Vintage Snapshots: 20th Century Prague


Well, I couldn’t really pass this up, could I? We’ve done London, Tokyo and Paris, so it’s time we peeked behind the Iron Curtain and caught some Tatras in their element. Plus, it’s hard to think of a more beautiful backdrop than the city of Prague. Click on the photos to embiggen them (a cromulent word, don’tcha know), and let’s hit the cobbled streets.

Wenceslas Square, 1939. An Audi takes centre stage ahead of two small local marques (a Zbrojovka and an Aero). Turbulent times ahead…

Czechoslovak News Agency Headquarters, 1948. A Tatra T87 in front of a T57B and an Aero Type 30.

1954. Looks like a T600 Tatraplan is about to overtake a Škoda 1102.

1955. Two Tatraplans in one photo.

Praha-Ruzyně, or Prague airport, in 1957. The Tatra looks a little tired already. Next to it is a Simca Aronde, a relatively popular French import in those days. We will come back to this airport a few more times…

… Actually, let’s stay there — here is the parking lot, one year later. Aside from the inevitable Škodas, two Arondes are present, along with a Fiat 600, a Wartburg and a Volkswagen.

1958 again — not too many cars, but some interesting ones: a blue Škoda 1200, a Škoda 1101 van, a pre-war Praga Piccolo (I think) and a white Renault 4CV.

Still in 1958: one last T87 for the road, almost upstaged by a 1948-49 Studebaker Starlight.

1959. The Soviets are well and truly established: a GAZ Pobieda, a GAZ M-21 Volga and… ?

1960. Škoda Spartaks everywhere, but some prewar remnants (in this case, a 1936-40 Adler Trumpf Junior) are holding on and will continue to do so for a long while.

Checking back on the airport: things have changed in the mid-’60s. An Opel Rekord wagon and a Citroen ID-19 are keeping the Škodas company.

By the late ’60s, things were looking up in Czechoslovakia. Škoda’s 1000MB was conquering the road, now also shared with the cheaper Trabant. But the attempt at liberalization would soon end…

1967. Nice to see a T600 again. The usual suspects (Pobieda, Wartburg, Škoda) mix with the outsiders (Fiat and Renault).

1969. After the Prague Spring, the city and the country entered a sort of permanent winter. And for some reason, a Simca 1300 prowled the streets.

1971 — not Prague strictly speaking, but an interesting photograph. The black Tatra could well be driven by the secret police (many were). Note that the traffic seems awfully quiet on the other side of the highway…

For folks who couldn’t afford or were not allowed a new car, old bangers like this early ’30s Tatra T57 were an option. Photo taken in 1972.

Here’s a similar Czech CC (a Mercedes 170), surrounded by Trabants in 1975.

We haven’t paid a visit to the airport in a while. Here’s what was to be found in 1973: Trabant, Moskvitch 408, Wartburg 353, Fiat 850, Renault 8, VW Beetle, Volga M-24 and a wagon that appears to be a Ford Taunus P6.

A gloomy day in 1974, starring the Dacia 1300.

A few noteworthy foreigners here, including a Beetle, a Mercedes W114/115 and a Peugeot 504. Picture taken in 1975.

Gosh, is it the late ’70s already? Still some prewar leftovers (next to the green Škoda coupé), but also a brand new Simca 1307 hiding among the Mokvitches.


This is the first of a small series of colour shots that I have guess-dated to “circa 1980”.

A leather-clad Velorex — something of an icon in Czechoslovakia…

Cabbie snoozing in a tired-looking 603; the brand new 613 next to it looks highly polished.

Is that a W123 on the left? Some people have impressive connections…

The Škoda wagon and the T603 look right at home, but that Renault 4 van and the VW Golf seem suspiciously foreign.

Lots to unpack here. First, there’s that house, which looks part awesome and part haunted. And then the cars. The VW Golf, the Fiat 127 and the Citroen Dyane… Oh, and there’s the little matter of the ’66 Plymouth Barracuda and the 1974-ish Pontiac Firebird ganging up on that Tatra. What the heck is going on here?

Last one from 1980 (this one definitely was taken that year).

The vacuuous and anxiety-provoking hellscape of the city’s outer suburbs in 1981. Not much better in the West on that score.

1981 again — a Tatra parked just under the 15th Century astronomical clock (which still works) in the Old Town Square.

No, I haven’t forgotten the airport. Here it is, in 1985.

A fleet of new black T613s — and an older police model, along with what looks like a Mercedes — accompanying a ZIL as it enters the Hradčany (a.k.a the Prague Castle, the seat of government for over 1000 years) in 1985.

1990 — the Velvet Revolution just took place and the Czechs and Slovaks are gong their separate ways, without a drop of blood shed. Meanwhile, Prague’s magnificent Art Deco architecture, just like its Art Nouveau, Roccocco, Renaissance and Medieval beauties, is about to be admired by a flow of tourists. Among them, a young T87…

Let’s just check back at the airport, now that it’s 1990 and colour has come to stay. Still the same, eh?

See you tomorrow for another edition — heading ever eastwards, and I mean really eastwards.