Rare Rides: The 1971 Tatra 2-603 II, East Germany's Stasi Transport
Today’s Rare Ride has a checkered history, as it served as quiet shuttle for secret police and terrorist spies alike. Let’s find out more about this rear-engine Czechoslovakian V8 luxury car.
Tatra is one of the world’s oldest builders of vehicles. Founded as a business in 1850, it grew into a car manufacturer in 1897. From that time until 1999 it built interesting and usually luxurious passenger cars for civilians, as well as military and commercial trucks. It still builds trucks today, though it leaves behind a long history of creatively engineered cars — like this 2-603 II.
The original 603 entered production in 1956 as new entrant to the brand’s streamlined sedans, a series that started with the 77. Debuting in 1934, Tatra’s 77 is considered by many to be the world’s first aerodynamically-designed production car. Continuing the 77’s rear-engine, rear-drive format, the 603 was developed in secret.
The communist Czech government decided Tatra would build only trucks after 1952, but engineers and designers had other ideas, starting work on a new sedan in secret. A year later, after the luxury cars the government ordered from the USSR were slow to arrive, the government changed its mind about Tatra’s business. Czech officials ordered Tatra to start work on a new luxury car, meaning employees could safely reveal their homework.
The first 603 was a full-size 199 inches long, powered by a 2.5-liter air-cooled V8 (99 hp) of Tatra’s development. Given its size and company provenance, 603s were assigned solely to senior leadership of the Czech government and its industries. The sedans were also exported to Eastern Bloc allies and other friendly places like Cuba and China.
A development of the 603 arrived in 1962, thoughtfully called 2-603. Mostly visual refresh, it used the same power as the first generation. The dashboard was revised, carry-over engine upgraded to 104 horsepower, and the rear track was widened. Ultimately, the second 603 turned into the 2-603 II in 1968. The unique front end was rearranged once again, disc brakes appeared at all four corners, and it was declared that the 603 should hold five people instead of four.
Tatra muddied the timeline of its 603 a bit with its production schemes. Cars were returned to the company after becoming well-used in order to be exchanged for new 603s. Often, instead of replacing the car entirely, Tatra’s factory did a sort of restomod. They tore down the used 603s, then built them up again with contemporary styling. The cars were then returned to their high-ranking owners as new. This recycling meant few 603s made it out of history with their styling intact; most look like the final 1968-onward 603. The early Fifties design remained in production through 1975.
Our Rare Ride was built late in the 603’s story. A 1971 example, it was delivered to the Ministry for State Security — the Stasi — in East Germany. Immediately put into diplomatic use, the Stasi assigned it to their friend, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), a group the United States and Israel considered terrorists until 1991. The 603 lived a covert life, wafting spies between East and West Germany, and served the PLO through 1980. Eventually it was restored and shipped to Chicago. It awaits sale in sinister black over bordello. Price available upon request.
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- FreedMike All 35 units, eh?
- Kwik_Shift Good looking wagon.
- Kwik_Shift I'm kind of excited to check one out. Local dealers are anticipating 3 months for the first one to come in.
- Jkross22 We're all being a little unfair to GM. It could be worse. They could have partnered with Microsoft to deliver RT - that wonderful tablet OS that couldn't run any legacy MS products - and brought it to the car. Or Win 95 and Clippy.
- JMII The change could help GM better collect data from its drivers and passengers, and it could also be used as a foundation if GM decides to charge for subscription services.Could? Like the sun *could* set in the west today?Things didn't so well when BMW tried to charge for this service. This will go VERY badly for GM. Can you imagine the customer service calls?Customer: hello I am trying to hook up my phone to my new car but it isn't workingGM: we offer Google services nowCustomer: ok I use Google all the time, but how do get the stuff on my phone to show on the screen?GM: its doesn't work that way, your phone is not involved at all, just enter all your personal information again into our system and we will manage it for youCustomer: ummm... my [insert name of competitive vehicle here] doesn't work that way.GM: but we've made it easier for youCustomer: seriously, you don't support Apple nor Android? Guess I shouldn't have bought this POS, I'll be sure to tell all my friends to never buy a GM product, have a nice day.GM: ...This ultra-mega-dumb even for GM. I assumed if anything moving forward technology wise more OEMs would stop developing their own systems as a cost savings measure and just let the phone OS handle everything. Seems data collection is more important. Well as long as TikTok isn't installed we are safe right?
I'm noticing in the rear bumper there's hole neatly aligned with engine to stick a crank into for a hand start. How many other '71s had that?
Hooning about in your Tatra with your girl and best Stasi buddy, even getting some air: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VD_1oGmOnFI