Link - article by Avi Abrams

Futuristic Shape and Radical Design in the 1930s-1950s

In our older article "Aerodynamic Marvels" we covered the most amazing examples of American aerodynamic prototypes from the 1930's and 1950's. However, streamlined cars were also quite the rage in Europe before WWII: Tatra T87 made in Czechoslovakia in the mid 1930's, is the best example.

(image credit: The Victoria and Albert Museum, State Museum of Applied Arts and Design, Munich/Rainer Viertlboeck)

With top speed approaching 100 mph, efficient aerodynamic characteristics, weird triple headlights and an air-cooled engine in the back, this car sported radical looks and even more radical engineering. The only American car approaching it in terms of innovation at the time would be Tucker 48, although "the Tucker story" merits its own article (the car did not go over too well with the American car industry back then, alas).

(image credit: Tatra Register)

"European designers created numerous streamlined rear-engine automobiles throughout the 1930s. Between 1934 and 1938, Tatra was the only company to put rear-engine streamliners into serial production. After the Tatra T77 debuted in 1934, American automobile companies, including Ford, created prototype of rear engine automobiles, but never produced them." (source)

(image credit: Erich Z)

The internet is a big place, so there is already a site dedicated to old Tatra cars: International Streamlined Tatra Site. We strongly recommend checking it out for the various details of this car's exceptional history.

The Start of Tatra

The "Tatra" company was known since the mid 19th century as a manufacturer of carriages and rail coaches, but after Austrian-born engineer Hans Ledwinka joined the company, it switched to automobile production. Everything changed again in the 1930s, when Hans introduced pioneering air-cooled rear-engine design, drastically different from all other box-shaped cars at the time.

The Tatra Type 57 with aerodynamic body by Paul Jaray (1932):

(left: 3D reconstruction by James & Patrick Granger; images via)

T-77 model (improved and enlarged V570 prototypes from 1933). This is probably the most well-known Tatra shape, and the most futuristic:

(images via International Streamlined Tatras, 2)

Note the wonderful sunroof and the LeMans-styled intakes:

(image credit: International Streamlined Tatras)

(image credit: Die Neue Sammlung Museum)

Not only did they sported a headlight in the middle of a car, but some of the T77 models also had the steering wheel located in the center of the dashboard! The driver sat slightly ahead and between the front seat passengers, almost like a pilot in an airplane.

Here are some Tatras made shortly after WWII (1946):

(images credit: conceptcarz)

Tatra 87 model, seen at the Minneapolis Museum of Art:

(image credit: The Minneapolis Museum of Art)

The Unique, Elegant Shape of Tatra 603

....and further in the 1950s Tatra still looked very strange, but certainly rather elegant. Shortly after the war the original mastermind behind Tatra cars, engineer Hans Ledwinka, was imprisoned by Communists for suspected collaboration with the Nazis... and then rehabilitated. After which, he wisely emigrated back to Austria. So even though the post-war Tatras were pleasing to the eye, but were nowhere as radical as the old ones.

(image credit: Frantisek Kada)

The overall shape was still very much rocket-like: here is Tatra 603 prototype shown with its predecessor, Tatra 77 for comparison:

(images credit: Frantisek Kada)

Interesting Tatra - Volkswagen connection

We wrote about VW Beetle early concepts influence on American car designers in our previous article. However, VW and Porsche took a few hints (sometimes more than just hints) from other European companies as well. Compare these shots of Tatra T97 (from 1936) and KdF (a Beetle prototype):

Paul Schilperoord writes: "In the late 1930s it became clear that VW had used several patents of the Tatra factory. It's likely Porsche used these patents because of the enormous presure from Hitler to develop the KdF-Wagen in a short time and on a tight budget. Just before the outbreak of WWII Tatra had ten legal claims against VW for infringement of patents. Although Porsche was about to make a settlement with Tatra, Hitler stopped him and told Porsche he would "solve this problem". Shortly after he invaded Czechoslovakia and gained control over the Tatra factory. Hitler immediately stopped the production of the T97 after only 508 cars were built. The T97's big brother, the V8-powered T87, did remain in production during the first years of the war. The T87 was considered by German highcommand as the ultimate car for the new German Autobahns and was a real favourite amongst German officers."

According to another source, after the war VW was required to pay Tatra an undisclosed sum of money for infringing on Tatra's design, which VW does not particularly like to discuss nowadays...

Other Streamlined Cars of the Era

Tatra was not the only company producing streamlined cars in Europe, and even not the only one in Czechoslovakia. Here is Wikov Type 35 car, having the similar airplane-fashion approach to its design.

Back in the US:

Teague Car: a curious three-headlight rear-engine sedan design proposal published in the 1930s:

(Source: Tucker Club)

Here is similarly strange looking 1934 Scarab Tjaarda prototype:

(image via)

Stout Scarab itself, designed by a well known Dutch automobile engineer John Tjaarda, looked supremely Art Deco and marvelous:

(images via)

And then there was the Dubonnet-Ford... intensely weird for 1936:

(image via)

Possibly the very first streamlined car

Another aerodynamic oddity, mostly forgotten today - "Rumpler Tropfenwagen". Edmund Rumpler presented "Rumpler Tropfenwagen" in Motor show in Berlin in 1921. (See German-language Wikipedia article)

(images via)

Note the curved window panes: they were used here for the first time. Aerodynamically speaking, it was almost sensational: its coefficient of drag was only 0.28. The driver sat in the front-center, behind him was space for four passengers. Only 100 cars were built, mostly due to the weak 6-cylinder engine and the obvious absense of trunk space. (Trunks were attached to later models as an after-thought). This car became famous in another way: Fritz Lang used a number of them in his legendary "Metropolis" movie.

Some other patented ideas from the same company (this one dated 1919):

Thanks to Daniel Wenzel for this tip.




. . .


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please have a look here. The first aerodynamic car - made in 1923 by Aurel Persu. Could you add it to your list?

Blogger Minoo said...

Don't forget the first official aerodynamic car is Aurel Persu's in 1922:


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tatra 603
for me simply the prettiest car..

Anonymous Anonymous said...

a buddy who is into military history told me that the Tatra was a death trap for German officers who drove it too fast because it over steered and that after several deaths they were not allowed to used them.any truth to that?

Anonymous bugjuice said...

I can see a lot of the early Saab's in some of those shapes too

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Found the patent drawing for the Teague car: http://www.google.com/patents/USD115177


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