Over the past month, I have been going region-to-region, starting in the Japan and headed West, picking my dream ‘classic car’, with the term ‘classic’ encompassing anything 25 years or older. So far, two of the cars have been representative of their country’s sporty side—the GT-R from Japan and the Vantage from England—while the American offering—the 55 Nomad—was more suited for comfortable cruising. There is a logic to this, as the sports cars were produced by small, compact countries, while the large Nomad was produced by the expansive United States of America. My choice from the sprawling, rough-terrain, USSR continues with this trend, as it is more suited for going from Dacha to factory; sedately, slowly, and comfortably. Produced from 1975 until 1996 in various forms, my dream car from the Soviet Union is the Tatra 613-2.
If you haven’t heard of Tatra, let alone the specific 613-2 model, you can be forgiven, as the car was a rare sight even behind the Iron Curtain. Tatra is a Czechoslovak automobile company, with a rich history of its own before the Soviet Union. Tatra was founded in 1850 as a carriage manufactuer, and produced the first automobile in Central Europe in 1897. Since then, Tatra has continuously produced vehicles of one sort or the other, being the 2nd longest continuously-running automobile factory in the world, behind Peugeot. In 1946, two years before Soviet-ization, Tatra became collectively owned, and afterwards, in the 50’s, released the 603-model sedan. This sedan featured a rear-engine, four doors, luxurious build quality, and a streamlined shape, setting many trends the company would continue to follow into its Soviet-era.
After the company was taken over by the Soviets, they were allowed to continue what they had been doing prior, with their products now going strictly to party and government officials, industry leaders, and certain emergency and official services, including the KGB. The 603 sedan was hand built, featuring solid construction, luxurious accommodations on par with Western offerings, and were supposed to feature a large (for Tatra) 3.5L air-cooled V8 engine in the rear. As this proved a technical challenge for Tatra, the 603 was sold instead with a civilized version of their 2.5L air-cooled V8. The 603 was produced from 1956 until 1962, with the 613 designed as a replacement.
Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that the end of 603 production was not in-line with the beginning of 613 production. This leads to an interesting side-note: to fill the time between production periods, Tatra took returned, early-model 603’s, and converted them to later body styles. As their existed three body styles, Tatra had plenty of old stock to work through, forever confusing restorers and historians in the future.
When the 613 was introduced in 1975, it was mainly an evolution of the 603 with two key differences; the engine and the body. The engine originally intended for the 603 had finally come to fruition, and the 613 was equipped with a 3.5L DOHC air-cooled V8, providing smoother, more ample power. The body had at this point also ditched its streamlined shape, instead opting for a Vignale designed body. Like the 603, the 613’s body would undergo three evolutions throughout production, to keep the looks in line with contemporary fashion. For me, my dream car is specifically the first body style produced, the 613-2, made from 1975-1984.
As a sucker for boxy cars, this iteration of the 613 ticks all the right boxes. If I were to describe the car to someone over the phone, it would be easiest to compare it to a contemporaneous Saab 900, albeit with a bit more junk in the trunk. The large glass area, combined with the four large, round headlights make for a handsome fascia, as well as an expansive-looking view. The aforementioned ‘junk in the trunk’ is of course the air cooled powerplant, in this body style a 160hp dual-carbureted DOHC V8 displacing 3.5L. This engine was high-tech for Tatra at the time, however just as the body would receive updates to stay competitive—or at least livable, since competition wasn’t that big in the USSR—the engine also received updates. The major upgrade was fuel-injection, which improved reliability, power, and fuel economy. In the first update, this brought a power increase to 200hp, with final 90’s-vintage engines producing as much as 240hp, always being sent to the rear-wheels.
Since this is a ‘dream car’ I get to play around a bit with the engine configuration of my prime example—just as I did with the Nomad. In the case of the Tatra 613-2—later models are designated by a -3 or -4 following the 613—I would keep the same powerplant, but upgrade it to later spec, bringing fuel-injection, 240hp, and a more civilized nature. No matter the engine trim, all 613’s were sold with a 4-speed fully-synchromesh manual gearbox. In the case of the 613’s gearbox, the 4th gear was essentially an overdrive gear, enabling better NVH at cruising speeds. Also, standard on all 613’s sold were two large, gas-powered heaters. In the cold winters that grip much of the old USSR, these heaters not only ensured a comfortable cabin for whichever VIP happened to be in the cab, they also ensure the air-cooled engine is able to reach operating temperatures.
What makes the 613-2—remember, that is the early one—such a desirable car for me, so much so that I would label it a dream car? There are a few factors involved, almost all stemming from the country of origin, and their ideological system. As I am in the US of A, chances are absolutely no one would have ever seen one in person, let alone even know what the vehicle is. Hopefully, this would lead to questions at gas pumps and the like, at which point I could delve into the cars Eastern Bloc history—another factor I enjoy. The last, and main, factor of my desire for the car is the simple weirdness of the cars design: an Italian-designed body, four-doors encapsulating luxury, and a rear-engine, small displacement, air-cooled V8 to power it all through a manual gearbox. Everywhere you look on this car, there is a story to be had, a question to ask, and details to ponder.
Disagree with my choice? Well too bad, because it is my dream car! You are more than likely to tell me your dream car though, as well as any questions right down there in the comments. Remember to like and share the article as well. This concludes my dream classic car list by geographical region, and next week I will pick the dreamiest of my dream cars. Which one do you think it will be?
I recently recieved a degree in History from the University of Nevada, Reno.