The back end of these cars is spectacular, I have had the fortune of seeing several in person in and around Pebble Beach.
The Tatra marque was responsible for some of the most technically sophisticated cars of their time, and they have a history that dates back to 1850 when they were founded by Ignac Sustala as a wagon and carriage maker in Nesseldorf, Czechoslovakia. Their unusual approach, and controversial designs are attributed to the Austrian engineer Hans Ledwinka, who had spent his early career working with automobile and aircraft designer Edmund Rumpler.
Like many of Tatra’s early designs, the T87 was well ahead of its time. It was among the very first cars designed with aerodynamics in mind. It is incredibly streamlined, and incorporates a full belly pan. The entire rear segment of the Tatra 87 formed an engine cowling, and the fin in the sloping rear of the T87 helps to divide the air pressure on both sides of the car, a technique used in later aircraft. The T87 was praised by German officers in World War II for the superior speed and handling on the Autobahn, where it was capable of nearly 100 mph!
Innovation did not stop at the coachwork. The T87 is powered by a most unusual rear-mounted 2.9 litre, magnesium alloy V8 air-cooled, 90-degree overhead cam engine that produced 85 horsepower, a remarkable feat of performance and reliability, considering the era in which it was designed. The chassis is unibody in its construction, much like the Porsches and Volkswagens that followed it. Suspension was independent on all four corners, with hydraulically actuated drum brakes. The cabin provided comfortable seating for four, as well as a massive sunroof. Even though the Tatra T87 was a rather expensive luxury automobile, the company managed to produce and sell just over 3,000 examples between 1936 and 1950.
Many design elements of the Tatra T87, Tatra V570, and the later T97, were copied by later car manufacturers. Dr. Ferdinand Alexander Porsche was heavily influenced by the Tatra T87 and T97 in his design of the Volkswagen Beetle, and was subsequently sued by Tatra, who won on 11 different patents infringements. The famed Tucker ’48 also borrowed Tatra features including a third “Cyclops” headlight, rear engine configuration and all wheel independent suspension.
This particular example is complete, and fully functional, with excellent “driver” cosmetics. The body is solid, and generally straight, with excellent structural integrity in the important areas such as hinges, suspension pickup points, and floors. The paint work is in keeping with “driver” standards, and while there are flaws relating to age and use, they do not detract significantly from the presence of the automobile. The chrome is very good throughout, as are the emblems, and lenses. The window glass is excellent. The car sits on restored wheels, with period style white wall tires.
The interior has been redone in brown corduroy and is in excellent order. The gauges appear to have been restored, and are in beautiful condition. Unlike most specialty automobiles, the T87 really does provide comfortable seating for four adults, which invites interesting possibilities for tour events! The cabin is virtually all glass on three sides, giving each occupant an outstanding vantage point. Tatras are well appointed cars, complete with cloth headliners, and articulating coat hangers.
The engine bay is industrial in its presentation. Onlookers cannot help but be intrigued. This example is original in its configuration, and nicely detailed, but perhaps not to Pebble Beach standards.
This T87 is a strong driving car, with ample power, easy to operate clutch, and straight forward transmission with synchronized 3rd and 4th gears. The brakes are effective, although also audible. The suspension and steering box feel tight, and strong. While the very high speed handling characteristics of the rear engine Tatras have come under some scrutiny, this example is a delight to drive around town, and at reasonable freeway speeds. The current owner has regularly exercised this particular car, and in fact, proudly drove it to Fantasy Junction at the time of consignment.
One of approximately ten Tatra T87s in the United States, the availability of these cars is quite limited. Although unusual, they are not under appreciated. John Steinbeck, and the King of Egypt both owned a T87, as does diversified automobile enthusiast (and comedian) Jay Leno. Noted French collector Peter Mullins chose the Tatra T87 to be the only non-French car in his amazing museum, where it is displayed in the foyer.
For most enthusiasts, very little about the Tatra make, or the T87, is familiar, and this is perhaps what makes it so appealing. These cars are nothing short of a design and engineering masterpiece of the period, and evoke more questions and enthusiasm than traditional, mainstream cars, which may be multiples their value. Because of their unusual nature, this Tatra is a welcome entrant to many of the world’s most prestigious venues- from concours to tour events- where it is sure to be the subject of much bewilderment.
Find it here on Ebay