1940 Tatra T87

“Matching numbers” cars are rarely seen, as most were behind the
Iron Curtain and kept running by any means possible


Tatra manufactured some of the most technically sophisticated cars of the 1930s, with a decidedly unusual approach to automotive design. That can be attributed to Austrian engineer Hans Ledwinka, who spent his early years working under pioneering automobile and aircraft designer Edmund Rumpler.

Beginning with the T11, conceived in 1921 by Ledwinka as a “people’s car,” many design innovations found their way onto later Tatra models, including a horizontally-opposed, air-cooled engine, a fully independent suspension, and a rigid, tubular “backbone” chassis mounting the engine, transmission, and final drive at the rear as a single unit.

The T77 was introduced in March 1934 and is considered the first production car designed using aerodynamic principles. Its successor, the T87, was simpler and more affordable, with a shorter wheelbase. Somewhat sportier, it offered comfortable seating for six, with full monocoque construction. Meanwhile, the air-cooled, magnesium alloy V8 engine was upgraded with hemispherical combustion chambers and a single overhead camshaft per cylinder bank. The T87 was renowned for its high-speed cruising capabilities, as well as its top speed of 100 miles per hour.

Following the German annexation of Czechoslovakia in 1938, T87 production continued, halted briefly in 1943 and 1944. Post-war, the cars continued in production until 1950. The Tatra T87 offered here is believed by marque experts to have been originally built in 1940 by virtue of its dash layout and lack of sunroof.

Acquired by an American G.I. who exported the car to the United States after V-E Day, it was purchased in running order from his daughter in New England in 2002. The Tatra T87 was carefully restored, and the engine was meticulously disassembled and rebuilt to original specifications. Upon completion, the T87 was displayed at the 2008 Milwaukee Masterpiece Concours d’Elegance, and the current owner reports that the car starts, runs, and drives very nicely, with delightfully light steering, thanks to its rear-mounted engine.