Tatra is one of my all-time favorite carmakers, and any day I learn about a Tatra I wasn’t aware of is a grand day indeed. Today is such a day, and I want to share it with you. Friends, behold the loveliest, most air-coolingest V8 GT car ever to never be actually made, the Tatra JK 2500.
The Tatra JK 2500 dates from 1954, and while it’s badged as a Tatra and often considered to be a Tatra prototype/study for a possible GT car, there seems to be two different stories about the origins of the car. One suggests it was always a project outside the company, from a Czech coachbuilder called Karosa Brno.
Another version of the story suggests that the Tatra company itself was found to have extra capacity around 1951, and the company decided to take advantage of the extra capacity to build a sports/GT car.
It was later put on hold and the car had to be finished by employees after hour, a labor of love and excitement.
Personally, I think the first story is the true one – I don’t believe this started as an official Tatra project, and I think this is the case because of some technical details about the car. First, if you look at the front axle assembly, you can clearly see that it’s from a Volkswagen. It’s a torsion tube axle that may have been from a Beetle (even an early KdF or Kubelwagen is possible, given the time and place). There’s no reason Tatra would have used a VW axle in something they were prototyping, I don’t think.
Also, several sources point out that the car originally had an Alfa Romeo 2.5-liter engine making 66 HP– again, why would Tatra build a GT prototype with an engine they wouldn’t even have been able to easily source? It just doesn’t make sense.
What does make sense is that this thing looks fantastic, and once the engine was replaced with an air-cooled V8 from the Tatra 603, everything got much better. Power went up to 105 HP, and since the engine is air-cooled, the whole water plumbing system could be eliminated, freeing space up front (according to some sources) for the spare.
Tatra had built front-engined cars before, and while seeing an air-cooled Tatra 603 engine in the front is odd, I believe Tatra used this same engine mounted up front on some of their trucks, so it wasn’t unheard of.
The car is named JK 2500 after the designer, Julius Kubinsky. Kubinsky had designed a number of other sports cars, including some F1 cars and a Grand Prix car that got wrecked by a truck prior to the race.
Kubinsky’s design is really lovely, and is in many ways an ideal GT car of the era. The big V8 is actually front-mid mounted, behind the front axle, and the car was said to have perfect front/rear weight balance. The long hood/short deck proportions are classic and the low greenhouse and large wheel-to-body ratio make the car feel purposeful and athletic.
The face has that classic big-eyed/fishmouth look that so many GT cars of the era had, and I find it just as appealing here, with the added benefit of the unusual sound of an air-cooled V8 pumping forth from that front grille.
I even love the chrome-trimmed two-tone paint scheme.
At some point it seems that an attempt was made to interest Tatra in the design for possible production, but it didn’t get anywhere. With the Iron Curtain levels of central control over the factory, this isn’t all that shocking.
Kubinsky ended up using the charming JK 2500 as his personal car for around 13 or 14 years. Nobody seems to know what happened to the car after that. Some suggest it’s in the hands of a secretive, private owner, but there’s no real evidence of that. Perhaps it’s out there, sitting intact in some barn, just waiting to be found.
That’s what I want to believe. That the one-off Tatra JK 2500 is out there like a fast, red-and-black holy grail, just waiting to be found by some lucky bastard.
Anyone reading this in the Czech Republic, please take a moment to check your local barns and report back here as soon as possible.
(Thanks to Scott Car, who posted a pic of this car on his FB page.)