The Tatra 603 is a large luxury car produced by the Czechoslovak company Tatra from 1956 to 1975. It was a continuation of the series of Tatra streamlined sedans started by the Tatra 77. In Communist Czechoslovakia only high ranking party officials and heads of factories were driven in 603s; the car was also exported to a number of other countries.
In 1953 the communist government got fed up with delays in delivery of Soviet cars as well as with their poor quality and they ordered development of a new luxury Tatra, thus giving legitimacy to the team's previous work. The new car was to have a 3.5-litre air-cooled eight-cylinder engine, and it was to be ready for production by the end of 1954. While the chassis was almost ready due to the work on Valuta, the engine remained an issue. Even in their secret designs nobody had anticipated such a large engine. Engineer Julius Mackerle proposed a "temporary" solution of using the already developed 2.5-litre T603 engine in the new car (it was already successfully used in Tatra racecars and Tatra 87-603, while the larger one was supposed to be ready in the next 4–5 years.
The first driveable T603 was finished in 1955. A number of body designs were tested in wind-tunnels. In the end the one proposed by František Kardas and fine-tuned by Vladimír Popelář and Josef Chalupa was chosen for production.
Three versions of the model T603 were manufactured successively between 1956 and 1975. These cars are designated T603, T 2-603 and T 3-603, though the 3- was not an official designation used by Tatra.
The T603-1 is easily distinguished by its three headlamps enclosed beneath a clear glass cover.
In 1962 the 2-603 was launched. Four headlamps were mounted within a long oval grille and the dashboard was changed. The rear track was increased by 55 mm and the engine was modernized.
In 1966 the car got power brakes, while in 1967 other changes were added: for example the windshield's height was enlarged by 66 mm.
The unofficial -3 (or Tatra 2-603 II) omits the grille and places the headlamps flush with the car's front fascia. The car got disk brakes on all four wheels and was officially changed to a five-seater for legal reasons (from 1968 the safety belts became obligatory for passengers on front seats).
In 1973 the T603 became the first Czechoslovak car with contactless thyristor ignition.
To complicate matters, as model T603s were returned to the factory to be exchanged for "new" model T603s, the older cars would be disassembled and rebuilt to the current styling. These cars were then returned to use as "new" T603's. As a result, most T603s are of the later -3 styling, regardless of their original production date.
Length: cm (in): 507 (199.4)
Width: cm (in): 191 (75.2)
Height: cm (in): 155 (61)
Wheelbase: cm (in): 275 (108.3)
Weight: kg (lb): 1420 (3131)
Displacement: V8 2545 cc (155 cu in),air-cooled, rear-mounted