A car too beautiful to be true, too advanced to be a mid-1930s model. And real.The Tatra is the first production aero-dynamic automobile. This luxury car features a unique design including a sloped 45-degree three-piece windshield - fenders, headlamps, door hinges and handles integrated into the body - the absence of running boards and a smooth underbody. The large tailfin decreases side wind effect and increases stability (the drag coefficient is 0.212). The engine is a 3.4-liter, air-cooled, overhead valve Hemi V8 that develops 75 horsepower.
The Tatra Company began manufacturing cars in 1897 in Kopřivnice, Moravia, today's Czech republic, making it the third oldest still existing automobile manufacturer in the world. During the time the company lured many genius minds of automotive history, including Hans Ledwinka, Erich Übelacker and Paul Jaray, who all took part in designing Tatra 77.
Jaray first worked at Luftschiffbau Zeppelin where he gained experience with aerodynamic design of airships. He used his access to LZ's wind tunnels and subsequently he established streamlining principles for car design. In 1927 he founded a company specializing in development of streamlined car bodies and selling issuing licenses to major vehicle manufacturers including Tatra. Tatra was the only manufacturer to incorporate Jaray streamline principles into their series car production, starting with the Tatra 77.
Before designing the large luxurious T77, Jaray designed an aerodynamic body for the Tatra 57, a mid-range model. This prototype was not further developed and failed to reach production. Instead, Jaray constructed two prototypes for a concept designated as the Tatra V570, which more closely conformed to his aerodynamic streamlining principles, featuring a beetle-shaped body.
However at the time Tatra already had cheap well selling car in its production range, which was moreover popular due to its continuation of simple and ultra-reliable tradition started by model Tatra 11. Although the management saw advantages of Jaray's concept, they believed that the new model will be only an additional model with limited production - which meant that it should be aimed at the top of automobile market. The Ledwinka's team subsequently stopped work on V570 and concentrated on designing large luxurious car. Tatra aimed at making state-of-the-art car that would be fast, silent, stable, economical and built to the most rigorous engineering standards as well as reflect modern aerodynamic research.
On March 5th, 1934 the Tatra 77 was introduced to the press at the Prague Auto Salon. The Tatra 77 was a sensation as it was the worlds first serially produced aerodynamic car with a rear-engined air-cooled layout. The T77 overtook the world's motor car industry by several decades.The Tatra T77 was both massive and roomy, with seating for six. There was plenty of luggage space, housed above the rear suspension and in the nose, where the spare tires and battery resided.The engine power was propelled to the driven rear wheels by means of a four-speed gearbox that was bolted together with the engine and the axle drive as one big monoblock. Housing the gear-change rods, cables and fuel lines, the monoblock was enclosed by the forked welded box frame of the chassis and could be easily removed from the car for repairs and changing parts.The T77 was slowly produced on a very small scale, with the vehicles behind almost completely hand-built. These vehicles featured leather upholstery and a well equipped interior and were aimed at the top of the automobile market. In a unique twist, a few models had the steering wheel placed in the center of the dashboard. Other T77's had the steering wheel on the right hand side. The front seat passengers were seated on either side of the driver, and the seats placed slightly back.The T77A was introduced in 1935. The updated and improved model had an increased V8 capacity of 3.4 liters. The increase was made possibly by enlarging the bore diameter from 75 to 80mm. The output was now increased to 75 hp and the maximum speed to 150 km/h. Three headlamps were now added to the front and the central unit was linked to the steering wheel on several models. Now three different directions of the headlight were possible. The lamp was now capable of being turned with the wheel. Several models were equipped with canvas Webasto roofs. The driving characteristics of the revised Tatra T77 were vastly improved along with the styling being updated nicely.In between 1933 and 1938 a total of 255 vehicles were produced of the type T77 and the T77a. Since all models were hand built, no two were exactly alike.
The Tatra 77 was the particular favorite of Tatra design engineer Erich Übelacker, who owned and used a T77 himself since 1934. Other famous owners of T77s were Milos Havel, the proprietor of the film studios in Prague who bought a T77 in 1935, Austrian car designer Edmund Rumpler, who designed the aerodynamic Rumpler Tropfenwagen in 1921, Edvard Beneš, the 1930s minister of Foreign Affairs and later president of Czechoslovakia, who both owned a T77A.
In 1936, Tatra introduced the T87 model. This was meant as a replacement for the T77 and was simpler and relatively more affordable, built on a shorter wheelbase that measured 124-inches. The interior provided seating for six from the Bauhaus-style seating. The T78 incorporated full monocoque construction and was powered by an air-cooled, magnesium alloy V8 engine with hemispherical combustion chambers and a single overhead camshaft per cylinder bank. Top speed was in the neighborhood of 160 km/h for this sporty vehicle.A small window in the divider between the passenger and engine compartments, plus louvers providing air for the air-cooled engine, allowed limited rear visibility. Its entire rear segment could be opened, to service the engine. The front doors are suicide doors, whereas the rear doors open in an orthodox manner.
Following the German annexation of Czechoslovakia in 1938, T87 production continued, halted briefly in 1943 and 1944. Below is the 1941 model:After the war production resumed. The list of notable T87 owners can be found here, but the model's fame relies not on the celebrities but on two brave guys, Jiří Hanzelka and Miroslav Zikmund who traveled in a T87 across Africa, South America and Central America. It was an adventurous trip which lasted three years.
The T97 was designed in 1936 as a smaller alternative to the large T87. Instead of a V8, it was powered by a 1.8-litre flat-four engine, also air-cooled. With engine power of 29.4 kilowatts (40.0 PS; 39.4 bhp) the car could achieve top speed of 130 kilometres per hour (81 mph). The design was also simplified, using just two headlights instead of three, a single-piece windscreen, and an overall smaller body.Production of the car was canceled after the Nazis annexed Czechoslovakia in 1938, possibly to avoid comparison with the KdF-Wagen. At that time, 508 cars were built. In 1946, production resumed, but the new communist government quickly dropped the T97 in favor of the cheaper to build and overall 'more communistic' Tatraplan, which was named after the Communist Planned Economy.The Tatra 600 Tatraplan was designed in 1946-47 by Josef Chalupa, Vladimír Popelář and Hans Ledwinka (the latter was soon accused of collaboration with the German occupation forces and imprisoned).
After two prototypes "Ambrož" (December 1946) and "Josef" (March 1947), the 600 went into mass production in 1948. In 1951, the state planning department decided that the Tatraplan should henceforth be built at the Skoda Auto plant in Mladá Boleslav, leaving Tatra to concentrate on truck assembly. This was quite unpopular with the workforce at both plants: as a result Skoda built Tatraplans for one year only before the model was discontinued in 1952.The Tatraplan had a monocoque streamlined six-seater saloon body with a drag coefficient (Cd) of just 0.32. It was powered by an air-cooled flat-4 cylinder 1,952 cc rear-mounted engine. 6,342 were made, 2,100 of them in Mladá Boleslav. In 2010, in the UK, Tatraplan had been selected by public vote in the 'Classic Car of the Year' competition as the winner of the 1940s category.
Tatra the Beautiful:
Special thanks to paul.malon, TATRA 603, Avi_Abrams, tatraskoda, Joost J. Bakker IJmuiden, Davydutchy, AnalogKid203, Dmentd, René Vallente, Stig Baumeyer, xavnco2, Sticky Fingaz, T600Tatraplan, tomislavmedak @ Flickr