$27,500 1979 CHEVROLET CORVETTE C3
WA | Kms
JUST Cars 30/01/2012
Queensland-based classic car specialists Oldtimer Australia have a habit of finding old and extremely rare cars for sale, both here and overseas, for their clients. However, Oldtimer have excelled even themselves with this recent acquisition – a 1948 Tatra T87 sedan. A rare example of one of the Czech motor industry’s most stunning cars, what makes this car even rarer is that it’s one of the few to have been factory fitted with a sunroof, and has been upgraded with a later model of the firm’s signature air-cooled V8 engine.
Tatra is one of the world’s oldest car companies, and like most automobile pioneers, can trace their origins back to horse drawn carriage days. After producing their first automobile in 1897, Tatra’s early models used conventional steel over timber framing, but were mould-breakers in that most were powered by air-cooled engines and featured a backbone chassis more commonly found on post-War sportscars. The air-cooled engine was selected in the belief that it was better at handling the freezing Czech Winters and equally extreme Summers, while the chassis layout was selected for its ease of manufacture and ability to economically fit independent suspension to handle the country’s rough roads.
Much of this innovative thinking was the work of Tatra’s chief designer, Hans Ledwinka. As good as these early products were, Ledwinka outdid himself with the design for the model that would eventually become synonymous with the marque – the ‘T77’ of 1934.
What set the T77 apart was its teardrop-shaped body. Streamlining and aerodynamics were fairly new concepts in car design at the time, and while other manufacturers had toyed with the idea, Tatra arguably made the first and greatest contribution to the design initially developed by Hungarian engineer, Paul Jaray. Compared to what most British, European and American manufacturers were producing at the time, the T77’s faired-in headlights (mounted in the bonnet), flush door handles and hidden hinges, and rounded body were positively decades ahead.
Under the T77’s futuristic body was a rear-mounted 3.0-litre V8 engine, air-cooled of course, which removed the need for a driveshaft, in turn freeing up interior floorspace for passengers. Early T77s even featured a central driver’s seat, which would be used by McLaren’s F1 almost sixty years later. Mounting the V8 at the rear also reduced the amount of engine noise that penetrated the interior. The T77 featured independent suspension all round.
As many of the ideas involved in the T77 were unconventional, the firm deliberately aimed the new model at the top end of the market in the belief that these buyers were more experienced with cars than the rank and file, and thus more willing to try out new ideas. Tatra was also looking to Germany as a growing export market for their cars and trucks, and the T77 was envisaged as the ideal cruiser for Germany’s expanding autobahn network of the mid-1930s.
The T77 was slightly modified for 1936 and rebadged as the ‘T77A’, which was modified again to create the ‘T87’ that debuted in 1938. Problems identified on the T77 were corrected, or at least reduced, on the T87 to make a better car overall than its predecessor. The main problem with the streamlined Tatras was the weight imbalance, with the rear-mounted engine and transmission making the car very tail heavy, adversely affecting handling. This was addressed on the T87 by using a lighter, all-aluminium engine and reducing the wheelbase by 300mm. In addition to reducing the handling issues, the weight reduction also improved performance, with T87s able to reach a top speed of 160kph.
While the styling followed the same aerodynamic pattern, the T87 was identified by the addition of a third ‘cyclops’ headlight to the middle of the bonnet (which housed the battery, oil cooler and spare wheel), while the front guards were more seamlessly blended into the body. The rear guards were completely faired into the body. Front vision was improved by the use of a three-piece windscreen with large central section. The distinctive dorsal fin became larger, but rear vision, the T87’s Achilles heel, was just as limited as on the original.
The onset of World War II didn’t immediately end T87 production, but apocryphal tales suggest the German Army’s high command forced Tatra’s shift to war material production in 1942 after too many Wehrmacht officers were killed trying to test the limits of the T87’s handling! Production recommenced in 1945, with British Army officers allegedly preferring the big Tatra saloon for secret and not-so-secret missions throughout Europe, such as chasing down Nazi war criminals and spiriting German rocket scientists away from the Russians!
T87 production continued until 1950, with a further styling change – as evidenced in the car featured here – added in 1948. This consisted primarily of the three headlights being more seamlessy integrated into the front end.
Hugely expensive when new, the T87 was only produced in small numbers across its interrupted twelve year production span. Total numbers have been put at 3023, over half of which were produced between 1948 and 1950. Naturally, most of these are located in Europe, with small numbers scattered through the UK, USA and South America. Tatras in this country are an extremely rare sight, which Oldtimer Australia’s Mark Jansen can attest to. Following the example pictured here to a photo shoot in Caloundra, Jansen said he has never seen a car turn more heads and create more interest than the Tatra!
The example for sale with Oldtimer Australia was sourced in Slovakia in 2000 in partially-restored condition and sent to Canada. Still in ‘project’ state, it was purchased by the current owner, a prominent Brisbane-based collector, in 2002 and shipped to Australia. Here, it was treated to a thorough, three-year restoration by Brisbane-based concours specialists, Sleeping Beauties. Soon after the restoration was finished, the Tatra won the ‘Most Elegant Vehicle’ award at the 2006 Maclean’s Bridge classic car event.
Currently for sale through Oldtimer Australia, this vehicle is fitted with a rare factory sunroof option, with power coming from a later model ‘T603’ V8, although a period correct T87 engine will be supplied on sale. Since the restoration, the T87 has covered only 4752 km. Asking price is $285,000. Contact Mark Jansen at Oldtimer Australia on 0417 828 569 for further details.
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A social club for people interested in all makes of cars and bikes. meet at Coal Creek historic park, Korumburra every 2nd Thursday of the month.
A web based club. We were founded in 2008, we have over 3000 members Australia-wide. We have cruises & meets in every state regularly. Stato.com.au is a club specialised for Statesman, Caprice & Grange. We are a family orientated club. New members can join online FREE & join your state & if you require any more information one of the State moderators will be contactable.
Vintage to modern - Riverina NSW based. Meetings: For more information phone or write to John.