Monday, February 21, 2005

Tatra: Streamlined Czech Queen of the Road.

31cars184NYT:  "The story of Tatra is one of innovation, repression and vindication. The company got its start in the 1850's in Moravia (then part of the Austrian Empire, later Czechoslovakia) making buggies and railway cars. Auto production began with the Präsident in 1897.

A brilliant young engineer named Hans Ledwinka joined the company around that time and introduced innovations like all-wheel brakes, air-cooled engines and a central tube chassis with independent rear suspension. The Tatra's design and construction were years ahead of their time, strongly influencing Ferdinand Porsche, who was developing the Volkswagen Beetle on orders from Hitler; Porsche appropriated several of Ledwinka's ideas for VW.

"Porsche admitted he was basically looking over Ledwinka's shoulder," Mr. McCoskey said.

By the early 1930's, Tatra was testing aerodynamic design elements by a Hungarian designer, Paul Jaray. Many of these were incorporated into the design of the Tatra 77 of 1934. The air-cooled V-8 engine was placed behind the rear axle, allowing a spacious, quiet interior, and the car had a top speed of 90 miles an hour.

Ledwinka continued to tinker and produced a more graceful and compact model, the T 87, in 1936.

To keep the car light, much of the Tatra V-8, an advanced overhead-cam design, was made of aluminum. Like its predecessor, the sleek T 87 had an airplane-type central fin at the rear, air-intake scoops along the sides to direct cooling air to the engine and a third headlight that turned with the front wheels to cast light around a curve - as the Tuckers did years later.

After World War II, Communist central planners shifted production to a rival carmaker, Skoda, where the Tatraplan T 600 was made. But in 1957 car production returned to Tatra with a new streamlined model, the T 603. A descendant of the T 87, the first 603 also had three headlamps, an air-cooled V-8 and the same innovative chassis, although it traded the distinctive tailfin and louvers for a normal rear window."

Tatraplan and Tatra 603.


Source:
An East European Tour de Force, Often Copied but Still Unsung
MATTHEW HEALEY
NYT, January 31, 2005
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/31/automobiles/31CARS.html?8br

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