ⓘ Tatra 87


ⓘ Tatra 87

The Tatra 87 was a car built by Czechoslovak manufacturer Tatra. It was powered by a rear-mounted 2.9-litre air-cooled 90-degree overhead cam V8 engine that produced 85 horsepower and could drive the car at nearly 100 mph. It is ranked among the fastest production cars of its time. Competing cars in this class, however, used engines with almost twice the volume, and with fuel consumption of 20 liters per 100 km. Thanks to its aerodynamic shape, the Tatra 87 had a consumption of just 12.5 litres per 100 km. After the war between 1950 and 1953, T87s were fitted with more modern 2.5-litre V8 T603 engines.

The 87 was used by Hanzelka and Zikmund for their travel through Africa and Latin America from 1947 to 1950.


1. Design

The Tatra 87 has unique bodywork. Its streamlined shape was designed by Hans Ledwinka and Erich Ubelacker and was based on the Tatra 77, the first car designed with aerodynamics in mind. The body design was based on proposals submitted by Paul Jaray of Hungarian descent, who designed the famous German Graf Zeppelin dirigibles. A fin in the sloping rear of the Tatra helps to divide the air pressure on both sides of the car, a technique used in later aircraft. Tatra 87 had a drag coefficient of 0.36 as tested in the VW tunnel in 1979 as well as reading of 0.244 for a 1:5 model tested in 1941.

Small sets of windows in the dividers between the passenger, luggage space and engine compartments, plus louvres 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 rear-hinged coach doors, sometimes termed "suicide doors", and the rear doors are front-hinged.

Many design elements of the Tatra 87, V570 and the later T97, were copied by later car manufacturers. Ferdinand Porsche was heavily influenced by the Tatra 87 and T97 and the flat-four-cylinder engine in his design of the Volkswagen Beetle, and was subsequently sued by Tatra.

The price new in the 1940s was 25.000 SFr. Its value today is around $125.000. A 1941 Tatra 87, owned and restored by Paul Greenstein and Dydia DeLyser of Los Angeles California, won a New York Times readers poll of collectors cars in 2010, beating strong competition from 651 cars.


2. Examples on display

  • A T87 is on display in the United States at the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, United States. The museum displays 13 Tatras, including a 613 ambulance. It was this car, used to pick up comedian Jay Leno from the airport, that prompted him to purchase one as well, and become an advocate for the brand.
  • A T87 is on display at the Riga Motor Museum in Riga, Latvia.
  • A 1948-built T87 is exhibited at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
  • A T87 is on display at the Volkswagen Autostadt in Wolfsburg, Germany.

3. Notable owners

  • Felix Wankel - German engineer, inventor of the Wankel engine
  • Jay Leno - an American stand-up comedian and television host
  • Josef Beran - Czech Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church and Archbishop of Prague
  • Andrey Yeryomenko - Soviet General and Field Marshal of World War II received the first T87 manufactured after WW2 as a present, this car is now on display in the Tatra museum
  • Emil Frantisek Burian - Czech poet, journalist, singer, actor, musician, composer, dramatic adviser, playwright and director
  • Erwin Rommel - German General and Field Marshal of World War II
  • Edvard Benes - a leader of the Czechoslovak independence movement, Minister of Foreign Affairs and the second President of Czechoslovakia
  • Eliska Junkova - one of the greatest female drivers in Grand Prix motor racing history
  • Norman Foster - a British architect
  • Antonin Zapotocky, Klement Gottwald - communist leaders, presidents of Czechoslovakia after the 1948 coup detat
  • Farouk I of Egypt - the tenth ruler from the Muhammad Ali Dynasty and the penultimate King of Egypt and Sudan
  • Ernst Heinkel - German Nazi aircraft designer, whose company produced the worlds first turbojet aircraft and jet plane, as well as the first rocket aircraft
  • Hans Ledwinka - the Tatra constructer when pensioned he got one as a gift from Felix Wankel. This car is now on display in the Deutsches Museum in Munich
  • Vitezslav Nezval - one of the most prolific avant-garde Czech writers in the first half of the twentieth century and a co-founder of the Surrealist movement in Czechoslovakia
  • John Steinbeck - American writer

The Tatra 87 was praised by German officers in World War II for the superior speed and handling it offered for use on the Autobahn. The Nazi armaments and munitions minister Fritz Todt declared: "This 87 is the Autobahn car." It was known, however, as the Czech secret weapon because it killed so many Nazi officers during World War II that the German Army eventually forbade its officers from driving the Tatra.