Tatra 613 GT Coupé by Vignale

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As an automotive enthusiast, I've been pretty lucky. At 30, I've driven just about every car from a major manufacturer. I've been (proper) off-roading in Moab, co-drove in a desert race, have ridden shotgun in a semi-works Subaru rally car, and towed a trailer with a Chrysler Aspen Hybrid. (Which is probably a more rare occurrence than the others!)

I've been to the Indianapolis 500, Montreal Grand Prix, Belgian Grand Prix; I've driven on the Autobahn and Nürburgring, been to a number of outstanding automotive museums, and driven a Peel P50.

That brings me neatly to an often overlooked museum in Nashville, Tennessee, the Lane Motor Museum. A few years ago, when I was editor of autos.sympatico.ca here in Canada, we took a then-new Scion iQ down to trace its lineage from older microcars and compacts.

It was some of the most fun I've ever had, and for someone with different automotive tastes, it was a riot.

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Besides all of the really cool Citroëns, propellor-driven street cars, and amphibious U.S. military landing crafts (the LARC-LX is out back and too big to fit inside the old bakery building), Jeff Lane has a thing for Tatra.

With a copy of just about every model—from a 1938 97 to a 1996 700, with several trucks as well, it's the best place to pore over models from the Czech automaker.

It's thanks to Jeff that I drove a Peel P50, and thanks to Jeff that he—for some strange reason—let me take the 700 for a drive on public roads.

A modernized version of the 613, it was the company's last stab at attracting worldwide acclaim…and was on-sale for less than two years before the passenger car division was closed.

As fun as it was to drive, the overall design had lost something when updated from its Vignale-penned lines.

Yes, Vignale.

The Vignale coupe and sedan prototypes in period.

The Vignale coupe and sedan prototypes in period.

Now, Vignale has been resurrected by Ford Europe as a premium trim level for Ford Mondeo (Fusion) models—covered in brown metallic paint, of course—but from 1948 the once Turin, Italy-based Carrozzeria Alfredo Vignale produced some of the most beautiful car bodies for Fiat, Maserati, Ferrari, and Lancia. 

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Vignale worked with companies outside of Italy, too—notably producing the Cunningham C-3 road car and collaborating with Tatra on the 613.

Introduced in 1974 as a replacement for the bulbous 603, the 613 was all-new and designed to look it. Square, crisp lines. Expertly-drawn chrome details, simple Mercedes-like interior…

…all a wrapper for an air-cooled 3.5-litre V8 engine…in the trunk.

A nice interior that sadly was toned down for production.

A nice interior that sadly was toned down for production.

Until around 1989, however, Tatra was working under the rule of the planned economy of Communist Czechoslovakia—not exactly the best environment for an innovative automaker.

Destined for high-ranking (and sometimes chauffeur-driven) government officials, the 613 sedan was not a Vignale design with mass appeal; mass envy would be more accurate.

I'm sorry for burying this so far down in the article, but there's not much information on the 613 GT Coupé prototype that Vignale completed in 1969 in addition to the sedan prototype.

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Powered by the same 3.5-litre V8 and a damn sight better-looking than the sedan, I think it would have compared favourably to Mercedes-Benz and BMW coupes of the era.

Amazingly, despite spending a few decades in a totalled state thanks to a speeding test driver, the only Tatra Coupé by Vignale still exists. (Who can blame Josef Chovanec, the driver who crashed it? Imagine having free reign of a 180+ horsepower V8 coupe in a country where animal-drawn carriages are still common!)

Now fully restored and painted red, I'm sure that some day it'll be restored to its original ginger ale green and trotted out at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

Until then, it's a special car sitting in a garage somewhere. 

(If you're curious, my great grandfather came from Slovakia; Banovsky is a Slovak last name.)

 


Sources / Recommended reading