2010s / Czech / Tatra

News: Tatra could return to building passenger cars

ranwhenparked-zeithaus-tatra-87-1Unprecedented demand for its classic cars has led Czech Republic-based Tatra to consider returning to the automotive industry after a 17-year absence.

Tatra is different from other defunct automakers like Panhard and Checker because it continues to manufacture large, heavy-duty trucks. It consequently has access to a factory, to skilled workers, and to a full research and development department, all of which would greatly facilitate the Herculean task of designing and building a car. Additionally, the plant regularly works with clients to build one-off trucks, so it knows how to accommodate the often complicated requests of customers.

Precisely what the first Tatra car of the 21st century will look like is up in the air at this point. However, sources familiar with the company’s plans told Czech newspaper Ekonom that it will most likely be a replica of a past model like the 87 (pictured) or the T600, not a brand new car with a modern design. Interestingly, the paper points out that the T600 — also known as the Tatraplan — is being considered because it was introduced in 1948, and so few people remember seeing one on the road. Later models like the T613 were commonly used by the communist regime at the helm of the former Czechoslovakia, and they continue to carry a negative image today.

The story will be different under the sheet metal, where Tatra plans to source an existing chassis and proven mechanical components from a major automaker. Acquiring parts from outside of the company raises a few important questions: where will the engine be located, and what will the modern-day Tatra be powered by?

For decades, Tatra built large, highly aerodynamic sedans powered by an air-cooled V8 engine mounted right behind the passenger compartment. The air-cooled automotive engine has gone extinct, and rear-engined cars are few and far between today. The only ones still around are the tiny Renault Twingo (plus the smart fortwo/forfour models that it shares its platform with) and the iconic Porsche 911, but none of those can lend their platform to a sedan the size of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

Tatra executives will decide whether to move forward with the project early next year, according to Ekonom. If the project is approved, the first Tatra of the 21st century will carry a base price of approximately 100,000 euros, a sum that represents about $105,000 at the current conversion rate. Only time will tell if the model will be exported to the United States, where Tatra sold a small handful of cars from 1948 to 1968.

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