The Tatra T87 is the greatest car no one has ever heard of

The 1930s saw some of the greatest cars ever built come to life. In the U.S., we had the Cadillac 16, the Buick Roadmaster, the Ford Model A, the Lincoln Model K, and the Chrysler Airflow. In Europe, BMW introduced the 328, while Mercedes-Benz rolled out the luxurious and sleek 500K.

Then there was the Tatra T87, an innovative car designed in Czechoslovakia that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Jay Leno says it’s "the greatest car no one has ever heard of" and he’s trying to fix that by featuring the T87 in a new episode of his famous video series.

You'll Love This Nazi-Killing 1938 Tatra T87 That Stopped By Jay Leno's Garage
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Leno showcases a T87 built in 1938, two years after Tatra introduced the nameplate. Produced until 1950 in a little more than 3,000 units, the T87 was one of the most innovative cars of its time.

It featured a rear-mounted, 2.9-liter, air-cooled V-8 engine with an overhead cam design and a hemi head and an extremely aerodynamic body for the era. Not only is it ranked among the fastest production cars of its time, but it was also notably more efficient. The T87 was known to return almost 20 mpg on a full tank, whereas competing cars rarely went past 12 mpg.

You'll Love This Nazi-Killing 1938 Tatra T87 That Stopped By Jay Leno's Garage
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The Tatra T87 is also famous for having inspired Ferdinand Porsche to design the iconic Volkswagen Beetle. Tatra sued Volkswagen in 1938, but the lawsuit was stopped when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia during World War II. The matter was re-opened after the war and eventually settled out of court in 1965, when Volkswagen paid Tatra one million German Marks.

The "Nazi-killing" Tatra

You'll Love This Nazi-Killing 1938 Tatra T87 That Stopped By Jay Leno's Garage
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The T87 was so fast for its time that many drivers had issues keeping it under control.

When Germany invaded Czechoslovakia during World War II, many of these cars were given to Nazi officers and legend has it that the Tatra claimed seven lives in just one week.

As Jay Leno jokes in the video, the Nazis probably lost more commanding officers to the T87 than to the Czechoslovakian army in the first days of the invasion.

The Tatra T87 has a few notable owners

You'll Love This Nazi-Killing 1938 Tatra T87 That Stopped By Jay Leno's Garage
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Although it’s not as iconic as other cars from the era, the T87 was owned and driven by quite a few important people. The list includes Ernst Heinkel, who produced the world’s first turbojet aircraft, and Felix Wankel, the inventor of the rotary engine. German General Erwin Rommel and Soviet General Andrey Yeryomenko also had one, as did King Farouk I of Egypt. American writer John Steinbeck also owned one. Jay Leno purchased his T87 after being picked up from the airport in a Tatra that’s on display at the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee.

Ciprian Florea
Senior Editor and Supercar Expert - ciprian@topspeed.com
Ciprian's passion for everything with four wheels (and more) started back when he was just a little boy, and the Lamborghini Countach was still the coolest car poster you could hang on your wall. Ciprian's career as a journalist began long before earning a Bachelor's degree, but it was only after graduating that his love for cars became a profession.  Read More
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