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TATRA T87

words ben dillon PICs nathan duff

the streamlined tatra t87 was a triumph of mechanical innovation. but did it also save the free world from adolf hitler?

rebel
with a cause
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ounded in 1850 as a carriage builder, Czech Republic car company Tatra is the third oldest in the world behind Mercedes-Benz and Peugeot. While it may have failed to achieve the level of success that its German and French contemporaries enjoy, Tatra just might have saved us from Adolf Hitler. Thats right, during the height of the Third Reichs supremacy, this little car maker in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia was knocking-off German officers with its secret weapon at such a rate that The Fhrer had to ban all officers from driving the Tatra in case the German

war effort was compromised by the thinning numbers of ranking Nazis. Produced from 1936-1950, the Tatra T87 was a hero to the Czech people for introducing many a German officer to telegraph poles and ditches via its tendency to lift-off oversteer. But it wasnt just this propensity for lunching down Third Reich officers on their way home from the pub that endeared the T87 to the locals (and fans worldwide to this day). It was the Tatras innovative design and engineering that made it special. For a car conceived in the early 1930s, the T87 was incredibly

futuristic, not only aesthetically but engineering-wise too, and represented the zenith of a collaboration between legendary Tatra engineer, Hans Ledwinka, and Zeppelin airship designer Paul Jaray. A pioneer of automotive streamlining, Jaray penned the preceding 1934 Tatra T77 upon which the T87 was based. Ledwinka was the engineer responsible for much of the success Tatra enjoyed in the first half of the 20th century, but when compared to his old friend and rival, Ferdinand Porsche (more on Porsche later), Ledwinka remains to this day one
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TATRA T87
of the least recognised masters of automotive innovation. Testament to Ledwinkas ability and foresight survive in his many air-cooled, rear-mounted engine patents and his invention of the backbone chassis still a feature of modern truck design. However, the greatest vindication of Ledwinkas transcendent automotive prowess is the fact that from the T77 of 1934 until the final Tatra road car the T700, which ended production in 1999 the layout of big Tatra passenger cars remained unchanged. Amazing to think that for 65 years, there was always a Tatra luxury model with a rear-mounted, air-cooled V8. Porsche can only claim a 48-year history for its legendary 911...

Father to son

Ledwinka, along with his son Erich and engineer Erich belacker, led the Tatra charge into vehicle streamlining with the T77, subsequent T87, and the smaller T97, backing up breathtakingly beautiful and efficient aerodynamic cars with a technical competence that left competing companies trailing. The T87 was the first Tatra that allied the Ledwinka-patented backbone chassis with swing-arm rear suspension and a

I OWN ONE...
This exquisiTe T87 belongs to Brisbane-based Nick Daunt who has a serious european classic habit. Nick currently owns a TVR Tuscan, a Bugatti T57 and a brutal matte-black AC Cobra, but the unusual configuration, styling, and colourful history of the Tatra piqued his interest. Nicks 1947 T87 was advertised as a restored car but on arrival from Ontario, Canada, it turned out to be quite rusty and needed a proper resto. Daunt commissioned the experienced Wolf Grodd, who owns and runs Brisbane-based ber-restorers sleeping Beauties, to put the Tatra right. First choice for the interior was red leather (much like the T87 in the Mattoni water dress commercial, check it out on You Tube) but Nick decided to go for a more communist era combination of olive green and bone, in order to keep the Tatra somewhat period correct. The restoration ended up taking 3-4 years, during which time the engine was swapped for a 2.5-litre aluminium unit from a later T603 Tatra and was rebuilt and fettled by Chilton engineering. The end result is a rare car (possibly the only one in Oz) that Nick enjoys driving to work when the desire for oversteer overcomes him. BD

for 65 years there was a rear-mounted, aIr-Cooled v8 luxury tatra model

AbOvE streamlined body and rear engine give superb cruising credentials lEfT Wheels are of a similar design to those employed by Chrysler on the similarly streamlined 1934 Airflow

2970cc air-cooled, magnesium-alloy V8. Under the twin-carburettors, hemispherical heads with a two-valveper-cylinder layout allowed the escape of gasses, while twin cooling fans, slats, vents and scoops took care of engine cooling. An interesting feature of the T87 is the rear slats on the engine cover that can be opened (for cold weather driving) or closed (in hot weather) manually. The pace of the T87 owed much to Jarays streamlining design principles and featured a claimed drag-coefficient (Cd) of 0.251 (based on a 1:5 scale model) and a top speed of 100mph (161km/h), despite the paltry output of 55kW (75hp) from that burbling V8. While the claimed top speed was found to be accurate, wind tunnel testing in 1979 by Volkswagen found the T87 had a true drag coefficient of 0.36 quite a feat considering that many new cars today still have higher Cd figures.

Famous T87 owners have included Felix Wankel (the inventor of the rotary engine), American writer John Steinbeck, Egyptian King Farouk I and comedian Jay Leno, but the Tatras initial role was serving as luxury transport for Czech government (and occupying) officials through the

transformation of Czechoslovakia to communism after WWII once Nazi occupation ended. The T87 was highly regarded for its compliant ride, speed and efficiency (12-13L/100km was the advertised consumption) but it was also respected for its tail-happy exuberance, which

RIghT For many a German officer, this Art Deco dash was the last thing they ever saw
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TATRA T87
could make it a deadly weapon if care wasnt taken, especially in the wet. First gear is a short mountain ratio, making it possible to take off in second as the torque available is enough to pull away cleanly. The long wheelbase and high-profile tyres combine to give the T87 a decent ride around town and some body roll in is something very special. The sound is an eclectic mix of small block American V8 rumble overlaid with a cooling fan whir reminiscent of a 964 or 993 Porsche 911. Its the mating of two truly great engine ideas in one package. Give the engine a rev and it sounds muscular, despite its

Post-modern world

Driving the car today is an interesting, if slightly unnerving experience, and not just because you are mixing a $200,000 classic with modern traffic. As there is no engine up front, the cabin is airy and very cool, even in the high 30s of a Brisbane summer day, but the recalcitrant gearbox, Oh my God! brakes and peeking-through-venetianblinds rear view are features to really make you sweat. This, combined with a steering wheel on the left and an indicator switch on the dash that flings the floppy-eared dog ambers out of their B-pillar alcoves, makes for a challenging driving experience.
RIghT spare wheel mounted above enormous oil cooler under bonnet fAR RIghT Ahead of its time. Centre headlight swivelled with the steering on earlier Tatras but was dropped for the T87

ThE ORIgINAl bEETlE?


The BiGGeR TATRA T87 was the front-line weapon making schnitzel out of German officers on Czech roads, but the smaller T97 (508 built from 1936-39) was deemed such a threat that hitler personally killed it off. The T97 borrowed heavily from the Ledwinka-Jaray V570 concept of the early 30s, which never made production but attracted the attention of hitler and Ferdinand Porsche. Ledwinka and Porsche knew each other personally and had been known to exchange ideas as both worked at different times for Austrian car maker steyr. Ledwinka had pitched the idea of a small peoples car to steyr as early as 1921, which steyr rejected, but upon his return to Tatra, interest was rekindled with the V570 concept featuring an air-cooled flat-four in the tail of an aerodynamic body (sound familiar?) that paved the way for the T97. Meanwhile, Porsche was struggling to fill the brief assigned by hitler to create a peoples car and looked to Tatras new T97 for inspiration. Porsches 1938 KdF fAST fACTS Wagen xxxxxx (later to be called the Volkswagen) was so similar to ENgINE 2970cc V8 ohC magnesiumthe V570 and T97 in both styling alloy air-cooled twin-carburettors and engineering that Tatra sued. POWER: 74hp (55kW) @3500rpm While Ferdinand Porsche TORquE: n/a did later admit to have looked bORE x STROkE: 75 x 84mm over Ledwinkas shoulder in gEARbOx: 4-speed with syncromesh designing the Volkswagen, the on 3rd and 4th. matter wasnt settled in court lENgTh: 4810mm (bumper to bumper) until 1961 (Tatra WIdTh: 1670mm received DM 3,000,000 in damages) as hEIghT: 1540mm hitler annexed Czechoslovakia WhEElbASE: 2850mm in 1938 and immediately killed WEIghT: 1370kg production of the T97, which fuEl CONSumPTION: 12-13l/100km been hitlers idea of may have 0-100km/h: n/a an out of court settlement. BD
TOP SPEEd: 161km/h (100mph) NumbER buIlT: 3056 PRICE WhEN NEW: 24,000 Chf
(1947)

the tatra t87 mates two truly great engIne Ideas In one PaCkage
corners but not to the extent you would expect from a pre-war design. The clutch isnt all that heavy and once up and running the T87 keeps up with traffic easily its fantastic, but busy engine note reminding you that the Tatra small (for a V8) cubic capacity. The meaty throb coupled with the whoosh of the twin cooling fans makes for an unusually addictive aural signature. As incredible as the history of the T87 is from the airship-inspired design to
AbOvE Crazy dorsal fin may have aided straightline stability, but not the T87s oversteer bElOW (l-R) Compact V8 makes 75hp; cooling louvres work counter-intuitively and are closed in the heat and open when cold

fAST fACTS
tatra t87

ENgINE 2970cc air-cooled V8, SohC,


16v, twin carburettors

Ledwinkas engineering acumen to the role of Hitler and Porsche in the history of Tatra all is overshadowed by the sight and sound of that dolphin-finned rear end squatting under acceleration as the T87 cuts a swathe through 2011. Communism has never looked so cool.

POWER 55kW @ 3500rpm gEARbOx 4-speed manual SuSPENSION hydraulic shocks, coil springs
(f); hydraulic shocks, cantilever springs (r)

bRAkES discs (f &r) WEIghT 1370kg TOP SPEEd 161km/h (claimed)

AbOvE Profile demonstrates the extent of the T87s unique design suicide front doors, trafficators in the B-pillars and an extremely long wheelbase for unrivalled interior space

PRICE NOW: $200,000+

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