The Tatra 603 may be the only car that was built for distinct elite, had sales politically regulated, and starred in films.
The 603 was built by Tatra, an automobile manufacturer in the country that was formerly Czechoslovakia. Following the communist takeover, the government issued an order to Tatra to design and manufacture a car that would be suitable for official use. The car must seat six people with an engine capacity not in excess of 3.6.
The result was a large four-door sedan with a 2472 cc cast aluminum, V8 engine that was mounted in the rear behind rear swinging half axles. The engine was air cooled by oil coolers. It had a top speed of 158 kh. The transmission was located under the steering wheel and the gearbox was mounted in the rear.
The 603 had front and rear bench seats each of which would comfortably seat three people. A large luggage compartment was under the hood of the car.
The all round independent suspension and soft coil springs provided a comfortable ride.
The 603 featured large windows on the front, sides, and rear. In the original model, there are three front headlamps mounted under a plastic cover. This is the 603-1. The body was modified twice thereafter.
A fourth headlamp was added to the 603-2 and the lamps were flanked by an oval grill. The 603-3 dispensed with the grill and mounted the headlamps flush with the front.
Only one car was produced in 1955 and it was introduced to the public at the 1955 International Six Day Motorevent in Zlin. Nine additional cars were built in 1956.
When serial production began in 1957, only two cars per day could be completed as the car was crafted almost entirely by hand.
Prime Minister Vaclav Kopecky received one of the first T603's manufactured, probably due to his unwavering support throughout its conception and creation. Without this, the 603 may never have been born.
In 1958 some minor improvements were made. Tatra enlarged the rear wheel openings, changed the door catches and installed chrome fins on the air intake. They also enlarged the ventilation openings and improved the air intake.
In 1959, a white T603 won a Golden Ribbon in Wesbagen, Germany awarded on the basis of its style, appearance and overall elegance.
Sales within Czechoslovakia were restricted to senior members of political organizations and certain industries. The 603 was also exported to other countries in Eastern Europe including Germany and Russia, again for official use only. Then, in 1960, when Fidel Castro joined the Communist Bloc, he was given a white T603 equipped with air conditioning.
The 603 was virtually unknown on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Communist political philosophies prohibited any sales to capitalist countries. A few were brought into Western countries to serve Czech embassies and were left behind when the officials departed. Some were abandoned after exhibition in motor shows.
The 603 was the sinister sedan in the film, "A Series of Fortunate Events." It also appeared in 16 other movies.
Between the years of 1955 and 1975, a total of 20,422 cars were produced, almost entirely built by hand. Today, the 603 is a classic and is highly sought after by car collectors.