The Second Oldest Carmaker in the World Could Return to Automobile Manufacturing
The company that inspired Porsche’s design for the VW Beetle wants to build cars againby Ciprian Florea, on
Czech manufacturer Tatra could revive its automobile division and produce its first passenger car since 1999. That’s the word from local newspaper Ekonom, which claims that the Czech Republic-based manufacturer is eager to return to the car market due to unprecedented demand for its classic cars. The source also claims that Tatra wants to roll out a replica of a past model before producing a modern design.
There’s no word as to what model Tatra is looking to reproduce, but the 87 and 600 models are reportedly being considered.
For those of you not familiar with the brand, Tatra, which is named after the nearby Tatra Mountains, was established in 1850 as a wagon and carriage manufacturer. In 1897, Tatra built its first motor car, which was also the first automobile in central Europe. Although passenger car production ceased in 1999, Tatra continued to build all-wheel-drive trucks, which makes it the second oldest company in the world production vehicles with an unbroken history, after Peugeot.
Although rather obscure outside Europe, Tatra was once famous for its luxury, technically advanced cars. Among the first to use air-cooled, opposite-cylinder engines, Tatra also launched the world’s first production aerodynamic car in 1934. Dubbed T77, it had an average drag coefficient of 0.24 and a rear-mounted, air-cooled V-8 engine that was very sophisticated for the time.
Tatra’s designs, largely conceived by Austrian engineer Hans Ledwinka, also inspired Ferdinand Porsche in designing the Volkswagen Beetle. The Tatra T97 and Beetle designs were so similar — including the styling, layout, boxer engine, and central tunnel structure — that Tatra launched a lawsuit against Volkswagen. The legal action was stopped when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia and forced Tatra to stop making the T97, but the matter was re-opened after World War II and in 1965 the German firm paid Tatra 1 million German Marks (around $360,000) in an out of court settlement.
Tatra’s last commercially successful car was the 613, produced between 1974 and 1996. Its rear-mounted, air-cooled, V-8 engine made it an exotic appearance among European cars. In 1996, Tatra launched the 700, a heavily restyled version of the 613 model, but the sedan wasn’t successful and production was stopped in 1999, making it the company’s last passenger car.
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Why it matters
Tatra might not be an important player on the European market right now, but its classic models were among the best and had the most advanced aero designs and technologies back in the 1930s and 1940s. I’m sure that a if a couple of vintage models would be revived with modern underpinnings, Tatra would sell them like hot cakes and make a nice profit. Sure, it would be a lot better if the automobile division would start producing modern designs, but until that happens, a few vintage replicas are great news too.