Iron Curtain joyride

There are few old car films quite as surprising and joyous as this unlikely clip from 1962 Czechoslovakia, featuring the amazing abilities of the Tatra 603.

It’s so good, it just has to be shared as widely as possible.

The Tatra 603 was an odd high-end vehicle manufactured in limited numbers for Communist Party officials and other ruling-class members from 1956 to 1975. Powered by a 2.5-litre, air-cooled V-8 mounted behind the rear wheels, the car was blessed with unusual traction and handling capabilities.

Yes, this Eastern Bloc sedan seems to be able to do it all – slalom, jumps, mountain-climbing, rollovers, river-fording – all while keeping its impeccably dressed occupants comfortable and safe.

Not speaking Czech, I’m not quite sure what’s going on in this tale, but the words on the covered-up license plate would probably shed some light. I assume a father, his daughter and their chauffeur are going joyriding, shake their cop tail, then pretend Mr. White Gloves is a stuntman when the heat catches up.

Sporty and subversive all at once.

The original promotional clip, titled ‘Happy Journeys,’ runs about 12 minutes. The joy of this clip is that the skillful driving (and editing) of the original film is boiled down to its essence and mashed with an uplifting pop song that seems custom made for the Tatra’s soundtrack.

Watch and enjoy, and marvel at the car that does it all. By the end of the five-or-so minutes, you’ll be wishing you were behind the wheel of one of these superhuman Cold War sedans. I found the design of the fastback car – with its upside down bathtub front and bizarre headlight configuration – grew on me before long.

Like the front, the rear end of the Tatra 603 was charmingly unique (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Like the front, the rear end of the Tatra 603 was charmingly unique (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

The film seems timed to introduce the second version of the 603, which came out in 1962 and featured two conjoined pods of two recessed headlights each. The initial model had three headlights (the middle one turned with the wheel) located in the centre of the front end, while the third model (1968-) pushed apart the headlight pods to their normal locations.

Tatra, which started life as (wait for it) Nesselsdorfer Wagenbau-Fabriks-Gesellschaft A.G., was a central European carriage maker in the mid-19th Century and produced its first gas-powered automobiles in 1897.

A long line of successful vehicles followed, including the radical, streamlined Tatra 77, introduced in 1934. Designed with the help of an aeronautical engineer who had worked at Germany’s Luftschiffbau Zeppelin company, the 77 was an ultramodern vehicle incorporating a tube frame, lightweight alloys, and an advanced, rear-mounted V-8.

Though the company still manufactures heavy trucks, the last Tatra passenger car – the T700 sedan – ceased production in 1999. Throughout the company’s history its car sales remained pretty regional, with no buyer uptake occurring in western Europe – even after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

This makes all Tatras, including the shapely 603, rare beasts on any road or at any car show. Which is a shame – not only are they unique, just look at how much fun their occupants can have!