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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

The Death Eaters, Chapter 1: Tatra T87 | Hagerty Media

Welcome to a new test series we're calling The Death Eaters. With the help of the Lane Motor Museum and Kentucky's wonderful NCM Motorsports Park, Hagerty is exploring the stories and real-world behavior of legendary cars with infamous handling. The stuff of lore, common and obscure, from turbo Porsches to Reliant three-wheelers.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/car-profiles/the-death-eaters-chapter-1-tatra-t87/
105 REPLIES 105
audiocage
Detailer

"Good tires," Bob mused...
CrustyJag
New Driver

As he casually lit his cigarette... Just not Great Tires.
PorscheMan
Intermediate Driver

My favourite 365 GTB advertisement. 😉
oldandleaky
New Driver

If you've never seen it, here's the original pic for that caption plus details https://forum.miata.net/vb/showthread.php?t=580366
Studenorton
Instructor

"...casually lighting a Partyzanky."
Aw, heck yeah.
Bmike
Detailer

That amount of camber change is terrifying! But fortunately, it looks like most of it'll just buff out.
Flashman
Instructor

You're a brave man for telling the story (and it is a good story), even if, engineering analysis aside, it's another tale of a journo whose ambition exceeded his talent and he crashed someone else's car.
lweb19
Hagerty Employee

Thanks for your reply. This is Larry Webster and I run Hagerty media. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I do not agree with your characterization:  "it's another tale of a journo whose ambition exceeded his talent and he crashed someone else's car." 

 

This piece is an exploration of a car's reputation, a way to tell the story of an interesting car with a fresh angle. Sam is more than qualified for the job with numerous racing licenses and decades of behind-the-wheel experience. I hope you enjoyed his fresh take on a car few know about. 

 

My hope with our comments and community is to connect car people for lively discussion and informative exchanges rather than inflammatory potshots. The internet, as you know, can make that goal tricky so please help us all take the high road as we discuss our favorite hobby. 

 

We're here to spread the car love and to make sure car passion exists for future generations.  Your help is very much appreciated. 

 

Best,

Larry

DavidHolzman
Detailer

I savored the article before I noticed the byline. Once I did, I thought, no wonder the article is so good.

I first encountered Tatras in the summer of 1966, in Czechoslovakia, as a 12 year old, traveling around Europe in a Peugeot 404 wagon with my family of origin. The next time I encountered Tatras--3 or 4 of them!--was at the big, early October Rockville Maryland car show in 2001.
lyon
New Driver

I don't want to be rude but the so-called "test" of how the car was supposedly used back in the days is based on solely on bad assumptions and ignorance. The car was designed in an era when all roads here in the central European region were either paved, dusty or macadam/tarmac which provided uncomparably less grip than modern asphalt surfaces that started being built no earlier than 1950s.

Your test is thus performed under conditions that didn't even exist in the time of the car's production or the time when the nazi-killer legend was born. The potential reason was in fact much more simple - Tatra was way faster than the vast majority of the cars of its era and the narrow curvy roads of Europe required a certain amount of skill to handle.

Please, next time be more diligent in historical research before performing tests a car could have never passed.

Greetings from Czechia
Radek
NickDandy
New Driver

I’m sorry, but if you were going to test for “tippy reputation” then you should have mitigated the consequences. Anti tip training wheels could have been used, like the moose tests done to SUV’s. Damage could have possibly been avoided.

JoeSixPack
Intermediate Driver

There is no need to be so harsh. "Journo" is doing some test driving so all of us can learn something. When you test anything, **bleep** happens. If someone gave a ride in to GM bean counters in this thing around 1960, Ralph Nader would not have become a celebrity. If you do not understand that sentence, please take a look at this:
https://www.hagerty.com/media/videos/will-the-corvair-kill-you/
Yeah, this is driven by the same Larry who responded to you above. And, from what I gathered, repair bill will be footed by "journo's" employer.
Swamibob
Instructor

"Ah... It's just a scratch, walk it off..."

I love the article and the attitude. I wonder if you could install a Camber Compensation leaf spring on that, much like on a Corvair and if it would make the Tatra drive much better?

Or maybe perform the same tests with an early pre '64 Corvair and see how it reacted.
Love the excellent pics showing the extent of the axle and tire tuck under as it happened. Pretty amazing pics, really.

Thank you for an interesting article!
wdb
Detailer

My girlfriend's dad bought a 1960 Corvair in 1969. It had a 3-speed on the floor and a bench seat; when my stature-challenged girlfriend was driving we had to jam lever several inches into the seat cushion to get those gears. Also, it was lethal. Making a right-hand turn on residential streets, doing no more than 20 MPH, I managed to fold both tires up under the back end. I would have done the same thing Smith did, put it on its side if the car had had a higher center of gravity. I know they fixed it in later models; his car must never have had the fix applied.
Studenorton
Instructor

Hagerty has intimately investigated the Corvair roll center as well, several years ago. You have to wonder if the results of this kind of research are incorporated into the coverage rates. Were I the underwriter, I'm afraid they might be. OTOH, it might work like Purdy's opinion that the Raceabout was the safest car he'd ever driven, with its external-lever 2-wheel braking and a raw glass monocle windscreen inches from your face. The car required your full attention and never suggested for a moment that it would not kill you.
RokemRonnie
Advanced Driver

The thing is that engineers have known the shortcomings of swing axle designs since they were first used but they continued to be used for much of the 20th century because they were cheaper and easier to make than double jointed axles. Mercedes-Benz used swing axles for decades, so did Volkswagen and Porsche. Camber compensators were highly suggested for early Triumph Spitfires, and much of the stigma that Ralph Nader attached to the first generation Corvairs can be traced to the use of swing axles.
BrendanMc
Intermediate Driver

Sam's description of the speed wobbles from the passing truck made my hair stand on end.

Between 1947 and 1950, two Czech adventurers named Jiří Hanzelka and Miroslav Zigmund drove their Tatra T87 all over Latin America and Africa, some 70,000 miles. When they returned, the iron curtain had fallen, and ordinary Czechs were no longer permitted to travel. The story of their trip was allowed to be published, and their radio programs and stories provided vicarious escape for tightly-controlled populace. Hanzelka and Zikmund would go on to be 20th century eastern europe's most popular authors.

So, while the T87's penchant for dispatching high-ranking Nazis may be apocryphal, it really is a machine that represented freedom.

TeutonicScot
Intermediate Driver

Interesting article if not terrifying for Sam.
I'd be interested to know what the tire pressure differential was between the front and rear tires both before and after the bump in rear pressures, I assume to help control the oversteer. I recall that when Corvairs were new and suffered a similar condition that Chevrolet recommended a 12lb. difference in cold pressures from the front tires to the rears, of course tire material and construction being far removed nowadays from what it was then. Obviously, the Tatra was carrying far more weight in the rear with a much higher center of gravity than a Corvair as well. Pigs in heels....
Nick_D
Intermediate Driver

I believe - more than ever - this is an appropriate place for:

Y U RUNE KLASSIK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
JoeSixPack
Intermediate Driver

My hart bleeds, but please give us more if this. Not necessarily with crashes. Thanks to Sam (and his wife for letting him do this).
-Nate
Detailer

Picture # 1 of 20 is serious pucker time .

BT and DT, not on a Tatra of course but swing axles can be nasty things given their chance .

It could have been so much worse, glad no one was hurt and the car isn't destroyed by any means .

In the late 1980's I was miles from pavement North of Guatemala City, C.A. when a Tatra hove into view behind us, the entire front end was smashed in but it easily pulled out and passed us in a faint blue cloud....

-Nate
nelvi
New Driver

That's a helluva lot of blather to say you wrecked somebody's car by doing something stupid.
MoparMan
Advanced Driver

A MOST interesting and enjoyable article! I'm amazed that the Lane Museum allowed such an engineering test, although NO ONE starts one by saying "Gee, I think I'll have an accident today!" Everything was conducted cautiously, and then the Tatra revealed its dark side. I must say, Sam, that your comment "nearly liquefied my socks." caused me to nearly liquefy my keyboard with coffee, LOL!! 🙂
Duramaxriley
Pit Crew

Like Jay Leno wrecking the Hemingway Underglass Cuda
Billthecat707
Detailer

Hemi Under Glass (spell check did it to me ,too). Leno wasn't driving. But yeah, kind of a low speed " oh crap!!" moment.
chrisbye
Pit Crew

Here's Jay being knocked around like a rag doll.

Jay Leno Goes 2,500 HP on 2 Wheels - Jay Leno’s Garage - YouTube

I like their comments about their wives.

RoadDog
Intermediate Driver

A lot has been learned about the dynamics of automobile handling over that last 90 years, so your findings certainly didn't flip convention on it's metaphorical side at this point. But there is a difference between knowing things and really believing things, and so sometimes you have to try things for yourself. Bravo to you! The Tatra can be repaired.
Qw
Intermediate Driver

great read ,thank you.
Mechanic39
New Driver

If you feel the car starting to flip, turning the wheel in the direction of the flip might have put put the wheels back on the ground.
Tim
Instructor

In a normal car, probably. The way this car behaves, with such snap changes (just look at the rear wheel camber again!), I would think even the world's top drivers would have little chance of a better outcome.
bblhed
Advanced Driver

That is one of them looks good when parked cars.
RallyeRalph
Intermediate Driver

Said the Tatra salesman, "Zo, Herr Hagerty. Drive the Tatra- You will flip over it!. Czech it out! PS- Do you have Insurance?"
mainstreetprod
New Driver

I live near the Lane museum and have seen this car in person- a real work of art. What happened here is a crying shame, considering the rarity of the car and the cost of repairing the damage. I don't blame the driver. The museum should have realized this would happen and installed an outrigger wheel in case of severe tipping. Not too surprised they didn't though- the museum has quite a few hastily restored cars. Perfection isn't their thing.
PorscheMan
Intermediate Driver

They ARE beautiful. They're NOT that rare and those repairs WON'T be that expensive. It'll live to "roll" another day.
TonyT
Instructor

The driver didn't see that invisible steaming pile of ectoplasm that he ran over. Ralph Nader strikes again, from beyond the grave!
Will
Intermediate Driver

Ralph is not dead. He is 87 years old.
stevecobb45
Detailer

Odd my cellphone is a Tetra. Wonder if they researched possible relationships. I've owned some weird handling cars in the past & when asked how I ended up in a ditch I just say, "it handles like a fully loaded garbage truck with the two front tires flat". The Chevy Corvair was spectacular on a dirt track but too much traction & you could be in trouble. Wonder now if the Tucker actually cracked the problem years back.
MarkThistel
New Driver

Everyone deserves credit here, and certainly not blame, for a terrific story that draws attention to A) the Lane Museum (kudos to them!), B) the Tatra, and all similar creatures of engineering creativity in a pre-risk management age, and C) Hagerty, for doing this to begin with, paying the bill, and allowing us to read about it. It's amusing, offers a likely positive return on investment for the museum, and reminds us all of the many, many advances in automotive design that keep us upright more often then upside down.
DAdams
Intermediate Driver

An insurance claim? This test report reminds me of driving my 1963 Pontiac Tempest Safari Wagon. It had the same swing axle suspension, but with better weight distribution - close to 50-50 with its front mounted 4 cylinder engine and rear mounted 2 speed automatic transmission. With standard (for the era) bias ply tires, it was docile with light steering and mild oversteer in normal driving. That is until that magic speed of 90 mph. At 40 mph on asphalt it was capable of quite dramatic power slides. (Watch out for those concrete bridge decks. You'll be amazed at how fast a power slide in one direction can turn into a turn in the opposite direction!) But, at 90! - Aerodynamic lift caused the rear tires to fold over onto their sidewalls and you became just another passenger, along for the ride.
KSG6
New Driver

The tire issue not withstanding, swing axles are an old enough design that few now have experienced the vicious and violently sudden oversteer, followed by the rear wheel tucking under, followed by a snap rollover, that they can induce.
There is no warning, you reach the point under control, the axle folds under, and over you go. If you are lucky, the rear end just hops in to the air one or two feet.
Anyone who has driven an early VW Beetle, and early Triumph Spitfire, or an early Chevrolet Corvair may have been lucky enough to have survived this.
There is a reason all those vehicles had redesigns to counter this, and folks stuck with the originals resorted to things like lengths of steel chain to restrict axle tuck under, and hopefully just result in a big tail happy slide.
So I find no fault with the driver, it is an experiment that almost always is going to have this outcome, just an old technology that needs to be experienced once to cause the appropriate caution the next time on swing axles.I would have thought perhaps the driver would have had enough automotive carnival driving experience to know to "turn towards the tilt" once up on two wheels, as that will bring it back down on the tires, hopefully without damage.
CarpeViam
New Driver

What a fantastic piece. I was captivated from moment one. Kudos to Sam for being all-in – and for his ever brilliant hyperbole.
RJMatt
Intermediate Driver

Great read! I'm NOT going to let my wife read it though, as we leave for a 2K mile road trip Thursday morning. Last thing I need is her saying "but what if it tries to tip over" when we're motoring down the two lane highway in the GL350.
And yeah, pucker factor is watching the 40' container of swinging beef lift rear tires three feet of the road at 25mph in a cloverleaf, with you at the wheel!
DavidHolzman
Detailer

Bon voyage! Drive fun!
camaroc6
Pit Crew

I had exactly the same experience in a more "modern" car, a 1962 Renault Gordini, which also had a swing axle. The axle swung, and like a pole vaulter's pole, flipped it onto its roof. Tom McCahill also did the same with the car on the Indy track! My parents weren't impressed with either my or Tom's driving ability.
WayneGorlick
Pit Crew

Try that same test with a Citroen 2CV. Most stable car on the planet.
GoFast
Detailer

The phenomenon at work here is swing axle JACKING. Read all about it in 'Unsafe at Any Speed' by R. Nader.
SilentBoy741
Advanced Driver

Gee, I hope you guys had good insurance...
Smokefoot55
Intermediate Driver

With that much bondo-especially on the roof-tells me that it's been on it's side before.
OHCOddball
Detailer

Repairable. Not all that much damage. I'm sure the WW II German officers that were killed in them were thrown out when the car rolled since there weren't seat belts then.