The Ultimate Rear-Engined Sedans: Tatra T613 And T700
Looking at the VW EA128 concept instantly brings to mind that ultimate and final expression of the rear-engine sedan, the Czech Tatra T613. Introduced in 1974, it was a direct descendant of the T603, which in turn replaced the T600 and T87, dating back to the thirties ( my Tatra history is here).
The T613 was styled by Vignale of Italy, and had 3.5 and 4.3 liter DOHC aircooled V8s out back. As with all big Tatras, they were built in small numbers for the party bigwigs and industry bosses. After the collapse of the Iron Curtain, Tatra tried unsuccessfully to export, and compete with the German luxury brands.
This picture shows the extended version, with a highly luxurious rear compartment. Like Porsche, Tatra developed the rear-engined formula for long enough to overcome most of its quirks, but it was essentially a living fossil, although much loved and coveted by the loyal Tatra fans.
The T613 finally petered out in 1996, replaced by a less-than-successfully face-lifted version, the T700. Built only in very small numbers, it lasted until 1999. The direct lineage to the T77 of 1934 makes the big Tatras undoubtedly one of the longest continuously built cars. Just think: a dozen years ago, you could have bought a new Tatra instead of…
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Just for the record, Tatra cars were never their sole product. They started out as a maker of horse-drawn vehicles and produced their first car in 1897, making them the third-oldest active automaker after Daimler-Benz and Peugeot. The big cars we know about. The T600 Tatraplan was supposed to be their mainstream postwar model but the Commies decided to have Skoda build it, thus freeing Tatra to concentrate on trucks, buses and railroad equipment. Neither company (by then both nationalized) liked the idea and the T600 soon fell by the wayside. And yes, Tatra started building big cars again because Czech officials were dissatisfied with the Soviet crap. Apparently it's hard to find production numbers because many of them were reconditioned and put back into service. Tatra continues to build all-wheel-drive trucks.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that Tatra would one day be considered a classic in the West. They were widely used as cabs (and still probably are) and above all official company cars in Czechoslovakia. Czech technology used to be among the very best in the world. A friend of mine used in his job Czech wood working machinery built in the late 1800 (189-something) in a Sheraton hotel in Toronto just a few years ago.