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A Trained Designer Imagines What Communist Czech Car Company Tatra Could Have Built In The 1980s

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Last week I introduced you to one of my favorite automotive-weirdness resources, a recluse who we only know as the “Bishop of Automotive Arcana,” and his wonderful, fever-dream speculations about an alternate universe AMC. A number of commenters expressed a desire for more, more, more, and when Autopian commenters look at me with their big, glistening eyes, you know I can’t say no. So, this time, as a treat, I have for you The Bishops’ imagining of the car Tatra, in an alternative universe, released in 1989 — a car that leverages all of Tatra’s glorious Czech weirdness and revels in it. Join me, if you will, on this magical journey!

First, a little background. In case you’re somehow unaware of Tatra, then I might ask what website you were trying to get to that brought you here–was it Autopaint.com? If so, stick around, because this is all fascinating stuff.

Tatra is actually one of the oldest automakers in the world, starting in 1850 making wagons and carriages in the Czech town of Kopřivnice. The company moved to motorized cars and trucks by the 1890s, and by the 1920s Tatra was making some very technically interesting vehicles with opposed air-cooled engines and backbone chassis.

But what Tatra is best known for are its air-cooled, rear-engined cars, which started in 1933 with the V570 prototype, which, as you can see, is very much like a larval Volkswagen Beetle. In fact, after WWII, Volkswagen paid a settlement to Tatra, who held many patents on air-cooled engine configurations.

The V570 was a small car, but what actually made it to production was far more grand. Tatra’s first rear-engined, air-cooled car was the stunning T77, a colossal land-zeppelin of a car, with a big air-cooled V8 at the rear and a huge dorsal fin like a shark. It looked like nothing else on the road at the time, and started a line of big, luxurious, rear-engined Tatras.

Tatra refined the T77 into the T87, then came out with smaller variants like the T97 and T600 Tatraplan. Then, as the company’s role became more about making limousines for upper-echelon Communist Party members, went back to big luxurious cars like the T603, T613, and finally the 1996 T700, which was the last of the big, rear-engined Tatra cars.

Tatra doesn’t make cars anymore (though it does make plenty of trucks), and when communism fell, so did much of the company’s market, with its post-Communism car, the impressive but doomed T700, only selling 75 copies.

It’s a shame, because no one else managed to refine rear-engined, full-sized cars to the degree that Tatra did, and the automotive world is poorer for this absence. I mean, at least think so.

So, where our Bishop takes off on his alternate universe leap is after the T613, which was introduced in 1974. In this re-imagining in this alternative universe, we never ended up with the tepid T700 update of the T613. Instead, this alternate-history Tatra, emboldened instead of frightened by the crumbling of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s, decides to take their large, rear-engined philosophy boldly into this new era, intent on emerging into the post-Soviet world as a true competitor to Western cars.

To do this, the company would need the equivalent of a four-door supercar. And that’s what the T800 would be.