The in­no­va­tors


Car (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

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”.

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