Prague to Pebble or Bust: Report From The Road On The TFL Tatra’s Quirks

TFL Tatra 603
TFL Tatra 603

(Prague, Czech Republic)

You guys are going to love the TFL Tatra if and when we finally get it to ‘Merica. But beware, the TFL Tatra 603 has some minor “quirks”.

No power steering. No power brakes.

What it does have are 15″ wheels from a Jeep with the wrong-sized 225/15’s instead of 185/15’s. The former owner called these bigger and wider Jeep wheels and tires, and I quote, “a high performance mod.”

Um, okay…

Best of all, the TFL Tatra has a gasoline powered heater. It tends to set fire to any field where the driver happens to park as it’s housed and vents underneath the driver’s seat. Occasionally, it might also set that driver’s seat on fire. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the heater doesn’t work so instead we’ll have to heat up a brick to warm the car on any cold California mornings.

The TFL Tatra also comes with a special lay-flat feature that reclines the driver’s seat when you lean back. The former owner assured me that this is simply due to a warn tooth on the seat’s reclining gear. It makes for an interesting driving position if you happen to lean too hard on the backrest.

A few more “quirks”….

The turn signals don’t self cancel, but they do work.

The Tatra’s 2.4L air-cooled V8 produced a massive 160 communist HP when it was new.  The TFL Tatra’s engine is far from new so I suspect it makes far less power. It would be fun to put it on a dyno except that the engine seriously overheats if the car isn’t moving. The trick is to be moving all of the time. Perhaps we can find a handy roundabout if we hit traffic on the way to Pebble Beach?


There are a series of mystery levers that open and close various vents to the engine bay. They are reminiscent of the flaps on a plane and the one small issue is that no one seems to know which lever opens which vent.

There are also a bunch of pull knobs on the dash with no known function. The former owner suspects one operates the stylish bumper mounted fog lights.

When it was new, the Tatra was somewhat thirsty as it consumed between 10-12 liters of gasoline for every 100 kilometers. Today, the fuel gauge jumps up and down like a startled terrier so keeping the car full of gas at all times seems to be the smartest strategy to avoid running on empty.

The best part of all is the delicate four speed transmission.

A thin lever operates a gear box that’s half a continent away via a series of 1700 (I believe) very breakable connections.

Also, 2nd gear and reverse seem to be interchangeable. I suspect the position of the harvest moon determines if the delicate column shifter engages second or reverse.

My best solution to this inconvenient shifting issue is to avoid second gear all together. This can be somewhat tricky when driving up a hill as a 1st to 3rd gear-change will burn the clutch, or stall the car, or overheat the engine unless the mysterious levers and cooling flaps are in the correct positions.

Yes indeed, all of this is becoming quite an adventure.

Roman (On the road, hopefully not on fire)