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Tatra a.s.




Web: http://www.tatra.cz
Address: Štefánikova 1163, Kopřivnice, 742 21 Czech Republic


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Parents: Terex (71%)


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Tatra a.s., a subsidiary of Terex, is a Czech car manufacturer.

The company is named after the Tatra mountains, a mountain range on the border of Poland and Slovakia.




Passenger cars

  • Tatra V570
  • Tatra T77
  • Tatra T77a
  • Tatra T87
  • Tatra T97
  • Tatra T107
  • Tatra T603
  • Tatra T600 [[wikipedia:Tatraplan|]Tatraplan]
  • Tatra T603
  • Tatra T613
  • Tatra T700


  • Tatra T813
  • Tatra T815


The company was founded in 1850 as a wagon and carriage manufacturer, and produced the first motor car in central Europe in 1897, the Präsident.

One source claims that Tatra is the third oldest [car maker] in the world after Daimler Mercedes-Benz and Peugeot. Production of Tatra cars ceased in 1999 but the company still produces a successful range of primarily all-wheel-drive trucks.


Prewar Streamliners

Tatra's specialty was luxury cars of a technically advanced nature. In the 1930s, under Austrian engineer Hans Ledwinka and his son Erich, Tatra started building advanced, streamlined cars starting with the large Tatra T77 in 1934, the world's first production aerodynamic car. The T77's drag coefficient of 0.212 is rarely bettered even by the sleekest modern cars. It featured, as did almost all subsequent big Tatras, a rear-mounted, air-cooled V8 engine, very technically sophisticated for the time.

Ledwinka discussed his ideas with Ferdinand Porsche who used many Tatra design features in the 1938 Kdf-Wagen, later known as the VW Beetle. This is particularly evident when compared with the smaller T97 model which had a rear-mounted, air-cooled, flat-4 engine and rounded body styling. Tatra immediately started legal action, but the matter was not resolved until 1961 when Volkswagen was ordered to pay 3,000,000 Deutsche Marks in damages.


War Years

After the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Nazi Germany, Tatras continued in production, largely because Germans liked the cars. Liked them too well, in fact; many German officers met their deaths when pushing heavy, rear-engined Tatras faster around corners than they could handle. In fact, the Tatra became known as the 'Czech Secret Weapon' for the scores of officers who died behind the wheel; at one point, it seems, official orders had to be issued forbidding German officers from driving Tatras.


Postwar Communist control

Postwar, Tatras continued to be built; the factory was nationalised in 1946 after the Communist takeover. Although production of prewar models continued, a new model, the Tatra T600 Tatraplan was designed -- the name celebrating the new Communist planned economy. It went into production in 1947.

In 1951, the state planning department decided that the Tatraplan should henceforth be built at the Skoda plant in Mladá Boleslav, leaving Tatra free to concentrate on trucks. This was quite unpopular with the workforce at both plants, as a result Skoda built Tatraplans for one year only before the model was discontinued in 1952. This left Czechoslovakia with no home-built luxury cars.


The Tatra T603

A mere three years later, amid much dissatisfaction among officialdom about the poor-quality official cars imported from Russia, Tatra was again given permission to produce a luxury car, the famous Tatra T603. A fair successor to the prewar cars, it was also driven by a rear-engined, air-cooled V8 and had the company's trademark aerodynamic styling. Uniquely, the Tatra T603 featured three headlights, and the first prototypes had a central rear stabilising fin, though this was lost for production. Fitted with almost American-style thick chrome bumpers with bullets, the Tatra T603 was an amazing looking car for 1955. Looks weren't all it had going for it; performance was spritely for a large, six-seater car, and the ride was smooth as glass. Almost entirely hand-built, Tatras were not for everybody; normal citizens could not buy them. They were reserved for Party elites, Communist officials, factory presidents and other notables, as well as being exported to most other Communist nations as official cars. Even Fidel Castro had a white Tatra T603, custom-fitted with air conditioning.

Tatra T603s were built until 1975, a twenty-year reign as Communism's finest car. Numerous improvements were made over this time, but not all the 'new' cars built in this period were actually new. When a new Tatra replaced an old, the old vehicle was returned to the factory. There, it was upgraded to modern condition, refinished, dubbed 'new' and sent out again as a putatively new vehicle to replace another older Tatra. This makes it hard to trace the history of surviving vehicles.


1970s Makeover—the Tatra T613

In 1968 a replacement was developed; the Tatra T613. It was styled by the Italian styling house of Vignale and was a more modern, less rounded shape. It wasn't until 1973 that any were actually produced by the factory, and volume production didn't begin until the following year. Although the shape was all new, the engine and layout remained the same, except for moving the engine somewhat forward to improve balance. These cars were built until 1996. It is a tribute to Vignale's excellent styling that they didn't look outdated until rather late in that time period. Over 11,000 cars were built, slowing to a trickle of but a few dozen a year towards the end as Tatras began to seem more and more outdated.


Final Steps, and the end

With orders and production almost at a standstill after the fall of Communism, Tatra decided to stop building the T613 in 1996. An attempt was made to produce an updated version, the T700; it was largely based on the old car, with updated body panels and detail. Sales were poor, and in 1999 Tatra abandoned the manufacture of cars.

No such fate has met Tatra's truck production, which is quite successful.

The American corporation Terex acquired the majority ownership (71%) of Tatra in late 2003.


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Related articles

Image:Wikipedia-small.png Wikipedia article about Tatra (search). This article uses material from that article.