THE CARS WE DRIVE TODAY WERE INFLUENCED BY THESE MAVERICKS
First production car to employ aerodynamics
LED by legendary engineer Hans Ledwinka, whose Tatra 97 was the inspiration for Ferdinand Porsche’s Volkswagen Beetle, the innovative Czechoslovakian manufacturer unveiled the sensational T77 at the Prague and Berlin auto shows in the spring of 1934.
Ledwinka had employed Paul Jaray – noted Zeppelin aerodynamicist – to do the bodywork and, with access to Zeppelin’s wind tunnels, Jaray introduced aerodynamic design principles that would become the modern standard. These included its fenders, headlamps, door hinges and handles all integrated into the body; a sloped-back, 45-de- gree windshield; and smooth underbody that gave the car superior performance, fuel economy and reduced cabin noise. The T77 was measured to have a Cd of 0,212, a figure not broken by a production car until General Motor’s EV-1 electric vehicle in 1995 (with 0,195). BUT THAT WAS NOT ALL The streamlined bodywork wasn’t the only innovation the T77 could boast. Ledwinka placed the aircooled V8 engine over the rear axle, allowing for a significant improvement in interior space, as there was now no centre tunnel required to accommodate a driveshaft and transmission. Passengers also sat low in the T77, dropping the car’s centre of gravity and improving the handling (something it desperately needed, but more on that later) and, like the 1992 Mclaren F1, early T77 models also had the driver seated centrally to improve outward visibility and mass distribution. AND NOT ALL WAS GOOD With four-wheel independent suspension that employed swing axles in the rear and a transverse leaf spring setup at the front, plus the extreme rear weight bias, the T77 was a beast to drive. Despite the 2,97-litre V8 putting out only 44 kw, its aerodynamics meant it could hit 160 km/h. And that was fine in a straight line, but not when it came to turning left or right … the T44 suffered from vicious oversteer.
In the late 1930s, officers of the invading German army took a liking to the Tatra but so many of them were killed while behind the wheel that Adolf Hitler supposedly forbade them from driving what was known as “the Czech secret weapon”.