Thursday, August 27, 2015

First and Last: Tatra Streamliners

Czechoslovakia between the World Wars had an automobile industry that featured low production and high creativity.  Probably the best known firm from that era was Tatra, which built lines of cars with motors at the rear draped in streamlined bodies.   These features were considered in the 1930s to be the wave of the automobile design future.  Today, streamlining is a very important consideration in automobile design, whereas the rear-engine concept is considered a false path.

This post contrasts the first and last Tatra models with that combination of features.  Prague and Belin auto shows early in 1934 saw the introduction of the Tatra 77, the first of the breed.  Other models with similar styling followed, including the post-war Tatraplan.

By the early 1950s, Communist planners decided that Tatra would concentrate on building trucks and that Tatra cars would be assembled by Škoda.  Also around that time it was further decided that Tatras needed a complete restyling that would continue the engine placement and streamlining features.  Thus was born the Tatra 603 line.

Tatra 603s were reserved for Czech government and Party officials -- the general public had to make do with Škodas (though there might have been a few exceptions).  On the other hand, some 603s were exported as part of an effort to bring in foreign currency.

Allowing for the state of sheet steel shaping and glass curving technologies in the 1930s, I consider the 77 line to be logical and fairly attractive.  The 603s, on the other hand, look more modern, but are garish, awkward designs.  So the commissars got what they deserved.


1933 Tatra 77 prototype or early 1934 production car
I think this is a prototype because it has air scoops towards the rear of the roof and lacks a rear bumper.  The front is necessarily stubby, but the rest of the car has nice lines.

Tatra 603 - ca. 1957
This is the initial version, produced 1956-1962.  Odd features include the three headlights, the tacky airscoop on the "hood," the awkwardly-placed turn indicator lights at the front of the fender and the Cadillac-inspired "Dagmar" bumper guards -- just to mention a few.

Tatra 2-603 - 1963
The main styling change for the 1962-1968 2-603 model is the replacement of the three-headlight arrangement with quad headlamps.  Unfortunately, the assembly is ugly even though it is somewhat dictated by the rounded nose shaping.

Tatra 3-603 - 1968
The final 603 series (1968-1975) got a better looking quad headlight assembly and lost the airscoop and Dagmars.  The chromed side trim was also cleaned up.  Nevertheless, it was impossible to eliminate all the awkward features, so the next Tatra redesign kept the rear motor but abandoned streamlining.

1 comment:

Pico Elgin said...

Here is a wonderfully goofy testament to the Tatra 603's performance: . Pico