In two weeks, the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be running its 84th year as the world's preeminent endurance racing event. You want to talk about endurance racing? The evolved from a ridiculously far-flung 3500-kilometer road rally from Belgium to Rome (and later to Bulgaria), and back, to an 84-hour race around the Nürburgring. Eighty-four hours. Three and a half days of racing, across both Nord- and Südschleife loops, which will wreak havoc on a man, if not his car. No Sleep Til Adenau.
This Tatra T603 B5 not only entered the 1967 Marathon, for its third consecutive year, but both cars entered by Tatra placed in the top five. For the third consecutive year. In B5 racing spec, T603s won 60 out of the 79 races it entered. They consistently won their class, from the Austrian Alpine Cup in 1959 to Spa-Sofia-Liège in 1964.
This Tatra was found in a garden near Kopřivnice, the carmaker's ancestral home. It was found in the mid-1990s by the sons of driver Stanislav Hajdušek, one of the three drivers who participated in that 1967 Marathon, against the likes of Vic Elford and Jacky Ickx. They restored it . And in 2010, it entered the Goodwood Revival—but owing to the festival's rules of allowing pre-1960s cars, the Czech crew had to backdate the T603 with a 1959-style front end. Close enough. By all accounts, it roared like a Spitfire.
First, let's start with the megaphones. No car short of a bro-dozer Silverado could possibly pack ammunition this big: they look like they were designed to shoot down passing space stations. They look like they should be setting farmers' fields ablaze. Then, move on to the rest of the car: a lurid orange, like a squashed citrus, squatting on black steelies, easily spotted against the backdrop of the Green Hell. Long and low. The Americans couldn't handle a split rear window, but the Soviets could. A Tatra makes for a classy endurance racer, a comfortable one, and a tricky one at that: that big air-cooled V8 in back—churning out 170 horsepower in race trim—demands your full attention, especially after 83 and a half hours.
Is this the coolest rally car ever? It's certainly one of the most obscure, and yet, a success to itself. Let's hear it for Tatra's air-cooled longevity! Two years ago, an enterprising Czech enthusiast picked up his own T603, drove it from his homeland to Germany, then shipped it to the East Coast, then . Between this and Goodwood, it's about time the Czech Secret Weapon received its due.
And the exhaust? It's actually an "ejector cooling system," extracting hot air from the engine bay while looking thoroughly badass in the process. Says Classic + Competition Car in its : "The normal two cooling fans which were powered by the crankshaft were removed and two very large extractor exhaust tail pipes were fitted. These drew cool air over the engine due to the vacuum created by the double diffuser ejector and gave a 20 BHP boost to engine performance."
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