cancel
Showing results for 
Search instead for 
Did you mean: 
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/
103 REPLIES 103
Robin
Pit Crew

Great article, and kudos to all involved for accepting the inherent risks of scientific research. And yes, too sticky tires on this car was a recipe for failure. Reminds me of a quote, via a friend, "it's all fun and games, right up until it isn't".

“the uneasy exhilaration which may be got from shampooing a lion” Laughed myself silly at this quote.

Having spent my formative automotive years doing autocross, rally and track events, the exhilaration of swing axle behavior is not new to me. But, I don't think I've seen rear wheels fold under a car quite like that before! Maybe because by the early 70's most sanctioning organizations required camber limiting or compensation straps installed on swing axle cars.

Awaiting your next installment in this new series.
LyleFisher
Pit Crew

Thank you for the great story. I found it very interesting. I wonder how many of the 1940s single car accidents with this car were caused by a blowout? With a car that could achieve such high speeds on tires that were no where near as reliable as modern tires, I also wonder how difficult it would be to recover from such a situation safely. I also wonder about the quality of the roads at the time? Wartime Germany being extremely short of rubber plantations, I suspect a lot of tires were used far beyond what was safe. So, it seems that given unique handling traits, poor road conditions and temperamental tires, fatal accidents seem pretty likely. This has also reminded me of Ford Explorers and low tire pressure on Firestone tires. Now that I think about it it has been a couple of months since I checked the tire pressure on some of the less driven vehicles I have, I think I will put that on the todo list.
sego
Intermediate Driver

Great article. Thanks for sharing.
shoulderboards
Intermediate Driver

I wonder if the roll would have occurred had the Tatra worn the OEM tires of the 1940’s?
Spuds
Advanced Driver

Any other vintage fortunes you care to ruin?For what? All I can say is stupidity on parade.
Tony
Pit Crew

Great story, even Greater Lesson, . . . Be careful and pay close attention when driving, "ANYTHING".
You are never too old or experienced to learn, crash or Die, . . . Drive, Ride & Walk Safe, Tony
p.s. What a wake up call. t
Spuds
Advanced Driver

I mean really....is there anyone on the planet that knows what the Tatra is that doesn't already know its an unstable car? SMH.......
TatraJohn
New Driver

Thanks to Jeff Lane and Sam Smith for an very interesting article. I’ve driven my T87 over 40,000 miles in all weather and road conditions, gravel, snow and Summer in Nevada. My motto is always “slow in-fast out” and “never ever brake mid corner”. I also use Michelin X 42psi rear, 26 front. My Tatra never had the rear springs re-arched like many of the Ecorra restorations and so sits lower and thus has better handling. Yes the Michelins hold better and you need to be aware of what the back is doing but the Tatra is a great long distance touring car and very enjoyable to drive, especially with the huge sunroof open and the lovely sound of the aircooled V8 purring from behind.
brians356
Detailer

If you live anywhere near Reno I'd sure love to have a ride in that T-87. I'll swap you a Porshe 356 A drive. (Another swing axle car that, curiously, did just fine even in frantic competition. Just ask Jim Clark when you arrive there.)
Dalyduo
New Driver

Sam shampoos the lion then unwinds his humbling tale of discovery with humor and detail to our everlasting benefit.
We learn the brilliance of Ledwinka's design in it's day along along with the dynamic flaws that earned it the dangerous reputation it deserved.
This is the car Ralph Nader was writing about... but didn't know it. 🙂
A journey we didn't know we needed to take but so glad we did.
Thanks Sam
OldGuy
New Driver

Great story, and I'm glad it was a low speed roll. I wonder though if we're not being a little harsh. 73 year old components can hardly be expected to perform like new.
Historian
Detailer

A dear friend of mine, was an officer in the US Army in WWII. Post-war, serving in occupied Germany, he had one of these cars. He loved it. I thought it was the dumbest looking car I had ever seen. I have photos of it.
brians356
Detailer

Perhaps you could tell us: How many roads in Germany were gravel vs paved? Roads have changed since WW II, not just tires.
llawrence9
Intermediate Driver

The third picture shows the tire trying to come off the rim. Did the rim make contact with the pavement and dig in?
Islander
Intermediate Driver

I was a bit dismayed to find out Dr. Porsche was a plagiarist. I always thought of him as a singular genius, which he no doubt is, but to not share the glory and give design credit where it is due is a bit shameful.
That posthumous award of automotive designer of the century should acknowledge Ledwinka´s influence.
In any case, I will still lust after a nice example of a 912.
brians356
Detailer

I feel your attitude toward Dr Porsche's legacy is more than a little plebian. Given more consideration, reality may well intrude.
brians356
Detailer

"plebeian" if a crude edit function existed.
AG1962
Detailer

Great piece, Sam! Thank you.

However, as GoFast has noted, the phenomenon in question here seems to be "swing axle jacking", i.e., the suspension *decompressing*, causing the outside wheel to tuck under (as in the hair-raising photos). Sam, you wrote "..when the outside wheel went into compression, the newly compressed axle acted as fulcrum. The car’s mass simply pivoted around it, and up she went." Hmmm.

But wasn't the outside wheel's suspension *decompressed* as a result of axle jacking, allowing the outside rear wheel to tuck under, as in the photo taken just before it rolled over? Surely if it had been *compressed*, it would have tilted in at the top and out at the bottom (negative camber), and acted to *prevent* the roll-over (via sliding, say). Or did the outside rear wheel first compress the suspension, then 'catch' on the pavement, produce said pivot, and cause the axle to "jack" (decompress the suspension) and thus the wheel to tuck under? 

 

I have pretty much no expertise and only one experience of the rear end of a 911 I once owned "kicking out" in a fast turn around a roundabout, so please correct me if I am wrong, folks -- I am just trying to work my way through the photos and the story logically.

Ladia
New Driver

Did the successor Tatra 603 behaved any better? It was known as "Commie" killer but that probably because nobody else could drive them! I know they did some today's equivalent to Raid Rallies but do not know to what success?
964c4
Intermediate Driver

No video?
quattroa4m
New Driver

A brilliant article.

For a few minutes, I relived a long ago buried memory of the alternating states of bemusement and abject terror associated with rolling my '63 Beetle onto it's "lid".

I confess that I was not nearly as eloquent as the author in describing the events before, during, and after. I seem to remember very short disassociated phrases punctuated with known four letter words and newly developed variations.

But, I digress.

Again, a brilliant article.
SJ
Advanced Driver

Six figure car? I could come up with six figures to describe it, but not gonna be PC nowadays. I guess the Corvair is next, even though the VW/Porsche of that era had the same swing axles and Nader never said a thing about them. I had a '62 Monza and '63 Spyder, I actually came closer to rolling a '60 VW(with the canvas sun roof) than the Corvairs, I did put some EMPI stuff in them though. The '65 with the 4 carbs was my favorite though. The Explorer should come up too I expect.
chrlsful
Instructor

left out the influence beyond vedub - the SAAB.
No chassy expert, no racing background ( beyond ocean, sail powered) but doesn't an increased tire pressure mean trouble not solution? I guess its a control for loosin the bead but makes more slippery'n smaller 'grip pad' no? Always trade-offs I guess.

No broken glass or major damage. A 'quick fix'. Well worth the test~
DLister
New Driver

Great article! Poor test car... Didn't know it was really so unstable. I thought it was just an urban legend. I love the car, I'm gonna have to try the same test with my wooden miniature: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwQc66mDsuU
Punk
Detailer

I suppose this is what the Corair was (mostly) falsely alleged to be. A look at the hind axle in the corners sent shivers up my spine. It does support one of my long held theories regarding tires for vintage cars. For my two '60s cars I use radials but vintage ones. Think Dunlop SP or Michelin XV. Many folks I know with similar cars insist that modern tires increase grip and improve handling. I always insist the don't improve handling, only change it. And not always in a good way. I also like the way those taller tires look! I guess I'm a ludite.
Adam12
Pit Crew

Loved this article. Have always wanted to visit the Lane Museum. Will definitely visit in person now. Have a picture of my son when he was younger in one of their microcars at the car show at Pinehurst. Love that they use their collection. Static non running cars just loose something in my option.
WayneGorlick
Pit Crew

This is a link to a YouTube video of attempts to roll a Citroen 2CV.
This will roll in reverse, but not forward.
WayneGorlick
Pit Crew

PorscheMan
Intermediate Driver

The flat floors create a low pressure area atop the car which lifted it off the ground and flipped it on its side. Nothing could be done, it's simple geometry.
Pilott
Pit Crew

He's in first gear at what ... about 20 MPH ... seriously doubt aerodynamics were at work here.
tmn
Pit Crew

Ahh yes, testing the limit of an Austin A40 in 1959. Thanks for the memory. Never could get it to roll. We tried very hard. In retrospect I suspect the tires (tyres doncha know) were probably too hard to bite.
OLDERbastard1
Detailer

Awesome story, thanks for sharing! That must of been 1 heck of a fun day. Glad you weren't hurt & please continue bringing us more of these adventures. Also, Kudo's to the photographer!
Billthecat707
Detailer

Based on the amount of bonds, it looks like it's not the first time it's been on it's side. That rear suspension deflection is just scary. You're a brave man Smith. Its obvious the Tatra ran out of "talent " long before you did .
Rod_Panhard
New Driver

Thank you. This is a terrific article. Not only that, I would pay money to hang out and watch this sort of thing. No, not that I want to see Sam Smith wreck & write. No. No. No. That's not the point.

I want to see more of these machinological myths explored. There's tons of them, too many to count. Think of it like it's "mythbusters," but with cars. Can a vulture go through the windshield of a speeding Mercedes-Benz a la Carrera Panamerica? Is a Series Land-Rover really indefatiguable? And what about Ralph Nader and the Corvair? The mind reels!
OldBird
Pit Crew

Interesting piece... Not sure that skidpad testing a Tatra would have ever occurred to me, but then that just goes to show that I am likely imagination deficient.

Loved this turn of phrase - "The sum experience recalls a 1960s American car turned inside-out and built decades before its time, for an Art Deco future that never happened, one where we all own flying boats and everyone has an extensive collection of steam-powered pants." - which shows that the author is clearly NOT deficient in the imagination department.
TG
Instructor

I remember seeing videos of testing of early jeeps with similar suspensions that ended in similar results. Independent suspension is a plus - unless it is swing arm, in which case you are better off with a solid axle
Tim
Instructor

I could feel the pit in my stomach knowing the inevitable outcome as I read the early paragraphs of this story. Nobody wants to end up with wheels parallel to the road, less so in someone else's vehicle and even less in a rare and vintage vehicle. In his shoes, I would have felt shame and nauseated even if it wasn't at all my fault.
Rick1
Pit Crew

Thanks for an interesting article. The takeaway for all of us in the old car hobby is if you change one element in a dynamic, (in this case it was non original tyres, aggravated by tire pressure), then you must think your way through the system to anticipate flow-ons.
Rider79
Instructor

Talk about dangerous...can we even imagine a car maker putting something this dangerous out nowadays, with the liability lawyers licking their chops?

Swing axles are the reason why, when I set out to buy a Beetle at age 18, I insisted on 1969 or newer: to get the semi-trailing arm rear suspension, and double-jointed axles. My 1969 Beetle never gave me a scary moment - nor did my 1972, nor my 1979.
51JaguarC-type
Pit Crew

I have only one thing to say about the bloke that drove this car, bloody f...ing idiot.
farna
Detailer

I don't think the driver went overboard either. The car had been driven around that curve in the same way a few times (according to the article) already with just sliding. Who would have thought that a little more air pressure (5 psi!) would be so disastrous? Obviously not the Lane staff, as everyone thought a little more pressure would be BETTER -- to keep the old style (but not old...) radials from coming off the rim. If an inside tire came off the rim the result may have been the same, but then again it may have just resulted in a ruined tire and rim. More likely the rim would have dug in and the car rolled. I was afraid I would see the thing on its roof like a turtle -- glad that didn't happen! Luckily it was a slow roll and it's not damaged beyond relatively easy repair. Those 90-2001 Ford Explorers being so dangerous with other than factory recommended air pressure makes a little more sense now... That wasn't all tires, the design had some to do with it also, as in the case with the Tatra.
roywatts
New Driver

Great article, next may I suggest the Renault Dauphine, in the late 60's a company in the U.K. ordered 200.
I think it was Wellbeck Minicabs, as the cars were fitted with a rear engine, with two or more passengers in the back the front end lifted off the ground, on the very wet rainy roads in London, and no steering control, not many of the 200 survived. Love your articles here in the U.K. Roy
Olds34dude
Pit Crew

Ralphnadermobile
CORVAIRWILD
Pit Crew

The only dangerous aspect of a Corvair, early or late, is the 1961+ direct air heater. After the demise of the efficient but made fun of gas (instant) heater, by the competition asking, or prodding how an economy car could have a gas GUZZLING heater... Chevrolet designed a fume sucking 3" flextube fed 12 pushrod leaking, 6 exhaust tube belching concoction... THAT'S the death inducing trap of the Corvair. The '63 and earlier swing axles were FUN! I would know, I'm CORVAIRWILD, and I own many EMs... Long Live Ralph Nader, stand up hood ornaments and 3 prong wheel spinners!

https://youtu.be/-0uW1YumO-8

https://youtu.be/1FE0xeE8zBE
SlowJoeCrow
Intermediate Driver

Kudos to Hagerty and Lane for being willing to take this risk. Like others I'm curious about the effect of a camber compensator and whether that was incorporated in the 603 and 613.
Wat's next on the list? I think the Lane museum has Dymaxion replica.
Swamibob
Instructor

I love the idea of a road test, any sort of road test, on a Dymaxion, replica or real thing. Very cool thought!
TerryID19
New Driver

I have the same question about the 603 and 613

56Tiger
Pit Crew

If you have not been to the Lane Museum, you absolutely, positively must go! I saw the above subject car and I believe over 600 others while visiting. If you are a "car guy," you'll spend a good part of a day there and remember for the rest of your life.
02-orignal-ownr
Detailer

Seeing the picture with that rear wheel tucking under and the tire deforming, I knew what was coming next. I drove a Renault 4CV for 15 years and know the feeling--although I never rolled one. Essentially it's a half scale Tatra in terms of drivetrain layout, weight distribution (31% front, 69% rear) and power.

Early in the production run, Renault modified the rack & pinion steering to try and compensate for those swing axles by installing a return spring inside the steering box that's so powerful the steering will center itself from left or right lock with the car sitting still. I helped mine a little more with an Empi Camber Compensator (you VW Beetle folks know what that is) and actually won my class in several dozen autocrosses--on those very same Michelin X tires. Throttle steering around a decreasing radius on-ramp--with 28 hp--was great fun.

I suspect that Tatra (as well as my 4CV) with fully independent rear axles would have had excellent handling--just like the 1965-on Corvairs vs the earlier ones.

And I've gotta remember the line “the uneasy exhilaration which may be got from shampooing a lion.”
tympani
New Driver

Enjoyable article Sam.
My wife worked in Dresden for almost 7 years leading an R&D project at AMD. She stayed in the Altmarkt Hilton across from the Verkers Museum (transportation museum). I visited her regularly. One day we walked out of the hotel right into the 28th meeting of the Tatra club. I was fascinated because I hadn't seen one before much less a few dozen of them. They ranged from the turn of the century to the 1960s(?). Almost all had cardboard under the engines because they leaked oil. But it was a fascinating experience and I took lots of pictures, I'd gladly share with you. I think Tatra may have survived past the auto market because lots of large trucks I noticed on and off the Autobahn bore the Tatra marque. Thanks for the article. I always wondered about these curious art deco cars.