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The Tatra T87: Streamlined, Fast and Mostly Unknown

Link - article by Mike Gulett

Designed to resemble the German Graf Zeppelin dirigibles

We wrote about Tatra's streamlined cars before (also see other aerodynamically shaped cars in our older article). We received quite a good response, asking us to continue this series. Today we feature The Tatra T87 model, and more.

(Futuristic Tatraplan posters; images via Frantisek Kada)

(Vision VALUTA, early 1950s Tatra limousine concept, image credit: Frantisek Kada)

When one thinks about car manufacturers Czechoslovakia usually does not come to mind. However, it turns out that the Czech company Tatra is the third oldest automobile manufacturer in the world behind Daimler Mercedes-Benz and Peugeot.

(premier of Tatraplan at the 1947 Prague Autosalon, image via Frantisek Kada, Czech News Agency)

The T87 has a unique body style; the streamlined shape was designed by the Austrian Dr. Hans Ledwinka, and was based on the Tatra 77. Paul Jaray, who designed the German Graf Zeppelin dirigibles, also provided many of the styling ideas.

(image credit: Mike Gulett)

Tatra made many different models over the years in addition to the 1947 T87 4-Door Sedan shown here. The T87 is powered by a rear-mounted 2.9-liter air-cooled 90-degree overhead cam V8 engine that produces 85 horsepower allowing the T87 to reach a top speed of 100 MPH. This made it one of the fastest cars of the day. The driver needed to be careful when taking corners at speed because the engine is behind the rear axel like a Porsche 911 and could easily swing around to the front under sharp cornering.

(image credit: Mike Gulett)

A fin in the sloping, vented fastback rear of the Tatra helps to divide the air pressure on both sides of the car, a technique later used in aircraft design. This finned rear also covered the engine and had no windows, which made rear visibility difficult. Air scoops on each side directly behind the rear side windows forced air into the engine compartment, an important feature since the engine was air-cooled.

The predecessor to the T87, the T77, was the first production car designed with aerodynamic drag as a design feature. However, Ledwinka wanted more – he worked to develop the T87 as lighter, smaller and faster car.

(images via Paul Malon)

The T87 was one of the fastest production cars of its day, was very luxurious and unique in the market.

German officers praised the Tatra during World War II for its speed and handling. Unfortunately during the war the Nazis took over Tatra. This did not work out well for Ledwinka because he was forced to work on Nazi military vehicles for six years. He also spent six years in prison after the war for collaborating with the Nazis.

The Czech government vindicated him in 1992, however, since Ledwinka died in 1967 this was too late to help him.

(images credit: Mike Gulett)

Other car manufacturers copied many design elements of the Tatra, including Dr. Ferdinand Porsche when he designed the Volkswagen Beetle. You can see that the T87 looks like a large prototype of the Volkswagen Beetle.

This led to a lawsuit between Tatra and Volkswagen, which Tatra eventually won – long after WWII had ended.

(image credit: Mike Gulett)

There were approximately 3,000 T87s made between 1936 and 1950 when Tatra changed its focus to trucks instead of passenger cars. Tatra still makes trucks today.

The Tatra T87 is a very interesting car that advanced the technology of automobile design. Most of us have never seen, and maybe have never heard of, a Tatra car before.

(image credit: Frantisek Kada)

If Dr. Hans Ledwinka had worked in the US, Italy, the UK or Germany he would be very famous for his contributions to automobile design. And it is possible that if there had not been the intervention of WWII Tatra might be a company like Porsche or Volkswagen that we all know so well today.

(images credit: Frantisek Kada)


About Mike Gulett: Mike Gulett writes the popular classic car blog, My Car Quest. He writes about classic cars, race cars, other cars that interest him and the people who made or drove those cars. He is also a car collector and writes from the perspective of a collector and an enthusiast.

Mike started publishing My Car Quest in November 2010 and has lived and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years where he still lives with his wife and a few cats. His latest eBook, “Twenty-Five Affordable Classic Cars” is available on Amazon. His Amazon author page lists his other books.




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Blogger T.M. said...

Hey, when I grow up Tatra cars were very common :) Depends on where you lived.

Blogger Klimax said...

"If Dr. Hans Ledwinka had worked in the US, Italy, the UK or Germany he would be very famous for his contributions to automobile design. And it is possible that if there had not been the intervention of WWII Tatra might be a company like Porsche or Volkswagen that we all know so well today."

Also it wouldn't be the only one. Jawa with Jawa Minor would be there too.

Popular science(google books)

Recently I heard that only few dozens of them still exists and only dozen or so still work.

Blogger Unknown said...

Having ridden in a T87, I can assure that it DOES have a rear window (you can even see it in some of the photographs on the page), its just difficult to see it from the outside because of the louvers. Inside, they do somewhat obstruct your vision, but you can still see out well enough.

The Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, TN has the largest collection of Tatras (and other European cars) in the US, and they occasionally give rides in them! (Which is how I got to do it.)


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