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It's the start of the 2014 Pebble Beach Tour d'Elegance. The car in front of my T603 is a 1941 "Grosser" 770K Mercedes. Hitler was driven in one of these and his reputedly sold to some Russian billionaire for USD 6M. I'm not sure what this one is worth, but you don't find cars of this caliber on eBay. To the right is a Tatra 77. My educated guess pegs this at least at $ 1.5M. This was the top Tatra of our group and a featured car at the 2014 Concours. It sat in the coveted position by the ocean reserved for the very top cars, along with a 1936 Mercedes streamliner. It was shipped from Europe and back specifically for the Pebble Beach Concours. Participation at this event is by invitation only and top collectors from all over the world line up to get in. Spots are limited, so for each car that gets in, many are rejected.
The point is that with this T603, you play in the big league! This is very unusual for a sub-$100k car! The pragmatic take-away is that you're very likely to get invited to other Concours and exclusive vintage car events with an ex-Pebble Beach car.
Straps - This photo shows the first imperfection. In this case - deviation from original. These two straps hold up the swing axles. The originals ripped recently (at almost the same time!), so I simply replaced them with these bright yellow straps widely available in local hardware stores. Replacement parts are readily available for the T603 in the Czech Republic. However, as these straps are normally not visible under the car and they fulfill their functional purpose, I wasn't planning to order proper replacements until I needed to make a big order for my other Tatras.
Oil leak - Even though this is a New Original Stock (NOS) transaxle, the gear selector shaft seal leaks. I have friends with recently renovated T603s who also complain about this. Yes, this is an annoyance, so I keep a drip tray/cardboard under the car and live with this (now for 11 years). Once a year I refill the oil level as needed. The leak is small.
Original CarpetType your paragraph here.
4. The "Great Stuff" ----- Like-new Mechanicals
Above two photos: Note flap position for cold (left) and hot (right) engine operation. "Hot" position shown in rear photos below.
6. A Special Characteristic of this Tatra 603 - the pragmatic effect of "Pedigree"
The following photo nicely sums up the bottom line with this Tatra 603. Clearly, this is not a picture from a local or regional car show. ........
This was my best Tatra. Ironically, I bought it in 2006 to make it into a custom. Fortunately, I didn't have the time to start that project! In the meantime, the T603s shot up in popularity and value. Back then, I bought the best one I could find to avoid repairs before even starting custom modifications. Little did I know how times would change - it would take me to Pebble Beach instead of the Grand National Roadster Show! Today, it would be a crime to cut up such a preserved example and I now have two other cars for the custom project.
Events of recent years confirmed this car as one of the premier T603s in North America and even the world: Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in 2014, Arizona Concours in January 2015, and a nice finish with exhibitors’ “Best of Show” at the Concours-in-the-Hills in February 2015. It attracts attention even at the most elite venues. (See Pebble Beach photo with Jay Leno below. This T603 was one of only a handful of Pebble Beach cars featured on his 2014 Monterey TV special.)
Yes, this is perhaps too much detail. ....... But we're now starting to draw a comparison to new cars when it comes to mechanical parts. This is a "one up" on most "unrestored survivors" where the cosmetics are still nice, but the mechanicals are dubious.
T603s were chauffeur-driven and provided only to high-ranking officials. The T603s embodied the word “exclusive” like no contemporary limousine in the West; you had to hold a high office to get a Tatra. As such, T603s are now difficult to find even in their home country. Tatras represent an era when Czechoslovakia was the world’s 7th or 8th strongest economy and one of the most industrialized countries overall on a per capita basis. The first Tatras were made when the Czech lands were the industrial heartland of a WW1 superpower – Austria-Hungary. The T603 was the last of the original Tatra streamliners. It's also a relic from the Cold War. The T603 is to the Czech and Slovak car collector what every musclecar, Corvette, 50's Chevy, Cadillac, etc. is to their North American counterpart. That’s why they are now highly sought-after by wealthy domestic collectors and why some were recently repatriated to their homeland.
For its time, the T603 was a very modern car. It won a design award at the 1959 Wiesbaden motor show and had 4-wheel power disk brakes by 1969. It was powered by a 2.5 L air-cooled hemi V8. The state-owned tire manufacturer (Barum) even produced a tire only for the T603. As such, it was the only car at the time to have a tire made specifically and only for it.
2. History of This T603
This Tatra is one of the best known and internationally displayed T603s. It represented the last T603 series at the 2014 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. It was the only Tatra at the 2015 Arizona Concours d’Elegance. It then won exhibitors’ “Best of Show” at the 2015 Concours-in-the-Hills in Fountain Hills, Arizona with over 400 elite collector cars present, including 40+ Porsches and 20+ Ferraris and notably a Bugatti Veyron, Porsche 918 and Ferrari Enzo! It is part of what’s likely North America’s third largest Tatra collection and was imported by its current owner from Slovakia in 2006. In Slovakia, it appeared in a couple of period films and was on display in their capital city’s (Bratislava) Transportation Museum (see photo below). There were additional appearances, media coverage and articles about this car under both current and previous ownership but the above are most notable.
Fountain Hills, Arizona
Arizona Concours d'Elegance
Paint artifacts - The original paint is a bonus that unfortunately comes with inherent glitches! According to the previous owner, who is a recognized Tatra expert, the car has original factory paint. (Nitrocellulose lacquer - as I recall while writing this.) Although the paint shows very well and has phenomenal shine, there are small cracks and other evidence that the paint is very old when you look closely. This type of paint buffs out well and the reason it's so shiny is that I spent 2-1/2 full days hand-buffing and waxing it before Pebble Beach in 2014!
These two photos show the largest crack in the paint. The good news is, it's been there since I bought the car from Ondrej in 2006 and has not progressed. By the way, note the mirror-like image on the detail photo. It's hard to see the crack (by my finger) among the reflected objects in the background. When I bought the car, Ondrej kept stressing that the preserved original paint and interior are two big features that make this car unique. . and that I should appreciate this. I didn't have the heart to tell him I had visions of a lowered custom with metallic paint and a redone interior! Ten years later, I'm passing on his wise words!
Incidentally, the paint and whole car are so well preserved because it's always been garaged and, under my ownership, saw rain only three times - going to the Arizona Concours in 2015, as spectators only in 2017 and coming back from Russo & Steele in 2016. Fortunately only light rain in Arizona.
An automotive enigma from behind the Iron Curtain.
A hand-made limousine that breaks the rules of free market car production and design!
Air-cooled hemi V8 in the rear and 4-wheel disk brakes in 1969!
This is a period Czechoslovakian military uniform that could have been worn by an officer driven in a T603. I sometimes wear a similar uniform to shows to keep with the T603's theme.
Now that we've dealt with the glitches, let's look at detail photos that should hopefully give you a good understanding of the car's condition. These show the like-new condition of NOS parts installed by the previous owner.
Collector car insurance company Hagerty provides an excellent valuation tool, along with other support to the collector car hobby. This is the link to their valuation tool:
In case the link doesn't work, the Hagerty Valuation Tool can be Googled.
7. Hagerty Valuation Tool
This is likely the cleanest non-restored Tatra 603 anywhere. It has competed with multi-million-dollar classics and exotics at some of the most prestigious and exclusive events.
5. Various Photos
1. Tatra - Some History
This is an unlikely and not very glamorous photo to start with. I came upon it almost by accident - while looking at various underside photos taken recently. I remember it was a hard photo to take as you have to get in close and it's dark in there. If you use a flash, it whites everything out. (I used a lamp as fill-in light.)
This is also an overlooked area that is never cleaned - and I'm guilty too. You can see the dust on the side and some dry grass or lint in the corner. But this is THE definitive photo for judging the true condition of a car - one in an obscure area that can't be "disguised/patched" and reveals how solid a car truly is.... or is not. This is the mount for the passenger's side rear trailing arm. The rubber bushing is pristine and so is the flange. All metal is solid. Bolts look like someone installed them last week. Everything looks new - or at least the same as it did when Ondrej installed the whole NOS transaxle/brakes/suspension more than a decade ago! The rough/textured black coating is what they used back then in Czechoslovakia. The messy/drippy stuff is grease that protects this assembly. The previous owner did everything to a high standard. Ondrej is an engineer and the Technical VP or Director (translation issue) of a large Slovakian HVAC company. He is a respected Tatra guru on the Czech/Slovak internet Tatra sites. In our various discussions, he's advised me not just on tuning T603s and T613s, but also on the lubricating characteristics of various greases and oils that were well over my head - and I too am an engineer.
The take-away message from this photo is this - "is there another T603 with original paint and interior, yet with all major mechanicals like new?" This car has the best of both worlds.
(Tip - Look in this location and in the front foot-wells for rust if inspecting a T603! Neglected cars are rusted through in these areas.)
It is an unrestored survivor, though parts of the undercarriage and engine were repainted in recent years. The exterior paint retains great shine but shows some signs of its age and some spots were also retouched. The interior fabric and trim is in very good condition. There is some wear on the driver’s seat. This seat material has not been available for years, so restored cars have substitute material. This is likely one of a very few cars left in this unrestored good condition with an original interior.
Tatra is the world’s third oldest existing car manufacturer and pioneer of the air-cooled rear-engined design. It even won a lawsuit against VW for patent infringement after World War 2. With this legacy and its revolutionary pre-war streamliners, it’s probably the most historically significant marque that most people never heard of!
In the post-war era, this innovative Czechoslovakian marque produced limousines exclusively for senior levels of the Eastern Block’s ruling apparatus. The Type 603 (T603) was built from 1957 to 1975. It was hand-made in low quantities using processes that would be cost-prohibitive for a free-market car manufacturer. Unlike regular East European people's cars, the T603 was not sold to the public and the average person could not even get near one, never mind own one.
The second photo jumps to the driver's side and continues with the NOS parts theme. Here you see the same mount on the far right - in same condition. Note the pristine condition of the rubber donut under the spring, the clean writing on the NOS shock and the like-new brake lines. Now picture having to replace old rotten rubber and rusty brake lines on an outwardly cosmetically "nice" car with worn-out mechanicals!
Unfortunately, I no longer own the above T603. It is now owned by a famous automotive personality who was once the team manager of McLaren's F1 program. While the Tatra got driven sparingly and only during great weather under my ownership, he made it earn its keep by exercising it on a cross-USA rally right after he bought it! But first, he had his private mechanic thoroughly go through it. (Flew him out from the UK to California to do this!) Although the previous owner in Slovakia installed NOS parts at all four corners as noted above, the rear shocks needed replacing. Also, I found one of the front calipers seized-up just before it left my ownership. This again proves that sitting for prolonged periods is not good for a car! Both this T603 and my T613 were fine while up north, but after sitting for a few months in the Phoenix heat, both had one caliper stick. Weird! I would've thought damp cool air would be worse for rust than dry hot air - unless the heat dries the seals and then moisture gets in?
(not kept in
3. Some Imperfections
Seat wear - This is the glitch that bothers me the most - the result of almost 50 years of wear on the original driver's seat. Except for these spots, the rest of the seat (and other seats) are fine. When I take the car to a show, I put my period Czechoslovak officer's hat here to cover this up.
The sad part is that these are the original seats with the original fabric - which is no longer available. If you'll search the web for renovated T603s with perfect seats, they all have the non-original substitute fabric with the heavier weave. So this is 'patina' that will stay to preserve originality.
Odometer shows mileage of about 20,000 km (~12,500 miles). This is not the full mileage since 1969, which is indeterminate. The engine was replaced with a factory replacement unit as denoted by its serial number. It runs well and doesn’t burn oil.
The previous owner was a past president of the Slovak Tatra Club and is a respected Tatra collector and expert. He installed a New Original Stock (NOS) transaxle, clutch, brake system and wheel hub assemblies (front and rear) – so significant mechanicals are like new with only a few thousand kilometers under his and current ownership. He upgraded the gas heater to a later (T613) unit, which is safer and a viable update for the T603s. He also upgraded the electronic ignition to the later higher-power T613 unit that was also used on the very last T603s (the later control module is visually identical to the earlier unit).