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Rétrospective Rétromobile - ironically “Anticipated” — Part 3/4


© 2020 John Godley

© 2020 John Godley

© 2020 John Godley

© 2020 John Godley

© 2020 John Godley

© 2020 John Godley

© 2020 John Godley

© 2020 John Godley

© 2020 John Godley

© 2020 John Godley

© 2020 John Godley

© 2020 John Godley

© 2020 John Godley

© 2020 John Godley

© 2020 John Godley

© 2020 John Godley

 

Part 3 — Tatras and Tractors

When transitioning between Hall 1 and Hall 2 at Rétromobile, held at the Expo Centre in Porte de Versailles, Paris, there was a long corridor of some 100 yards or more, within which, during the previous year were displays of Austin and Morris Minis (celebrating 60 years) and, in 2018 many record breaking cars that had conquered the ‘Speed Ring of the Montlhéry circuit’. What would be shown here this year, I wondered? I certainly couldn’t have guessed but, immediately upon arriving at the thoroughfare, I recognised the Czech marque Tatra.


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What a joy to see the chronological history of this central European manufacturer, based in Ostrava in the Czech Republic near the Polish border, represented in models from all eras of production. It began with the forerunning company’s underpinning model, the ‘Prasident’, constructed way back in 1897 when powered by a 5hp Benz engine. And you will see this, and each subsequent model, has been photographed and identified within the accompanying collection of pictures.

In the pre-communism days, and well before WW2, Tatra built spacious limousines, such as the T70 (from 1931) and the further developed T70A (from 1934). Much as standard in profile and format for the era, they were powered by six-cylinder, water cooled front mounted engines of 3.4 to 3.8 litre capacity. Tatra were also major players in the manufacture of engines for lorries and trucks but it was the streamlined, rear mounted (latterly V8) engine passenger cars, that began with the (2-cylinder) T570 prototype in 1933, for which the company is most synonymous.

Whilst the T570 was far advanced for its day and the inspiration for a certain young Ferdinand Porsche, a much later car (but still a year before his name became a formal manufacturer) the flat 4-cylinder two litre P600 Tatraplan was an impressive and slippery, aluminium bodied, four door saloon, capable of 140kmh (87mph). And almost six and a half thousand of these were built.

Air-cooled and aerodynamic, the Tatra, as a generic brand, always get less attention in history than the later produced and more modest - in all departments - Volkswagen Beetle. However, unlike VW, mass produced automobile production for Tatra eventually ended in the 1990s. They were still propelled by nitrogen/oxygen (and a bit of argon) cooled power, remaining located at the back, but with the more modern angular body shape of the Tatra 613, and they finally fizzled out in 1999. This with the similarly profiled, but more up to date and sporty, Tatra 700, although only 75 of these were completed.

However, back in the Soviet Block years when most ordinary working folk were permitted private transport from the likes of Skoda, Volga, Zaz, Gaz and Moskvich, the imposing sight and deep rumble of a Tatra 603 V8 from your rear view mirror and open window was enough to signal everyone immediately getting out of their way. However, if it kept following, that’s when you really were in trouble. Reserved strictly for government high officials and the notorious security services, these were rarely driven by anyone not in authority, between 1956 and a decade or more of continued use after production was suspended in 1975.

Yes, these always impressive futuristic saloons, from the earlier T77 and T87 era, pretty much put the equivalently timed VW Beetles into the ordinary category but were proved to be, in some global trial cases, every bit as robust as was the ‘peoples car’, not least when some students from Prague University decided to drive a Tatra 87 across most continents of the world. Initially they went round Africa and through Latin America, which took three and a half years between 1947 and 1950, covering 44 countries, filming and writing as they travelled. In their absence, a Stalinist government had taken control of the home nation, but they were able to negotiate permission from the new Czech authorities for another mammoth journey in the T87 a few years later.

Between 1959 and 1964 they covered the rest of eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, most of Asia (including Indonesia and Japan) and even various Pacific Islands, making documentaries as they went along and navigating through 83 countries in total. Black and white filmed evidence of the original escapade - when they reached the deserts of Egypt and stopped at the Pyramids - was shown right beside the restored example itself, the very car which had completed the epic adventure.

In the commercial world of bulk load movement, Tatra have been building a reputation in this field since the close of the 19th Century, though serious production was established in 1914. Over subsequent decades, they expanded into various forms of heavy transport and also military vehicles. In common with the early cars up to the T75, trucks bodies since 1920 have been fixed on a single waterproof tube that acts as a chassis frame, and through which all the transmission components pass.

The Tatra 111 truck of 1942 was the first to receive a 12-cylinder air-cooled diesel engine, and for 78 years this configuration, with its light alloy block and camshaft, has been used in many V8, V10 and V12 atmospheric and turbocharged variants. By the mid-1980s even high-performance competition trucks emerged and, in 1985 (though disqualified on a technicality), a Tatra 815 came 2nd in the Paris-Dakar Rally. That set the benchmark for many more specialist desert conquering behemoths to follow in those pioneering tyre tracks.

So, returning to more sedate passenger vehicles, here is a roundup of the specific cars on display in Paris:

Prasident

1897

brown

T11

1923-26

black

T57 chassis

1923-26

(without body)

T70

1933

black

T570

1933

blue

T77

1933-35

navy

T87

1947 (1937-50)

dark grey

T87 (world tour)

1947 (1937-50)

light grey

T600 Tatraplan

1947-51

white

603 Series 1

1956-62

green/cream

603 Series 3

1968-75

black

613

1973-95

grey

700

1996-98

red

Further along, within the much wider area of Hall 3, yet not as glamorous as the main exhibition arena, were a great many car club exhibits and all sorts of classics for sale, all priced under €25,000. However, in between them was a colourful display of agricultural transport. Not really associated with classic cars yet extremely appropriate, because the models themselves were all from manufacturers better known for their passenger car production. Nearly all readers with be familiar with the fact that Porsche made tractors, and most will be aware that Ferruccio Lamborghini too started out making ‘Trattori’ before he decided to venture into sports cars.


© 2020, Classique Car Conduits

Then, of course, reliable agricultural machinery from Britain was most familiar to farmers who selected David Brown Tractors, made in the county of Yorkshire. David Brown, of course, being the rescuer of Aston Martin in 1950 (he also bought Lagonda) and after which models from DB1 to DB6 and DBS were made until 1972. And then, subsequently, were the DB7 and onwards, after he had given permission for AML to use his initials once again. Of course, even more notably, we have the Ford Motor Company. Fordson tractors, since their beginnings in 1917, have become recognisable throughout the globe.

However, two or three other automotive manufacturers were known to me, but certainly not the full complement of twelve, nearly all of which are illustrated here with photographic examples. These except for Alfa-Romeo and SAAB which were indeed also present, but for some unknown reason I completely missed!  Again, in similarity to the Tatras, the various tractor manufacturers present are listed below (though the specific model names are indicated within the picture headings).

Alfa-Romeo, David Brown (Aston Martin), Citroën, FIAT, Ford, Lamborghini, M.A.N (trucks), Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Renault, SAAB and Volvo.

Somewhat more tenuously, going back to Ford, there was a close collaboration between the ‘Blue Oval’ and Irishman Harry Ferguson, whose inventions earned him the accolade of ‘the father of the modern farm tractor’. Later, under his own name, the grey painted Ferguson TE20 model, or affectionately called the ‘Fergie’, remains one of the most iconic tractors ever built, yet after his death Ferguson Research was responsible for the four-wheel drive system used in the 1966 Jensen FF.

I think the most unusual of all the mechanical agricultural workhorses that I saw, and the most interesting, was a small example by Porsche which was very streamlined and must have had a very slippery drag coefficient. This was not for speed or for slicing through the air, neither to minimise wasteful fuel consumption, but it was specially designed for harvesting coffee beans. Coffee plants must be very fragile, in terms of being brushed across by sharp or hard surfaces, so protection around the whole body and rear wheels of the vehicles was added. As a result, the rows of plants are only minimally disturbed, without breakage, and thus they spring back again unharmed as the harvesting or cultivating machine passes smoothly through. It would appear these devices were very sought after by coffee plantation owners in the 1950s. Another innovation, which I’d learnt from my nonagricultural background, was that Mercedes-Benz had made 4-wheel drive tractors from as far back as 1973.

A closing point worth mentioning here is that, over recent years, it seems any classic car auction held by either Artcurial or Bonhams (RM Sotheby’s also sometimes now) is not complete without at least one example of a Lamborghini made tractor. Although the Rétromobile display vehicle was painted in blue and white, it is evident that orange and a contrasting shade, akin to French blue, is the standard combination that all fully restored Lamborghini tractors are finished in, for maximum impact. This a pre-requisite to attract seasoned customers when sending to public sale, in terms of a most desirable colour scheme, especially those looking for authentically original examples.

Not to be disappointed in making such an assumption, I found Artcurial had a fine example, which specifically was a 1962 ‘2R’, as did Bonhams, with a similar model ‘2R’ from 1964. This pair were sent to new homes for between €15k and €18k. They may perhaps be exhibited by investing collectors amongst sports car portfolios, and might possibly be driven around large back gardens, on occasion. However, it would be doubtful that any of these workhorses would be seen toiling the land, as they did 70 years ago, and thus being used for the fundamental purpose for which they were constructed.

That said, it was good to see this wide selection of tractors and Tatras. Both were certainly worthy elements of the Parisian Rétromobile festival of bygone motoring.

Part 1 >> ‘Deux Marques Natives’
Part 2 >> De Tomaso Icon Emerges from the Depths
Part 4 >> Recent Auction Cars to Remember

© 2020 John Godley
Classique Car Conduits