Tatra - The Secret Killer Of Nazis.
Here's a name in the car industry that you might not have ever heard about before - Tatra. Sounds interesting, doesn't it? Like a consumer-goods brand for foods, or something of the sort. Little did we know however - including myself - Tatra is one of the oldest carmakers in the world. They were founded in what was previously the Czechoslovakian provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire back in 1850, first making horse-drawn cars, and then onto railroad carriages.
It wasn't until 1897 when they were inspired to make their own automobile, after having acquired a Benz-Patent Motorwagen, which was commonly agreed to be the first production car in the world. Since then, they have kept a tradition of making truly ground-breaking, and innovative cars. Particularly, Tatra is fond of the idea for rear-engine cars - meaning that the engine sits above the rear axle, right where you'd expect there to be a boot, or 'trunk' for those living in the Colonies.
Credits to: Flickr - tatraškoda | An old Tatra 77, dated 1935.
Remember the Volkswagen Beetle, a car loved by everyone from murderous dictators, to peace-loving hippies? How about Porsche, a brand known for creating some of the most sought after sports cars, and revered by enthusiasts aplenty? Well, they all took inspirations from Tatra, end of discussion. So much so, that Volkswagen later had to pay royalties to Tatra in the 1960s.
Eventually however, their uniqueness was too good for our boring world, and after years of poor sales, they decided that humankind just wasn't good enough, so they ceased making cars in 1999. Nowadays, they're making lorries (trucks) for all sorts of purposes. It's never an end to Tatra's creative spirit however - as they design trucks that'll help to clear rubble away from your new house, knock it down again and blowing it into pieces with cruise missiles, or maybe it'll help you escape into the wilderness at speed, while winning Dakar races.
They Giveth, And Taketh Away.
Because why not do everything, eh? Anyways, the whole history of Tatra is far too vast for one simple blogpost, lest you have the patience to read something 10,000 words long. For today nevertheless, we're going to look at a couple of special Tatras, of which became known as Czechoslovakia's secret weapon against the Nazis. The Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia - a country that took me far too many spelling attempts - lasted from 1938 to 1945, and just like all nations under occupation, it suffered terribly.
And just like those other countries, they resisted. Other than forming underground resistance groups, guerrilla warfare, open rebellion, or the simple act of civil disobedience against their occupiers, the Czechoslovakian's had other, more creative ways to eliminate Nazis, unintentionally so. When you start invading other peoples by force, naturally you'll want something in return for all that effort. Besides, warring is a tiresome business, and plunders are expected. Following the occupation, the Nazis took all the best, shiny things for themselves - gold, artwork, cultural antiquities, mansions, castles, and of course, fast cars.
Credits to: Wikipedia - German occupation of Czechoslovakia | Bitter memories of a dark time.
Back then, Tatra was seen with envy, the same way we admire Mercedes-Benz cars cruising by these days. At the time, there was the 77, and 87 series Tatras. Of course, how could you not love one, just look at it! It wasn't just beautiful, but it was state of the art, with a coach-built and aerodynamic bodywork, first sculpted by Paul Jaray, among the designers behind the Zeppelin. Then, the body was fitted onto a lightweight steel chassis that was unique at the time, and powered by a high-tech powerplant, engineered by Hans Ledwinka - one of Tatra's masterminds, and certainly among the greatest automotive engineers in history.
To make the body as streamlined as possible, the engine was placed in the rear, thus smoothening the front fascia. The later 87 variant Tatras had a reworked 2.9-litre V8 engine - smaller than the ones fitted onto the updated 77s, which had 3.4-litres. But clever engineering meant that the former could punch out more grunt, specifically 85-horsepower. Not a lot, but combined with the 87's slippery silhouette, it was superbly fuel-efficient - at the time anyways - while also capable of a mind-boggling 100 miles-per-hour top speed.
Credits to: Retromobile 2020 - Tatra | A dark blue/purple 77, and a light-blue 87.
This is fast by 2020 standards, let alone in the late-30s and early-40s. You can see why those smug, high-ranking Nazi officials liked to drive and be chauffeured around in Tatras, even though they had pretty good Mercedes limos lying around. Nationalism doesn't count for anything when you can look cool, and go fast. It was described by the Nazi 'armaments and munitions minister', Fritz Todt as "The Autobahn car".
But here's the thing, the Autobahn is a fast straight line, with minimal curves. This is where the Tatras earned their reputation as killers. Recall again to a post I did a while back on engine placements, and mainly on rear-engine configurations. I remarked that having all the weight-balance heavily biased on the rear-end of a car, means that the handling can get a little twitchy. They can snap into oversteer - where the car starts turning inwards from your direction of travel, and the rear-end slips out.
Credits to: Tatra 77 | The inside out of how Tatras work.
Despite Tatra's clever tuning to the suspension, the handling never improved beyond the laws of physics. Volkswagen Beetles are also rear-engined, but they're not dangerous because they go slower than molasses grow. That same thinking doesn't apply to Tatras, and the Nazis didn't know that, either. So, imagine this - a high-ranking Nazi officer, after stopping by the mistress' villa for some Strudel and Schnapps, maybe after a puff of a cigar, needs to then return and report back to headquarters. So they, and maybe a bunch others would step into their sleek, cool Tatra 77/87 and go for a jolly high-speed run while they're at it.
How could one resist, when it's easily capable of doing it? Eventually, they'll go too fast, and hit a sharp-ish corner, before the Tatra's rear-end steps out - throwing itself, and its occupants into a tree, wall, cattle, or through a shop window. In any case, it'll most likely kill whoever's in it, and apparently - more Nazi officers are killed in Czechoslovakia by crashing their Tatras, than in active combat. Think about that for a moment, and consider how brutal the Eastern Front was at the time. Everywhere you'd go, there's probably some uniformed Nazi officer here or there, stuck dead behind the wheel of a Tatra.
Credits to: TOC College - Understeer vs Oversteer
Usually, having people killed in your car isn't a good outlook for any automaker, but in this case, I think it's permissible, horrible as it may be. It was so bad, that Nazi officials forbade their ranks from ever getting into a Tatra. Here's a quote from author, Steve Cole - famous for his adaptations on the Young Bond series of books:-
"These high-ranking Nazi officers drove this car fast but unfortunately the handling was rubbish, so at a sharp turn they would lose control, spin out and wrap themselves round a tree killing the driver more often than not. The Allies referred to the Tatra cars as their secret weapon against the Nazis."
"More high-ranking Nazi officers were killed in car crashes in the Tatra 77 [and 87] than were killed in active combat. It goes to show that being too flash doesn't get you anywhere and will leave you dead."
~Sourced from the Telegraph; link.
Credits to: Flickr - tatraškoda | A happy family of Tatras.
Take what isn't yours, and you'll pay for it, sooner or later. This continued until Germany eventually capitulated to the oncoming Soviets, marching West-wards by the millions before shadowing and starting another dark chapter in Czechoslovakian history. Still, it's a great little snippet from history, seeing how a car can prove monumental in the most unconventional way possible. There's never a death toll, but according to some sources, they number in the hundreds, including some key architects of the Nazi occupation. In this one regard, I'm actually happy that Tatra isn't around to making cars anymore.