Tatra 87

Tatra 87 has a rear mounted 3.0 liter air cooled engine which produces 85 HP, allowing it to drive with up to 160km/h. Average gasoline consumption was just 12,5 liters per 100 km. Amazingly low consumption for ’30s, normally 3.0 liter engine from 1930-1940 would require at least 10 liters to run for 100km.

Tatra 77 (introduced March 1934) was the first mass produced streamlined car (based on the prototype Tatra V 570). Tatra 87 was meant to replace T77 is the second one. It was introduced in 1936 as a smaller, more affordable successor of T77. Both cars were designed by Erich Ubelacker and Hans Ledwinka, with doby design elements by Paul Jaray (Hungarian), who was designing Luftschiffbau Zeppelin (LZ) dirigibles at that time. Tatra 87 has a fin in the rear that divides the air pressure on both sides. Tatra 87 has a drag coefficient of 0.36, which is quite remarkable. For example, a car produced 50 years later a Mercedes C from 2001 has a drag coefficient of circa 0.21. More on drag coefficients you can find here. T87 was produced till 1950.

Porsche was influenced by Tatra: Ferdinand Porsche admitted once “Well, sometimes I looked over his (Ledwinka) shoulder and sometimes he looked over mine”. WW II and Hitler played a crucial role, preventing and delaying Tatra from filing a suit against Porsche for patent infringement for Porsche’s VW KdF-Wagen (later VW Beetle), which borrowed heavily from Tatra 97. While Porsche was willing to settle, Hitler canceled the arrangement. Later when Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia the production of T97 was stopped. Production of T87 continued, but was briefly halted in 1943 and in 1944. After the war, in 1961 — Volkswagen settled with Tatra for 11 different patents for 3 Mio DM compensation.

Mercedes-Benz 170 H (W28) also borrowed from Tatra design.

Chrysler and Tatra: The famous Chrysler Tucker ’48 also borrowed quite a lot from Tatra 87 features including a third “Cyclops” headlight, rear engine configuration, and all wheel independent suspension. Paul Jaray sued Chrysler over its Airflow model resulting in Chrysler settling out of court.



Ironically, Tatra 77 and Tatra 87 are really hard to find today, but the cars that were influenced by their design — VW Beetle and Porsche 911 are thousands. Tatra 87 is available on display at Cite de l’Automobile in Mulhouse, France. Photographs here are from the Cite de l’Automobile.


Tatra company facts: Tatra is a vehicle manufacturer founded in Koprivnice, Czech Republic in 1850. Tatra produced the first motor car in central Europe, the 1897’s “Prasident”. Tatra is named after the famous Tatra mountains in Slovakia. Tatra is the third oldest car manufacturer in the world, after Daimler-Mercedes Benz and Peugeot. Production of passenger cars ceased in 1999 (T700 being the last mass produced passenger car), and Tatra now produces a range of all wheel drive trucks. Read more details and Tatra company timelines.

Czech Secret Weapon: German Nazi officers enjoyed the speed and handling of Tatra 87; apparently they were not aware of T87’s habit to spin if pushed into a corner with high speed, because of the uneven weight distribution on the back wheels. T87 killed many Nazi officers so that the car was called the “Czech Secret Weapon”. Later, Hitler forbids his officers to drive the car.

T87 Key facts: Introduced 1936. Tatra sold 3.056 pieces of T87 until 1950.

Scale model: View Tatra T87 scale model by Matrix in 1:43 scale