Czech Secret Weapon, Tatra 87 - Spirit of Speed
Do you know that the Volkswagen Beetle was a copy of an older Czechoslovakian car model?
Many would not believe that, and many would further not believe that the car has a bad reputation during the Second World War for the Axis powers. Germany at that time was expanding its nation under the leadership of Adolf Hitler and so many roads were built dubbed “Autobahns” to allow Germans to have roads for travel.
During the Second World War, the Tatra 87 car has been dubbed the “Czech Secret Weapon” by the allied forces as many historians have revealed that more Nazi officers were killed in accidents involving the car than in actual combat.
It was at that time that Germany invaded Czechoslovakia and began looting the nation. Many German officers were privileged to have grabbed what they considered to be one of the best car designs, but that would only prove fatal for them.
- From 1936 to 1950, Tatra, a Czechoslovakian vehicle manufacturer from Kopřivnice would build and release the Tatra 87 (T87) which would prove to be a successful design for the company for infamous reasons.
- The car cost about $25,000 back in 1937.
- Traveling at 85 horsepower as it uses a Weber carburetor, the automobile was powered by a rear-mounted 2.9-liter air-cooled 90-degree overhead cam V8 engine which enabled it to drive at nearly 100 mph. This makes one of the fastest production cars for its time.
- The car’s body was based on a design proposal by Paul Jaray, known for his work on the streamlined Zeppelins, which gave the car benefits including its futuristic, aerodynamic shape, designed by Hans Ledwinka and Erich Übelacker, which was based on the Tatra 77 and its engine have a consumption rate of just 12.5 liters per 100 km.
- By the aslant rear, it was a fin attached which helps in dividing the air pressure into both sides of the car. The front doors are rear-hinged coach doors, nicknamed “Suicide doors” the rear doors are front-hinged. The car is also equipped with a four-speed manual and designed with a completely flat undercarriage.
The Tatra had a high speed of 100 miles per hour which was praised by many German officers due to its speed and smooth riding on German highways (Autobahns). Many high-ranking Nazis wanted a model of this car as it has a sleek and unique design which they felt would be the future of automobile designs.
Many officers including Field Marshal of World War II Erwin Rommel and Soviet General Andrey Yeryomenko used this car design extensively throughout the wartime period. Other users include Farouk I, the King of Egypt, and Ernst Heinkel, the man behind the first turbojet-powered aircraft.
When Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in the 1930s, the car’s popularity rose among the Germans. However, it gains the reputation for causing many accidents that killed the officers of the German army to the point of forbidding German officers from driving the Tatra as it was deemed dangerous. Thus, it was dubbed by the allies as the “Czech Secret Weapon.” The rest of most of the accidents involving the Tatra 87 is rooted in its heavy steering. If a sharp turn was taken at high speed, the car would easily spin out of control and possibly kill anyone inside. It is reported that seven German commanders died in accidents involving this car.
- Upon learning of the deaths of many German officers, Adolf Hitler grew enraged and forbade all his subordinates from driving the vehicle.
- Hitler ordered Ferdinand Porsche to propose a car design that would be suitable for mass production and was economic for the German people to drive since he didn’t want a Czech design to be running Germany’s streets.
- Members of the National Socialist party would be promised this new car which would be known internationally as the Volkswagen Beetle.
Ironically, the design of the car was by an Austrian and a German designer when they were working for Tatra in Mordovia. Therefore, calling it a Czech design is misleading as it was manufactured in Czechoslovakia but designed by those the Nazis called their own blood.
After the war, many T87s were fitted with more-modern 2.5-liter V8 T603 engines which were famously used by Hanzelka and Zikmund for their travel through forty-four countries in Africa and Latin America which prove to bring the car to its limits as it featured the air-cooling V8 engine that could operate in any weather conditions.
Until the 1950s, the Czech built around three thousand and fifty-six units. It is said that Ferdinand Porsche was inspired by this car model that utilized some design aspects in making his successful Volkswagen Beetle which led to a lawsuit by Tatra. In 1965, the German company was ordered to pay a million marks in compensation for the stealing of Tatra’s design as there were just too many similarities many of Tatra’s designs.
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Writer of First under heaven & A Song For Zenith