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Classic Profile: 1978 Tatra 613

Jay Ramey August 27, 2012 All Things Hoon 33 Comments

tatra 613 front

During the summer you may see a lot of rare cars at car shows, perhaps ones that you’ve only seen a couple times before or never at all, like a Citroen GS or an Alfa Romeo Montreal. But chances are, you probably haven’t seen too many cars from Eastern Europe.

Even if you’ve previously heard of Tatra, and this being Redusernab I’m going to assume that you’ve been absentmindedly sketching Tatras during meetings at work for the last decade, you may not be aware that Tatra is one of the world’s oldest auto manufacturers, producing cars since 1897. You may also not have heard that Tatra took first, second, and third places at the 1925 Targa Florio in their category, or that their trucks dominated Paris-Dakar throughout the 1980s and 1990s, alongside KamAZ trucks. But this being Redusernab, I suspect a lot of you are already fully fluent in Tatra and KamAZ model indexes, and already know a lot about Hans Ledwinka’s streamlined, rear-engined masterpieces. Today, we’re going to take a ride in one of Tatra’s later cars, the 613.

 The Tatra 613 essentially took over from the role of the teardrop-shaped Tatra 603 in Eastern Bloc countries, where it served largely as a government and company sedan. Retaining a rear-mounted V8 engine, with a displacement of 3.5 liters, the 613 was designed by Carrozzeria Vignale in the late 1960s. The 613 was Tatra’s modern response to the criticisms leveled against its predecessor, which was sometimes seen as being too baroque.

The 613 entered production in 1974, and lasted until 1997 when it was replaced by its ill-fated successor, the T700, which was essentially a heavily facelifted version of the 613. Production from year to year was uneven, peaking in the high hundreds per year, and bottoming out in merely dozens. A total of five or six different generations of the 613 were made, depending on how you count them.

tatra 613 side 

Riding in the 613, the car behaves extremely well, with the 4-wheel independent suspension readily soaking up even the biggest potholes. The ride is soft and controlled, though not overly floaty. The air-cooled V8 sits just above the rear axle, and is mated to a 4-speed manual gearbox.

“So this is the first series, which was called the chromka?” I ask Ivo Slezak, the car’s owner since 2005 when he brought it in from Slovakia.
“Yeah, the first two were called, chromka, all that means is chrome” Ivo says, referring to the headlights and front fascia.
“And later they had the black plastic grille?”
“Yeah, from the 3rd generation on they had the black plastic grille”

tatra 613 traveling

Ivo’s first-gen example is from 1978, which were made from 1974 till roughly 1980, and is essentially an unrestored original. “I am the fourth owner, and it was sold in November or December of 1978, a construction company had it. They had it for a few years, then it went into private hands, so it’s just kind of a preserved original. Sixty-six thousand kilometers, probably the 3rd or 4th time around.”
“Did these ever get injection?” I ask Ivo.
“Yup, the 5th generation. Probably not too many, and I don’t want one of those.”

Most Tatras came in black, though it’s not clear what the color of this Tatra was originally. This example received a somewhat amateur repaint in Slovakia some time before Ivo bought it. Nevertheless, it tends to complement the interior nicely.

tatra 613 rear

The engine bay is very uncluttered, with the 3.5 liter 170bhp V8 sitting above the rear axle if its on display on shelf. This position is amazingly versatile for maintenance, as the engine is not drowning in an array of wires, but is pretty much in front of you. This rear to mid-mounted engine placement also gives the car an amazing 45/55 weight distribution. The twin 6-volt batteries are in the trunk up front, in front of the front wheel-wells. The room in the trunk up front can only be described as cavernous. The 613 is also far less affected by its rear-engined configuration than its predecessors, which suffered from a somewhat unwarranted reputation for tricky handling. But even an FWD Citroen with the engine behind the front axle, or a Porsche for that matter, can be induced to unload the rear axle in a turn and come around and slap you in the face if you’re not careful.

tatra 613 engine

The cabin feels very solid and very well put together, a sense one really experiences only in bespoke British sedans. And that’s what the Tatra is after all, as all examples were handbuilt to the highest standards. So it’s no surprise that a 34-year old car with over 100K on the clock still doesn’t have a single creak or rattle in the interior. Its closest relatives, from the standpoint of manufacturing approach, if not layout or engineering, were the large handbuilt Russian V8 sedans of the 1970s and 80s, like the ZiL 114, ZiL 117, and the GAZ 13 and 14.

tatra 613 interior

The Tatra 613 occupied an interesting niche among sedans made throughout the Eastern Bloc nations. At first glance it was a V8-powered saloon, but at the same time it was just as adept at being a police car as a chauffeured bureaucratic limo. Size-wise, the 613 is just barely bigger than a GAZ 24 Volga but smaller than a GAZ 14 Chaika (how’s that for a useful size reference?), and is somewhat smaller in person than it’s design profile or photographs suggest. The Russian V8 sedans like the GAZ 14 and the entire ZiL range were used almost entirely as limousines or motorcade escort cars. The USSR itself, strangely enough, did not produce a V8 powered sedan (with the exception of the ultra-rare GAZ 2424) that was suited to the dual role of a large police car and a government limousine. Though, to be fair, not too many 613s were used by Veřejná Bezpečnost, Czechoslovakia’s police force. VB tended to use more modest means of transport. In the USSR, Tatra 613s were sometimes purchased as police escort cars for government motorcades, alongside Mercedes-Benz W116 and W126 S-klasses and BMW 7ers in Milicija (Russian police) livery that shadowed the ZiLs. But the bulk of 613s were purchased by Eastern Bloc government ministries and embassies alongside Volvos and GAZes.

A little over 8,900 examples of the 613 were built between 1974 and 1997, though by the 90s production had dropped significantly. The influx of foreign cars into the newly independent Czech Republic and Slovakia had virtually wiped out government demand for Tatras, though it’s probably a stretch to say that the 613 had enjoyed much demand from private individuals to begin with, given the fact that these cost three times as much as a GAZ 24 Volga when new. In fact, the government of Czechoslovakia even passed a law in the late 1970s that effectively ended private sales of the 613, ending Tatra’s plans of making as many as 1,500 cars a year.

tatra 613 trunk

So what’s it like owning a Tatra in the US? And by that I don’t mean the facepalmingly predictable refrain or verdict often heard by owners of any rare furrin’ or non-muscle cars that usually goes like “But whereya gonna get parts fer it?”

“That’s a loaded question” Ivo says.  “I never order parts cause I have so many of them at home. When I go [to the Czech Republic], I bring something over, but I keep bringing less and less cause the prices go up, and they are getting more and more rare.” The 613 accrued only 15,000 miles since Ivo bought it in 2005, though it’s hardly needed any work at all. “I really haven’t done anything to it. I cleaned the carburetors, did the clutch, and put it back in.”

You would be forgiven for assuming that most remaining 613s are in the Czech Republic, which was also my first hunch, but it turns out they’re not really popular as collector cars over there.
“Because the tax structure is based on displacement” Ivo says with dismay.
“Even for classic cars, there’s no exemption?” I ask.
“No. There are clubs in the country, and they have a following, but its really just a handful of individuals. I would say the majority are out of the country, Germany and England, mostly.” Which sort of makes sense if you think back to your huge pile of British car magazines, as they have a somewhat more favorable economic and legal climate for classic cars.

“The reason why this guy [previous owner] sold it – it became too expensive for him to run.” Ivo explains.
“Well, the fuel consumption must be…?”
“I do about 20 miles per gallon” Ivo says. “If I’m careful. But stomping around in the city, it probably goes down to 15.”
“That’s still pretty good for a V8 from the 1970s!” I exclaim, somewhat surprised.  
“Like I say: taxes, insurance, are all based on displacement, so it doesn’t go down with age.”
“So it must be a real killer for classic cars then?”
“Yeah, though insurance is better for vintage, but they put so many roadblocks” Ivo explains.  “We’re just on totally diff wavelengths, us over here and them over there. You know if it was over there I would have to have my little logbook, and I would have to say: mileage such and such, taking the car out for a reporter, etc”
“Yeah, I can kinda see how Germany and Austria would be the major places for these” I conclude with a sigh.

Even though maintenance and parts are not as big a problem as it may seem at first, people’s reactions to the car can at times be less than charitable. “I’ve heard it all” Ivo says. And having spent a few minutes around a number of Volgas at classic car shows in New England, I think I know what he means. But Ivo takes pride in educating people about Tatras, and they often walk away completely converted from what their original position may have been.

tatra 613 rear quarter

“Do you meet a lot of people who know exactly what this is at shows?” I ask Ivo.
“No. For this one they guess Fiat, then Saab.”
“It was Vignale’s design, after all…” I offer.
“Volkswagen Dasher, I heard once. But mostly Fiat – the round emblem – that makes sense.” Ivo notes.
“How many of these do you think there are in the US?” I ask him.
“Ten to fifteen, maybe twenty” Ivo figures.
“Do you know a lot of the owners?
“Yeah – Jeff Lane!” Ivo laughs.
“He’s got a majority stake in 613s!” I reply.

Speaking of majority stakes, the 613 is not Ivo’s only classic Tatra, but he prefers using the 613 for rallies and long drives. “We took this one to Wisconsin this year, we did about five thousand kilometers with it. We started in Milwaukee, went around Wisconsin. We had fun, it was great. And then driving back, we did 500 miles a day. We took I-89, its more scenic than I-90.”  So how’s that for usability, for a handmade Czech government limo from the 1970s?

The bigger question is, do you want to drive Speed Channel-approved, SCM-covered, Arizona in January fare that your neighbor had back in the day, and both of your cousins’ dogs currently own? Or are you enough of a hoon to try something truly unique, something that will make a Citroen CX seem commonplace at the next classic event?

Click for a large gallery of the Tatra 613 from this article.

  • Yeah, more of this please. This is what I like best about the 'verse.

    I would expect a guy named Ivo to have a Tatra with four air-cooled V8s.

    • david42

      Bingo: this is the stuff that keeps me coming back to hooniverse. Reminds me of the good old days at Jalopnik.

  • Jay

    Stay tuned for more of Ivo's Tatras : )

  • Stu_Rock

    You're right about my Tatra love spilling out at the workplace. My officemates are probably some of the only non-car people in America who know what a Tatra is.

    • I saw an Ultra with the same paint scheme as yours with Nebraska plates in Fort Bragg!

      • Stu_Rock

        You've now seen as many as I have! There were only 176 of them from the factory.

  • mallthus

    I LOVE Tatras. Of course, I also love Saabs, Citroens and AMCs, so maybe I'm just a little bit broken.

    Wonder if the green velour seats are OEM. They're extra special (in that Soviet era way).

    I've got a soft spot for the T700 GT though…
    <img src="; width=600>

    • JayP2112

      Wow- that looks like someone built a car based off a -description-of an old Taurus.

      I'd love to see some videos just to hear what that V8 sounds like.

      • Syrax

        The audio is a bit high.[ sMEHHKdhmeE ]

        • Virago1000

          Hi Guys, how can we attach photos, videos?
          My friend, Otokar Dudas knows the history of THIS particular car, which is quite intersting … we 'd never think if cars could tell stories what they would tell.

          • Syrax

            I think only Youtube videos work, use the embed function at the top right. For images use this:
            <img src=";

    • buzzboy7

      Love the 700s. Something about just enough boxyness.

    • Vairship

      I'm sure the green velour seats were a one-off

      RIP – Kermit the Frog…

    • Syrax

      That GT seemed really long so I checked it. Never realized how big were these last Tatras.
      <img src=";

  • chrystlubitshi

    good lookin' saloon with all kinds of potential

    …. the.LeMons series counts as potential, right?

    no?

    oh… well, whatever, I still like it.

    • Number_Six

      Crikey, I must like this car a lot because my first reaction to your LeMons comment was to get all Obergruppensturmbahnfuhrer on you. Anyway, I'd buy it just to get that interior – it is several different kinds of awesome.

  • BobAsh

    I think I have to correct a few things Ivo has said in the interview about classic cars in Czech Republic.

    First, there are is no road tax for private owned cars and light trucks in Czech Republic. The road tax IS based on displacement, but only business-owned cars and trucks have to pay it.

    Second, the insurance, isn't necessarily based on displacement anymore. This has changed a few years ago (I would say between five and ten, not exactly sure), and many insurance companies offer insurance based on engine output or other things. At the same time, with free market finally getting into Czech insurance business, the prices of insurance went downhill. So even with a large V8, insurance is quite affordable – when I was a college student (few years ago), I was able to run and insure a 1988 Chevy Caprice. Nowadays, I know guys who have large American V6s in HIGH SCHOOL. Yearly insurance for a 2500ccm and bigger car (from there upwards, there's no difference) starts somewhere around 4000CZK ($200). Compared with insurance costs in Britain, it's heaven. Try insure a big car in UK if you're under 30.

    • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

      Woohoo BobAsh! I always loved the crazy big American cars you drove stories and just general Czech perspective, stuff like "Nowadays, I know guys who have large American V6s in HIGH SCHOOL." 😉

      • BobAsh

        Maybe some time I'll get around to writing a piece about this. For example, I know about four guys who bought American cars just after getting their driving license (18 years in CZ) or even before. One has a 1991 Lincoln Continental, one 1988 Buick Regal (with digital dash), another a 1989 Buick Century STW, the last one has 1991 or so Mercury Cougar 3.8. Not counting one guy with Oldsmobile Delta 350 Diesel, as his parents bought that. The others paid for their cars…

        But they are exceptions, of course – American cars are not exactly popular here. Young guys tend to drive old German or Japanese stuff. But still, it's nothing uncommon to see teenager in older 5 series BMWs.

        Even so, I don't know of anyone young who has a Tatra – but that's just because Tatras are too expensive for what they are, rust too fast to be daily drivers and are slow. They tend to be owned by older guys who can afford them as toys.

  • BobAsh

    Third, the policy for cars on Antique plates is now much more free. No logbook, no limit on mileage, you are just prohibited from "using it for regular driving", although that's not defined anywhere. So unless you are seen driving your vintage car through the factory gates each morning at 8 a.m., by the same cop, they have nothing on you. You don't even need to have another car to get antique plates – so if you don't need to drive a car much, you can basically use your Antique plated car as a daily driver. I know people who have done so.
    And with Antique plates, most insurance companies offer you special rates of third-party insurance (which is mandatory here). The rate is usually 1/12 of the usual rate. Which means that you can insure the Tatra 613 for something under 1000CZK/year. That's 50 bucks a year in insurance, maybe less – I think you can get on 20. Which is about one working day on minimal wage…

  • BobAsh

    And all of this leads me to the final thing, which Ivo touched when mentioning the parts prices:

    Czechs are no longer hanging from the trees on their tails like apes. People here now have money, enough money to buy new cars, but also enough money to restore old Tatras. And while after 1989, it was, for some time, true that Tatras went out of the country, to wealthy foreing collectors, now the opposite is true.

    Case to prove the point: I have imported classic cars from America for some time – yes, nowadays the cars are flowing INTO our country, not other way around – and some of them are really high-dollar. I know a guy with TWO 1957-1958 Eldorado Broughams, 300SL Gullwing, 5 1959 Cadillacs including Eldo Biarritz and a limo, on a lookout for an Eldorado Seville, and lots of other stuff. but I digress.

  • BobAsh

    When I was in the importing business, a friend ed me with information that there are three vintage Tatras for sale in Seattle. One was a military version of 57, two were streamliners – I think one 87 and one 97. Some his friend wanted them. Both. Even though they were restoration projects, priced at around $50k each.
    I tried to buy them, but was told I'm too late. Only the 57 was left. But the dealer told me that if I want the 57, he can provide me shipping, as the other two were going to Czech Republic, with me being about 10th to be interested in them, most of prospective buyers being Czech.
    And that was I think in 2009, at the height of the crisis when vintage car prices were in toilet.

    Currently, the biggest market for old Tatras is Czech Republic and cars from elsewhere are being brought back home, even if they cost serious money.

  • safetystephen

    When Skoda, VW and Tatra stopped making cars with engines in the butt, I was heartbroken. Recently I got to drive a Smart Car and just loved it; same kinda magic.

    Maybe I ought to just drive my Civic in reverse all the time?

    • Dean Bigglesworth

      Tatra=cool, VW=…okay, last rear engined Skodas=……. I had not one, but two relatives with Skoda 120s. In the mid 90's. One was milk-coffee brown and the other was orange. Even as a kid with no concept of crash safety i was terrified to ride in them, they were noisy and felt like they were going to fall apart like in a scetch from Benny Hill at anything over 60kph. I can only imagine they were powered by a huge blender full of anvils. And sitting in the back with the only thing separating your head from the blender of doom was a thin sheet of what i can only imagine was recycled russian cardboard underwear.

      Still, i'd love to have one.

  • dukeisduke

    I've seen a couple of 603s up close, but never a 613.

  • TDI_FTW

    I remember hearing the Tatra's drive by during our family vacations in the Czech Republic in the 90's. They've always spoken to my imagination with the sound of the rear mounted V8.
    Too bad 20mpg with European fuel prices make it an expensive daily driver, otherwise I know what I'd be driving 🙂 Talk about exclusivity!

  • bhtooefr

    Tatra is an amazing marque, given what they've done for aerodynamics (sadly, this car wasn't one of them) and the evolution of the car in general.

    And, well, every Porsche and VW product owes its existence (well, one could argue that the watercooled VWs would've ended up as Audis under Daimler-Benz ownership) to Ferdinand Porsche shamelessly ripping off a Tatra.

  • FuzzyPlushroom

    I hope this gorgeous example stays around here… and that it's only driven in the summer. I'd love to catch it on the move.

  • Otokar Dudas

    Hi. This car sold in 2002 my Friend Tibor Juhasz from Slowakia to Czech Kollector. Here are some Photos about this Car in his condition in 2001. (with original ,,first series" Seats). I am glad That ,,She" represented in US now:)

    • Matthias

      Hallo Otokar!
      Wie geht es Dir? Ich habe gesehen, dass Du mit TATRA 613 noch aktiv bist. Vielleicht erinnerst Du Dich noch an mich: Ich habe Dich mit meinem Bruder vor ca. 10 Jahren besucht. Melde Dich!

      Viele Grüße

      Matthias

      • Otokar Dudas

        Hallo Matthias. Natuerlich habe Ich Dich nicht vergessen ! Schreib mal auf: [email protected] Gruess, Otto:)

  • Otokar Dudas

    How can I put some Photos here?

  • Martin Prosecký

    This Tatra I bought it in 2002 as my first car .. after we discovered the Tatra 603 was the first owner in beautiful condition and so had to go 613 into the world.
    There was a beautiful violet interior of the first type are exchanged for newer green. The green comes from the car, which unfortunately I completely broke …

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