For many Americans of a certain age, their first exposure to the incredible world of Czech rear-engined air-cooled V8-powered cars known as Tatras came via a black comedy movie based on a beloved series of children’s books. The movie was 2004’s Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, and the car was a 1971 Tatra 603. That Tatra seems to have resurfaced, but now it’s in a sadly deteriorated state, and up for auction in Lancaster, California. It’s definitely the same car, and I’ll show you how I can tell.
The Tatra 603 has an interesting history; it’s very clearly derived from Tatra’s earlier pre-war and wartime rear-engined streamlined cars like the Tatra T77 and Tatra T87, which developed into the T600 Tatraplan, and then to the T603, which is what we’re talking about.
Now, under the old Soviet-led Eastern Bloc rules, Czech Tatra was supposed to focus on trucks and luxury cars for high-ranking party members would be imported from the USSR. Tatra engineers and designers weren’t really happy about that, and so began to work in secret to develop a new car they were calling the Valuta, a sleek, streamlined jet-age whale that evolved into the 603:
It’s a really unusual, striking-looking car, and this movie featured it prominently in a way that most American audiences had never encountered before.
That’s the 1971 Tatra T603-2 from the movie; here’s the one at auction:
Yikes! That poor fella has seen its own series of unfortunate events, it seems. Now, you may be wondering how, exactly, am I so sure that this is the movie car, and not some other random, rare Tatra. Well, it’s because of interior shots like the ones seen here:
Here, have a still:
See that crazy shifter? That phone handset? That crazy reel-to-reel tape player? Those weren’t standard options. And, if we look inside the auction car:
There’s the same stuff! The phone, shifter, and that tape deck, all there. Some internet-sleuths have actually identified what that reel-to-reel unit is, a Nagra SSN, for you professional audio geeks out there.
What’s most alarming about this auction, I think, is that I just don’t think of 2004 as that long ago, but if it was a person, that movie would be old enough to vote now, so it’s been a while, I suppose long enough for this poor old Czech to fall into such a state of disrepair.
It looks like it just sold for just over $7,000, so if you wanted it, I guess you just missed it. Hopefully, this will get a nice, full restoration, and I’m even hoping they keep the phone and reel-to-reel and all that stuff.
You could make that phone an actual cell phone pretty easily! And at least get those reels moving as it plays MP3s or something, right? Why not?