20 Aug Collection in action – T
An alphabetical series of short driving impressions of some of the museum’s car collection. This month we look at a model from one of the auto world’s more innovative manufacturers that was situated behind the Iron Curtain, in Czechoslovakia.
Tatra is one of the automotive world’s less-recognised manufacturers, yet its origins go back to 1850, making it the third oldest company with an unbroken history still making vehicles. Founded as Schustala & Company and later renamed Nesselsdorfer Wagenbau-Fabriksgesellschaft, the company produced the first motor car in central Europe in 1897. The name Tatra, which stemmed from the Tatra Mountains on what was then the Polish-Czechoslovak border, was adopted in 1919. Prior to the outbreak of World War II, Tatra was producing some radical machines led by a talented Austrian designer Hans Ledwinka.
Not least of these was a series of aerodynamic, rear-engined cars simply titled T77, T77a and T87, the styling of which was done in consultation with Paul Jaray, who had worked at Luftschiffbau Zeppelin (LZ). Jaray had gained experience with the aerodynamic design of airships and he used LZ’s wind tunnels to establish the streamlining principles for car design. In 1927 he founded a company specialising in developing streamlined car bodies but Tatra was the only manufacturer to make use of his expertise (under licence) for a production car.
In 1936 Tatra decided to introduce an ‘entry level’ T-series model. Under the guidance of Hans, the T97 was created by Erich Ledwinka, one of Hans’ sons, and a German design engineer Erich Überlacker. It was a scaled down, flat-four-engined version of the V8-engined T-series cars.
FMM’s 1938 T97 was previously part of the famous Greyvensteyn collection. It was partially renovated some years ago and although its light metallic blue paintwork is not original, the colour actually suits the car viagra 100 preisvergleich. Considering its age, the car can be forgiven a few blemishes. Part of the dramatic styling is a ridge emanating from just above the sloping windscreen that runs back over the roof to become a ‘shark fin’ tail that splits the rear window. The T97 was one of the most aerodynamic cars of its time with an impressive drag coefficient of just 0,36 despite the ‘frog eye’ headlamps. Full rear wheelarch spats help smooth the air flow past the car.
Front and rear doors are hinged on the B-pillar, and have flush-fitting handles. Although trimmed in pleated leather, the front seat design is what can best be described as utilitarian. To be fair, they are wide and surprisingly comfortable despite the less-than-generous padding, and the backrest carries a full-width grab rail for rear seat passengers. The door panels carry house elasticated pockets and at either end of the metal dashboard there are small, lidded gloveboxes. The speedo and fuel gauge are supplemented with a non-original clock. The cream-coloured Bakelite steering wheel rim has, inevitably, cracked with time but the wire-spring spokes help evoke period charm.
The view out front and to the side is excellent thanks to the deep glasshouse but to the rear vision is limited through a small vertical, rectangular window in the bulkhead immediately behind the rear seat. This, in turn, allows sighting through the split rear window in the massive, one-piece, top-hinged engine cover – it is a bit like looking backwards through a telescope.
To start the car, turn and push the ignition key then pull up on a lever mounted down alongside the floor tunnel – a cable runs backwards to the starter motor. And it starts instantly. The floor-mounted pedals are offset to the left and the car pulls away with ease. The gearbox is a four-speed with a fairly close gate.
Powering the T97 is an air-cooled 1 749 cm3 boxer motor producing 30 kW at 3 500 r/min. A narrow intake just above the bumper feeds air to the front-mounted oil cooler while ear-like scoops on the C-pillars force air into the engine bay. The T97 is surprisingly light (1 150 kg) considering how heavy the front and rear hoods are, but the T97 was claimed to sprint from 0-100 km/h in 44,2 seconds and reach a top speed of 130 km/h. Thanks to its aerodynamics and gearing, it was capable of cruising all day at 110 km/h without fuss.
The T97 is built on a pressed steel platform with a central tube for added strength. It boasts independent suspension all round and the ride is remarkably smooth and relaxing. Rack-and-pinion steering offers good control and feedback and hydraulic drum brakes provide good stopping ability. Whether on tar or gravel, the T97 is one of those cars that the more you drive it the more impressed you become with its simple, fuss-free nature.
But there is a twist to the T97 tale. At the time of its development, Ferdinand Porsche was busy working on a KdF-Wagen prototype – which became known as the Beetle. As you will have realised, there are similarities in the design and technical specifications of both cars. The story goes that Hitler had ridden in Tatras during political tours of Czechoslovakia and had even dined with Ledwinka on numerous occasions. Hitler remarked to Porsche, “This is the car for my roads” and subsequently Ledwinka and Porsche met regularly to discuss their designs. Under pressure to produce a ‘car for the people’ quickly, Porsche reportedly did admit to having ‘looked over Ledwinka’s shoulders’ while designing the Volkswagen. As a result, Tatra sued Porsche for damages and Porsche was willing to settle but the agreement was cancelled by Hitler after Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Nazis. Production of the T97 was immediately halted and the lawsuit dropped. However, after the war the lawsuit was reopened and in 1965 the matter was settled when VW paid Tatra what is said to have been one million Deutsche Mark in compensation.
The T97 was built between 1936 and 1939 and only 508 were manufactured. In 1945 Tatra was nationalised and production of the pre-war models resumed, but the T97 was soon dropped in favour of the larger and more modern T600 Tatraplan. Today, the company is known more for its truck operation, but the models that appeared in the 1930s represented some of automotive history’s more fascinating developments – and not a little notoriety in the process. The Beetle may have conquered the world, but Tatra helped sow the seed of success. MM