By Igor Holas
The world’s third-oldest automaker, Tatra of the Czech Republic, recently announced a bold move. Following a series of failed car models in the 1990s, and eventual exclusive reorientation toward trucks, they will resume production of one of the coveted models from their history.
Tatra was founded in 1850 as a coach and carriage manufacturer, but shifted its focus to automobiles in 1897 with a prototype called Präsident. After several other models, Tatra became one of the first major automakers, focusing on luxurious, technologically advanced vehicles.
The Tatra T87 came to be in 1937, in the boom years between the World Wars. As one of the pioneers of aerodynamic testing and design, Tatra developed a series of vehicles often referred as Streamliners with drag coefficients rivaling those of modern cars. Aside from an aerodynamic shape, the hallmark of these cars were rear mounted, air-cooled, boxer 4-, 6-, and 8-cylinder engines.
These cars were so popular that Ferdinand Porsche consulted with Tatra when developing the original VW Bug and later his own Porsche car line. In fact, Tatra sued Porsche for his liberal borrowing of the Tatra’s design, and Volkswagen eventually settled the claims with Tatra for 3 million Deutsche Marks, an amount that ironically forced cash-strapped (at the time) Volkswagen to continue production of the Beetle far longer than originally anticipated.
The T87 was just about the most luxurious car on the roads in the 40’s, and was a popular choice with celebrities, politicians, and magnates. With an art-deco interior, moonroof and other amenities, and unmistakably unique shape on the outside, the car was a rolling legend and still is. Finally, the car was used by two Czech explorers Jiří Hanzelka and Miroslav Zikmund as the vehicle of choice to cross the “wild continents” of Africa and South America making it the symbol of an era. When the car ceased production in the early 1950s, its legacy never went unnoticed, as Tatra never deviated far from the T87’s shape and technological configuration until the final Tatra car, the awfully outdated T700, rolled off the lines in 1999.
According to local sources, an outfit adjacent to Tatra’s factory is still building body parts for the T87 for restoration purposes, and claims to be able to build the whole car from scratch. Tatra seems to be optimistic about using this company’s know-how and simply inserting a modern engine into a body provided by them. The most likely source for the engine is said to be Porsche, since they are still using the basic Tatra configuration, including rear-mounted Boxer engines.
Earlier this year, Tatra revealed a new concept car, sparking hopes for an ultimate return of its cars; after all what better time to do so with T87’s ultimate successor, the Porsche Panamera around the corner? Company officials, however, vehemently denied any interest in a return to the car market, being satisfied with the medium and heavy truck market. However, the limited-production resurrection of the T87 is still an exciting event for a car very deserving to be remembered and celebrated. Tatra vowed to offer the car worldwide, and if any of you Savants can afford it, it would be reckless to pass on this opportunity to own one of the archetypal luxury limousines.
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