up in the name of customizing, doing some shaving, lowering etc. Check it out at http://www.kustombart.com or check my facebook page under Kustombart.

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    • Grr

      Scary to see how the rear wheels keel over when turning at just parking lot speeds….funky engine note, tho. I doubt they were meant to sound that raunchy from the factory.

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  14. brakeservo

    As an American who has owned 2 Tatra 603’s I love ’em! Just not this one – looks like a parts car to me . . . but maybe there will be a 603 ‘bubble’ as you can’t touch a decent early fin model for under a healthy 6 figures . . . Tatra is the most important car most Americans no nothing about. Dr. Porsche ‘borrowed’ a Tatra design when he presented the original VW to Hitler. So, no Tatra, no VW. Had there been no VW, then no Porsche, and the following marques may have been consigned to history’s dust bin had not the industrial powerhouse VW became, rescued them: Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Seat, Skoda and I’m sure there’s some I’ve overlooked

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  15. Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

    I’ve owned a couple of Tatra 603 cars over the years, still have one, a 1962 with the factory 1968 updates [wider front spacing for headlites, 4-whel disc brakes, electronic ignition, alternator, etc].

    There is an old saying in the former eastern bloc of Europe: For 99% of the population, the only time they had a chance to ride in a Tatra 603 was when they were “invited” to go for a ride at 2am by the secret police!

    I’ve driven a Tatra 603 all over Europe & England, very reliable, and when the radial tires are inflated correctly, these cars do corner well at speed. I’ve taken a Tatra 603 around plenty of the typical British “Round-abouts” at decent speeds, with little body roll or rear wheel tuck-under. One of the reasons they corner well is a 48/52 weight distribution. [spare tire just behind front bumper & dual 6 volt batteries located behind the headlights [set up for 12 volt electrics]

    One of my cars came from the former DDR [east Germany]. When I pulled the rear seat bottom out to clean under it, I discovered a kraft paper wrapping, tied with string. Unfolding the package I found a large [1.5 x 1 meter] Staasi flag! [Secret Police].

    They are easy to repair [I’ve pulled an entire engine out of the car in 10 minutes, with the following tools: 10mm, 14mm & 17mm wrenches, flathead screwdriver, crescent wrench & wooden box to place under the oil pan – with box in place, you simply deflate the rear tires until engine is resting the on the box, then push the car forward!]

    If you like Tatra cars, or would like to see some of the best examples in America, you MUST visit Jeff Lane’s “Lane Motor Museum” in the Nashville TN area.

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  16. Kustombart

    Hi Bill, good to hear form you. I have the same experiences driving my 603 long distance. It’s been off the road for a lengthy technical overhaul (7 years and counting). Which tire pressures do yo recommend? Have fitted 205/75/15 continental contitrac suv tires.

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    • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

      Sorry to take so long to get back to you, have been attending the Kaiser-Frazer Owner’s Club National Meet in Gettysburg, PA.

      I’ve been driving these 603 cars at higher speeds in Europe with the original size 185×15 radial tires, with the rear set at 2.5 bar. I’ve not run my 603 here in America at high speeds as I’m still running the original Czech Barum tires and I don’t trust them, as they are fairly old.

      You can email me using my name [no space between first & last name] @ aol.com.

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  17. Brakeservore

    Re:Kustombart – When I owned my 603’s I joined the Tatra Registry UK and recommend them. I m sure they have someone who advises on Technical matters.

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  18. Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

    Both Jim S. and Peter R. have written in to tell us this car is back for sale on eBay:



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