The Key

Russian? No, Tatra

By Massimo Delbò

Photo credit: Wheelsage

There is an untold story in The Key 2020,: the story of the cars built in the Soviet Union from the October Revolution to the Fall of the Berlin Wall. But this story does not include the ones created in those countries absorbed by the communist bloc during the post-war period. That’s why today we want to remember the Tatra, for years considered the most technologically advanced car manufacturer in the world. It was, in fact, the Czechoslovakian car maker, masterfully guided by Hans Ledwinka, with its Type 77 (presented in 1934), that performed a meticulous aerodynamic study on cars and developed the concept of the rear-mounted air-cooled engine (in this case a 3-litre V8).

This image demonstrates the innovative vision of the Tatra T87: the rear-mounted engine, lots of interior space and thoughtful aerodynamics. Great qualities for a 1936 car

After 2 years of production, and only 249 examples of the 77 built, its successor, the T87, arrived: a more powerful engine, even more refined aerodynamics, more pronounced longitudinal stabilizer fin, slightly shortened and lightened with a maximum speed of 160 km/h, which was a record for the period for engines with similar power and displacement, all while consuming 50% less than its competitors. To better understand the importance of this model in the history of the car, it should be remembered that for a certain period of time Ledwinka’s young assistant was a certain Ferdinand Porsche, who admitted that he had been “freely inspired” by the 77 and 87 for studies on his Type 1, which later became the Volkswagen Beetle.

The rear view of the T87 is striking for its modernity and originality. Note the very characteristic longitudinal fin that became fashionable in those years

The inspiration was so “intense” that, in 1965, a court in Berlin (West) ordered Volkswagen to pay 1,000,000 German Marks in compensation to Tatra. Despite its ancestry, an incredible shape and excellent road manners, for years the Tatra 87 has been completely ignored by the market which, even today, is often oblivious to its existence. On the other hand, the few who know it have fallen in love with it and, if they have a good example, which is quite rare since only 3,056 were produced and it’s estimated that barely one hundred have survived, they try to keep it. The result is a certain scarcity of supply on the market, as demonstrated by the fact that in the last 5 years, only one example has gone to auction. Today, an 87 in good condition is estimated to be worth around 150,000 Euros, a value that rises considerably if the car is absolutely perfect and with a well-documented history.

In this front 3/4 view you can see the central headlight which was designed to be mobile. The Tatra T87 would go on to inspire numerous other models from the Czechoslovakian manufacturer
The interior is much more classic in style than the shape of the body and correspond to the refined taste of the 1930s
Hans Ledwinka, the engineer and creator of the T87, was a true car genius, inspiring many of the ideas subsequently put into practice by Ferdinand Porsche