Marathon de la Route, 1965/66
With the cold war still decades away from thawing, the arrival of East European racing cars at international motorsport events was a rare occurrence in the 1960s. Silverware consequently heading back behind the Iron Curtain was pretty unusual too. But these exact scenarios occurred in 1965 when Tatra entered a three-car team in the Marathon de la Route and did rather well.
Here was an event that made the contemporary Le Mans 24 Hours classic almost pale into insignificance as manufacturers vied for the ultimate long-distance prize. This gruelling 84-hour enduro effectively replaced the Spa-Sofia-Liège rally, with entries ranging from Daf Daffodil to Ferrari 275GTB. Tatra fielded a three-car team of T603s: with their air-cooled V8s hung out back, these beached-Zeppelin-like saloons — complete with swing axles — made for unlikely race cars, but Adolf Vermirovsky and Stanislav Hajdusek bombed around the Nord and Südschleife with metronomic regularity, finishing ninth overall and claiming the GT class. In 12th place were Alois Mark and Zdenek Cechmanek, while the third car failed to finish.
A year later Tatra was back for another crack. The updated T2-603 B5 saloons had 143bhp. The trio circulated in formation for much of the race and completed a 1-2-3 victory in the up to 2.5-litre class while also walking away with the team prize. The lead Tatra of Mark and Bohuslav Stiborek came in third on the road, completing 5487 miles over the 84 hours.
During the 1967 running only 13 of the 42 entrants finished, with the orange-and-black Tatra T2-603 B5s — now with quad Webers and trick air-cooling that drove exhaust gases into a venturi to assist in air scavenge past the heads and the barrels’ cooling fins — ending up in fourth and fifth overall. This time, however, these results were only good enough for third and fourth in the GT category.
Tatra wouldn’t return to the ‘Ring. Due to governmental pressure on the factory the Czech marque wasn’t allowed to compete, despite a pedigree in the sport that stretched back to before WWI. But this wasn’t entirely the end of its competition aspirations. V8 buggies were run in European autocross events in the early ’70s with great success.Then there were the Paris-Dakar Tatra lorries… RH