1941 Tatra T87 Aerodynamic Saloon
Chassis no. 49870
Engine no. 12786345
* 2.9-liter air-cooled alloy V-8
* 4-speed transmission
* One of the fastest cars of the day
* The inspiration for Ferry Porsche's Volkswagen
* Extremely rare in the US
One of Europe's oldest car makers, the Czech firm of Tatra has a history dating back to 1850 and a reputation for technical innovation thanks largely to the fertile mind of talented Austrian engineer Hans Ledwinka. The T87 is one of the most advanced cars of the pre-war period and was well ahead of its time, combining streamlining with a radical layout that heavily influenced Dr. Ferdinand Porsche's design of the Volkswagen Beetle. In fact the similarities were so blatant that Tatra subsequently sued the German company for infringing 11 different patents. The aerodynamic exterior, incorporating a 'cyclops' third headlamp, rear fin and full unibody construction with belly pan, allowed the T87 to cruise the new highways of Europe at speeds approaching 100mph.
Beneath the stylish coachwork, the Tatra was powered by a rear-mounted 2.9-liter magnesium alloy, air-cooled overhead-cam V8 producing 85 horsepower. Suspension was fully independent, with hydraulic brakes. The luxurious Tatra was an expensive car when new but did sell in relatively impressive numbers, with just over 3,000 built between 1936 and 1950. Very few Tatras have ever made it to the United States and there an estimated ten T87s in the country today an example can be found in Jay Leno's suitably eclectic Big Dog Garage, and one graces the foyer of Peter Mullin's spectacular museum, the only non-French marque exhibited there.
The late Martin Swig, organizer of the California Mille, acquired this particular T87 after using it on a rally in the Czech Republic approximately a dozen years ago. Having always wanted a Tatra T87, Martin so enjoyed driving the car he duly purchased it and had the car shipped home to California. The Tatra had previously been restored in the Czech Republic but Swig wanted the car to be absolutely "on the button", so had the V8 engine overhauled by Pit Stop Automotive in San Francisco.
With a lovely patina, this T87 presents as a functional driver's car with generally straight bodywork. The paint exhibits a few minor flaws that are in keeping with the overall condition, the chrome is very good and the glass is excellent. The wheels have been refurbished and the car sits on period white wall tires. Inside the upholstery has been re-trimmed in period brown corduroy and the gauges restored; overall the cabin has a lovely period feel, with several unique touches such as articulated coat hangers and cloth headliners. With plenty of room inside for four adults thanks to the rear-engined layout and great visibility all round, the Tatra is a unique and fabulous tour car.
Bonhams staff recently enjoyed an extensive test drive of the T87, during which the Tatra performed very well, with all major systems working correctly. Swig regularly exercised the Tatra in the Bay Area during his ownership.
Welcome at most major rallies and shows around the world, Tatras evoke great enthusiasm and interest from onlookers and are considered technological masterpieces. The T87 is the high water mark of Tatra's technical innovation and with most examples in long-term ownership, this sale represents a unique opportunity to purchase one of these idiosyncratic, technologically fascinating Czech automobiles.