1938 Tatra Type 77a LimousineEnlarge Photo
Tatra, the old Eastern European automaker best known for its innovative designs and rear-engined vehicles, will get the recognition it deserves this year with an official display at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. While modern-day Tatra produces only heavy goods vehicles, its classic vehicles are often considered under-appreciated.
The company's vehicles were surprisingly modern for the day--as noted by Hemmings, Tatra models featured swing-axle rear suspension and a backbone chassis as early as 1919. Aerodynamic forms are a familiar Tatra attribute too, arriving in 1933 with the Tatra V570--a car that also featured a rear-mounted, horizontally opposed and air-cooled engine--said by many to be the inspiration for the Volkswagen Type 1. This similarity actually resulted in a lawsuit between engineer Hans Ledwinka and Beetle designer Ferdinand Porsche, a suit eventually settled in 1967.
Tatra's attention to aerodynamics peaked with the T77, its 0.21 coefficient of drag far lower than any production car at the time, and indeed lower than any production car on sale today. Further engineering intrigue continues in its rear-engined layout and V8 power unit--characteristics that did cause some handling difficulties in certain situations. The T87 fixed this to a degree with a lighter engine and shorter wheelbase, and this layout was continued well into the 1990s with the Tatra T700.
While this won't be the first appearance by Tatra at Pebble Beach, it's the first time the marque has had such a stage at the internationally-recognized event. The automaker will take its stage beside such illustrious marques as Maserati, celebrating its centenary, as well as a selection of steam vehicles, the Rolls-Royce Phantom IV and V, and the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa. This year's Concours takes place on August 17.