Greg Zyla: Tatra cars and trucks: then and now

Greg Zyla, GHNS

Q: Greg, I enjoy your column and want to know about a vehicle called the Tatraplan T-600. My friend once had one, and it would be interesting to see what info you have on this company. My friend told me they also built a V-8, too. Is this correct? Thanks much, Lee K., Illinois.

A: Lee, your friend is correct. But first, here’s my recollection of Tatraplan and what the company is up to today.

The first I ever heard of a Tatraplan automobile was 30 years ago from a legendary drag racer by the name of Jack Kulp. Kulp, who passed away in 2000, used to run supercharged Olds and Hemi Chrysler engines in foreign cars, most notably a Simca AA/Gas Supercharged machine. He also ran Willys coupes and Top Fuel dragsters with Geroge “Atlas” Van, his driver from their home area of Bristol, Pa.

Specifically, the Tatraplan automobile was produced via a government centralized economic plan in Czechoslovakia. The T-600 Tatraplans were streamliner type cars that came with a 1952cc inline 4-cylinder air-cooled engines located in the rear. The body had a coefficient aerodynamic drag of 0.32, which was great for that era.

Overall, some 4,200 T-600s were sold from 1947 through 1951, but in late 1951, the Czech government department of defense, which controlled the production of the cars, informed Tatra they would now build trucks as cars would be built under the Skoda brand, one of the other government run car companies. The third car company in the Czech Republic was Praga.

In 1954, however, Tatra re-joined the car building with a large passenger car, and this is where that V-8 engine you mention came into play. The V-8 T603-engine had previously been developed and tested on the race track in Tatra experimental race cars. It was used in the new Tatra-603, and went on sale in 1955 and remained in production until 1975. In its 18 years of sales, a total of 20,422 T-603s were built.

Founded in 1923 and nationalized by the Czech in 1945, Tatra continued to produce cars through 1999. However, today, Tatra still manufacturers a wide variety of heavy-duty all-wheel-drive trucks and buses, including 4x4, 6x6, 8x8, 10x10 and 12x12 vehicles.

Additionally, Tatra and Navistar (the latter a well-known Illinois-based company that used to build farm equipment and now builds great trucks, buses and diesels) introduced an ATX6 universal carrier and an ATX8 troop carrier. The vehicles appear to be based on Tatra T815-7 (T817) 6×6, 8×8 chassis suspension and cabins utilizing Navistar engines and components. Navistar Defense and Tatra will market these vehicles to the United States military and foreign military sales financed by the United States government.

Navistar is respected today for its International trucks, MaxxForce diesel engines, school and commercial buses and Workhorse brand chassis for motor homes and step vans.

Greg Zyla writes weekly for GateHouse Media and welcomes reader questions on old cars, auto nostalgia or old-time racing at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, PA 18840 or at