Classic Car Spotlight – The Tatra 77 A Car With Presence

Images courtesy of @PaulbrooksAMG

This weeks classic spotlight highlights the Czechoslovakian Tatra 77, designed by Hans Ledwinka then subsequently developed by Paul Jaray, the Zeppelin aerodynamic engineer and Hans Ledwinka.

Aerodynamics were beginning to sound alarm bells, with designers being prompted to look towards efficiency and primarily reduce the ‘drag’ these beasts were having to battle against whilst trying to build speed up. In short a ‘breeze block’ had more windbreak, which is why larger ‘aeroplaned’ sized engines were given the green light in some earlier designs.

So, why not make this car less ‘breeze block’ and curvier?

Easy for the well healed modern gentleman to say now, but spotting the odd wind tunnel when out and about in the 1930s was more difficult than hens visiting the dentist.

Nonetheless, the Tatra’s new body shape was indeed given the luxury of having a gale force wind blown in its rather cute frog-eyed face, which ultimately gave designers the much needed facts and figures to start tinkering with body shape and aerodynamic lines, now synonymous with this stunning looking car.

Power Plant

The V8 air-cooled power plant was eventually laid to rest just before and above the rear axle, giving the curved dinosaur more stability but also ruling out the need for a floor tunnel and prop or driveshaft delivering the power to wheels.

All clever stuff, with the exhaust residing comfortably at the rear of the vehicle whilst battery, spare wheel and oil cooler were located towards the bow of the Tatra.

Tatra 77
The Tatra V8 with the air-cooling system and ‘dinosaur curve

Tatra 77 Mod Cons

Other mod-cons included a lightweight air-cooled V8, fully independent suspension, overhead valves and magnesium-alloyed transmission, suspension and body parts. The average drag coefficient of the Tatra 77 was apparently recorded as 0.2455, but those trendy goggles may have been slightly clouded with some stating this was relative to 1:5 model version of the car.

On close inspection this very innovative looking car had some quirky modern ideas, with the bumpers curving smartly around the very bold and ambitious looking wheel arches, sustaining a continuous eye-catching look.

Bonnet and lower front skirt both caress the chromed lighting structures, sitting proudly within each water sealed body panel, yet still retaining that all-in-one splendour as they illuminate a truly spectacular classic.

Split windscreens were another feature present with three sections neatly joined. The middle viewing area gave decent vision for the driver and even housed the clever windscreen wiping system which saw one motor drive both arms linked by a delightful mechanism that wouldn’t look out of place even by today’s standards.

The left and right angled screen sections were angled quite sharply towards the port and starboard sides of the vehicle.

Tatra 77
The Tatra delightful windscreen mechanism

Dinosaur Curve

As you walk towards the rear of this insatiable car, the magic of the front begins to be overshadowed by the ‘dinosaur’ curve which begins as the roof terminates, dropping steadily and finally resting in peace at the base of the rear end.

Aerodynamics are once again present as the door handles are given the Harry Potter treatment, cleverly embedded within the door panels, only to be found on very close inspection.

Reversing was, of course, tricky, as the jewel in the crown curve soon becomes the thorn in the side of the now ‘blind’ driver. No rear windows were possible and visibility was left to either the accommodating passenger quickly vacating their very comfortable seating area, or squinting through the very small slotting in the rear air-cooling fins.

The Tatra was presented at the Paris Motor Show, where it attracted all the journalistic attention it duly deserved. Reports are that Director Maurice Elvey was so amazed by the looks of the car that he used the T77 in his science-fiction movie The Transatlantic Tunnel.

Vilém Heinz, Motor Journal, 1934:
“It is a sensation when it comes to its construction, to its appearance and to its performance. However, it isn’t a sensation that has just fallen from the skies but is a logical extension of roads, which Hans Ledwinka made thirteen years ago.

“The ideological principle of the new Tatra is an understanding that the car is moving along the dividing line between the ground and the air. The car maintained 145km/h, it has astonishing handling, it drives through curves with speeds that are both mad and safe, and it seems just to float on any kind of road.

“It is a car which opens new perspectives to car construction and automotive practice.”

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