1940 Tatra T87 SedanSOLD
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Estimate: $100,000-$125,000 US

Sold: $121,000

75hp, 2,970 cc single overhead cam air-cooled magnesium alloy V8 engine, four-speed manual transaxle, independent front suspension, swing-axle rear suspension, and four-wheel drum brakes. Wheelbase: 124"

While relatively unknown in North America, Tatra manufactured some of the most technically sophisticated cars of their time. The marque traces its lineage back to 1850 and was founded by Ignác Šustala as a wagon and carriage maker in Nesseldorf, later known as Koprivnice, Czechoslovakia. Tatra’s decidedly unusual approach to automotive design can be directly attributed to the work of Austrian engineer Hans Ledwinka, who spent his early years working under pioneering automobile and aircraft designer Edmund Rumpler.

Beginning with the T11, conceived in 1921 by Ledwinka as a “people’s car”, many design innovations found their way onto later Tatra models, including a horizontally-opposed, air-cooled engine, a fully independent suspension, and a rigid, tubular “backbone” chassis mounting the engine, transmission and final drive at the rear as a single unit. The T11 and T12, produced until 1933, were renowned for their durability, reliability and excellent road holding.

Starting in 1930, Ledwinka and Erich Übelacker began work on a new prototype, incorporating swing axles and a rear-mounted, air-cooled engine. Further evolution resulted in the V570, with low drag, radically streamlined bodywork influenced by the aerodynamic research of Paul Jaray. The resulting T77 was introduced in March 1934, and is considered the first production car designed using aerodynamic principles.

The coachbuilt T77, however, was not a strong seller, due to its high cost. Its successor, the T87, was both simpler and relatively more affordable, with a shorter wheelbase. Somewhat sportier, the T87 still offered comfortable seating for six, with full monocoque construction, providing a sturdy, safe and quiet passenger cabin, complete with Bauhaus-style seating. Meanwhile, the air-cooled, magnesium alloy V8 engine was upgraded with hemispherical combustion chambers and a single overhead camshaft per cylinder bank.

The T87 was renowned for its high-speed cruising capabilities, as well as its top speed of 100 miles per hour. Following the German annexation of Czechoslovakia in 1938, T87 production continued, halted briefly in 1943 and 1944. Postwar, the cars continued in production until 1950, and sadly, with the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, Hans Ledwinka was imprisoned for six years before eventual repatriation to his native Austria. In the meantime, Ferdinand Porsche’s prewar KdF-Wagen evolved into the Volkswagen Type 1, later known as the Beetle, which bore more than a passing resemblance to the T87, and one can only wonder if the T87 influenced the design of Preston Tucker’s innovative but short-lived line of cars.

The Tatra T87 offered here is believed by marque experts to have been originally built in 1940 by virtue of its dash layout and lack of sunroof. The car was purchased by an American G.I., who exported the car to the United States after V-E Day, and in 2002, it was purchased in running order from his daughter in New England. The car was carefully restored, and the engine was meticulously disassembled and rebuilt to original specifications. Upon completion, the T87 was displayed at the 2008 Milwaukee Masterpiece Concours d’Elegance, and the current owner reports that the car starts, runs, and drives very nicely, with delightfully light steering, thanks to its rear-mounted engine.

Recently, other T87s have been featured in several museum exhibits, including the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Curves of Steel exhibit at the Phoenix Museum of Art, and Modernism: Designing a New World, at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. A truly bold design statement that, in many ways, foreshadowed the cars of today, this fine T87 will certainly continue to draw admiration and provoke discussion wherever it travels.

Reference Number 38569

as of 2/10/2009

Car 1940 Tatra T87 Sedan
VIN 544113 
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