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Lot 558: Tatra T77A Saloon Project

Grand Palais Sale, Bonhams (7 February 2013)

The name of Tatra is forever linked with that of Hans Ledwinka, one of the most original engineers ever to turn his attention to automobile design. Born in Austria in 1878, he received a technical education and got his first job, as a draughtsman, with Nesselsdorfer Waggonfabrik, a manufacturer of railway rolling stock. When the company diversified into automobile production, Ledwinka designed its cars. After a spell with Steyr, for whom he designed its first automobile, he returned to Nesselsdorf in 1921, by which time the town had been absorbed into the newly created Czechoslovakia and renamed Koprivnice. His old employer had a new name too: Tatra, taken from the eponymous mountain range in Slovakia. Tatra's chief engineer, Ledwinka was responsible for the reconstituted company's first entirely new car: the T11. Introduced in 1923, the 1,056cc T11 was one of the most advanced small cars of its era, incorporating independent rear suspension by means of swing axles, and a torsionally rigid backbone chassis frame, features that would characterise future Tatras of all sizes. Ledwinka was an advocate of air-cooling and so the T11 was powered by an air-cooled flat-twin engine with ducted airflow, the latter feature contributing greatly to its efficiency. The T11 was followed by the similar but four-wheel braked T12 and then the larger, 1.9-litre T17, which used a water-cooled six-cylinder engine. Tatra's range expanded throughout the 1920s and into the succeeding decade, reaching its zenith, at least as far as relatively conventional designs were concerned, with the 6.0-litre V12-engined T80 of 1931. At around this time Ledwinka began experimenting with the application of low-drag aerodynamics to passenger car design, one of the first results being the T570, which was designed in collaboration with his colleague Erich ´┐Żbelacker and Zeppelin aerodynamicist, Paul Jaray. The T570 undoubtedly influenced Ferdinand Porsche's design for Adolf Hitler's 'People's Car' (the Volkswagen 'Beetle') and after WW2 Tatra successfully sued VW for compensation. Ledwinka's experiments laid the foundations for Tatra designs for years to come. In 1934 the first of Tatra's 'aerodynes' appeared; this was the T77, the world's first series-produced car designed with aerodynamic efficiency as the foremost consideration. Tatra's advertising hailed it as 'the car of the future', and when compared with its contemporaries the T77 must have looked like it had come from another planet. Just as advanced beneath its streamlined skin, the T77 featured Ledwinka's trademark, independently-suspended backbone chassis and was powered by a 3.0-litre air-cooled V8 engine mounted at the rear, while the extensive use of magnesium alloy for the engine, gearbox, suspension and body kept the weight down to 1,700kg (3,700lb). Although its 60bhp engine was relatively modest in output for a large, six-seater, luxury car, the T77's staggeringly low drag coefficient of around 0.21 meant that it was still capable of reaching 145km/h (90mph). A conventional car would have required twice as much power. In 1934 the T77 was superseded by the T77A, which benefited from a 3.4-litre engine and higher (150km/h) top speed. Hand built and produced up to 1938, the T77A was readily distinguishable from its predecessor by virtue of its third, central headlight. It is estimated that only 100-or-so T77s and around 150 T77As were produced. This original T77A was imported into the Czech Republic from the USA in 2009. Since acquisition by the current owner it has been cleaned, conserved and the headlamps correctly repositioned, but otherwise is untouched. We are advised that the chassis and body both appear solid and that the brown leather interior is original. The car's mechanical condition is not known. Accompanying documentation consists of an export licence, related EU import documents and some history. No one car better exemplifies the application of Modernist principles to automobile design than the iconic Tatra T77, which makes this exciting restoration project of particular interest to discerning collectors.

Lot Details
Auction Grand Palais Sale
Bonhams, Paris, France
Lot Number558
Outcome NOT SOLD
Hammer Price-
Hammer Price (inc premium)-
Condition rating2
Registration number
Chassis number23038
Engine number201538
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors