Chris on Cars

Sep 272011
 
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Adolph Hitler and Dr. Ferdinand Porsche are usually credited with the development of the Volkswagen Beetle.  But there is another designer who shares in the credit, one who is not only forgotten, but was only recognized for his achievement after he sued Porsche, and won.

That designer is Hans Ledwinka, and he was an automotive designer responsible for many features of the Beetle, but also many aerodynamic masterpieces like today’s feature car, the Tatra T87.  Tatra is a vehicle manufacturer from Koprivnice, Czech Republic.  Founded in 1850, they produced the first motor car in central Europe, the 1897 Prasident.  Named after the famed Tatra mountains in Slovakia, Tatra is the third oldest car maker in the world, after Daimler Mercedes Benz and Peugeot.

During a dinner party, according to legend, Adolph Hitler told Ledwinka and Porsche that the Tatra was “the car for all my roads,” and thereby forced  the development for the Beetle.  So many features of the Tatra was used on the Beetle that Ledwinka sued Porsche for credit and damages.  The suit was ended abruptly with the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Germans.  This must have annoyed Ledwinka, but he got his revenge two fold.

Jay Leno\’s Tatra T87

His cars were so well respected that German Nazi officers commandeered them at every turn.  They enjoyed the speed and handling, but were not aware of its habit to spin if pushed into a corner too quickly.  So many Nazi officers were killed by spinning out while cornering, that the car was dubbed the “Czech Secret Weapon” and the mass deaths cause Adolph Hitler to forbid his officers to drive the car.  As the final revenge, the case was brought back up after WWII, and in 1961, Porsche was ordered to pay a settlement of 3 million Deutsche Marks.

One of my favorite Tatra cars is the T87.  Not only is this an excellent example of automobile aerodynamics, but it has many unusual features for a built in 1936.  The streamlined body was designed by Hans Ledwinka and Erich Ubelacker, and based on design proposals by Paul Jaray, designer of the German Graf Zeppelin dirigibles.  The design had a drag coefficient of just 0.36, had a full belly pan, and had an usual design for the engine area.  The entire rear segment of the car formed the engine cowling.  The rear mounted engine was a fully magnesium 2.9 litre V8, air cooled, and featuring a 90 degree overhead cam that produced 85 horses.  It could travel at 100mph, with almost no engine noise or heat due to its placement.  Suspension was independent on all four corners, with hydraulically actuated drum brakes.  Only 3000 examples were built between 1936 and 1950.

Famous owners of the Tatra T87 were Erwin Rommel, the Field Marshall of WWII, John Steinbeck, the American writer, King Farouk I of Egypt, and comedian Jay Leno.  The design was not only used in the Volkswagen Beetle, but also the aerodynamic Chrysler Airflow.  Other features like the Cyclops headlight and suspension were used on the 1948 Tucker, and even the suicide doors can be seen on the 1961 Lincoln Continental.

If you’ve always wanted a Tatra T87, I found one for sale on eBay.  The car, which is pictured here is presently listed at 89,100 dollars.  It has been restored, but still retains the original paint. This Tatra T87 is one of only ten known to be in the US.  One of the others, owned by Jay Leno is featured in the embedded video.

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Article Courtesy of Chris Raymond

Photographs and video courtesy of eBay Motors and Jay Leno Garage.


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Chris on Cars
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