COVER STORY: From another time, and another world
Gary Cullen’s 1948 Tatra T-87 is one of many unique automobiles on display this Sunday at the 10th annual Ladner Quilt Walk and Car ShowAdrian MacNairBy Robert Mangelsdorf – South Delta LeaderPublished: August 15, 2013 12:00 PMUpdated: August 15, 2013 12:52 PMIt’s nearly impossible for Tsawwassen’s Gary Cullen to take his pride and joy for a drive and not attract a crowd.The curvy streamlined design of his Czechoslovakian-made 1948 Tatra T-87 gives the car the appearance of an Art Deco spaceship.There is a tail fin jutting from the rear engine cowling, gaping louvers on either side of the vehicle designed to swallow air for the air-cooled engine, and of course, the distinctive triple headlight design.“This car was designed to go 50 per cent faster than the cars of the day,” says Cullen. “So they figured they needed 50 per cent more light.”But it wasn’t the Tatra’s silver curves that first drew Cullen to this unique automobile.The beauty of the Tatra is far more than skin deep.“I was first attracted to it because of its engineering,” Cullen says. “Growing up, all my friends were interested in muscle cars, but I was into Citroens because they were so advanced.”
Cullen’s Tatra T-87 will be one of the hundreds of classic cars entered in this year’s Ladner Quilt Walk and Car Show, this Sunday Aug. 18. This is the 10th anniversary of the event and close to 400 vehicles are expected to take part.“I’ve brought it to the car show before,” says Cullen of his Tatra T-87. “It’s always a great opportunity to talk to other car lovers.”The Tatra T-87 is notable for its many technological firsts.It was the first car to be aerodynamically designed in a wind tunnel, which improved the car’s fuel economy. Paul Jaray, who designed the large Zeppelin airships, was responsible for the Tatra’s smooth lines, while famed engineer Hans Ledwinka was responsible for the overall design.“Up until that point, cars were pretty boxy,” says Cullen. “There were cars that looked aerodynamic, but none that were properly designed [to reduce air resistance].“But it wasn’t just for looks, it was driven by the engineering.”Of course, the Tatra’s technological advancements didn’t stop at its unique bodywork.The car also featured rack-and-pinion steering, independent suspension, a 12-volt electrical system, a self-lubricating chassis, and a lightweight magnesium alloy V-8 engine mounted in the rear.The Tatra T-87 was decades ahead of its time, says Cullen, and a beautiful example of form following function.
Cullen is a bit of an innovator himself, having helped pioneer the art of 3-D holography, so it’s no wonder the Tatra’s technological advancements caught his attention.If you’ve ever seen a hologram watch, ubiquitous as they were in the 1980s, chances are they were made by Cullen’ company, Holocrafts.The success of his company has allowed Cullen to amass an impressive collection of automobiles, including a handful of classic Citroens.His current Tatra is the second 1948 T-87 he’s owned. In 1991, Cullen bought and restored his first Tatra, which now resides in the Minneapolis Institute of Art as a piece of sculpture in the museum’s Art Deco exhibit.While the car looks unique by today’s standards, it looked absolutely alien when it was first released in the 1930s.“It’s amazing that a company had the guts to put it into production,” says Cullen. “It’s so outlandishly different from everything that came before it.”Tatra is still around today, and is the third oldest continuously operating automobile manufacturer on earth, after Daimler and Peugeot. The company built its last passenger car in 1999, and today focuses on commercial and military vehicles.
During the Second World War, the Tatra was dubbed “The Czech’s secret weapon” against the Nazis. As the story goes, many high-ranking officers were killed on winding mountain roads by the car’s ferocious oversteer resulting from the rear-engine, rear-drive configuration. However, after researching the history of the Tatra during the war, Cullen says he’s found no actual confirmed cases of that actually happening.“I think it’s a bit of a myth,” he says.The Tatra’s reputation for fishtailing is well-earned, however.“Over the years I’ve got pretty good at drifting,” says Cullen.Despite that, a few high-ranking Nazis did choose the distinctive Czech car as their personal limousine.“It was very popular with engineers, I think that’s why they were attracted to it, because it was so advanced for its time,” says Cullen.Among the Tatra’s infamous owners were airplane engineers Wilhelm Messerschmitt and Ernst Heinkel, as well as German General Erwin Rommel.Adolf Hitler proclaimed the Tatra as the car of the Autobahn, and it provided the inspiration for the Volkswagen Beetle, the most widely produced car on the planet.
But the Tatra T-87 was never a big seller. During its 15-year production run, only 3,000 were ever produced, many of them being reserved for diplomats and high-ranking government officials.“It was always a polarizing car,” says Cullen. “People either loved it or hated.”Cullen estimates there might currently be a dozen or so Tatra T-87s in North America, many of them belonging to former Czechoslovakian ambassadors.As a result, Cullen is often turned to by the Tatra community for advice, having owned T-87s for more than 20 years.“Hi Gary, I just bought a Tatra, I heard you’re the guy to talk to,” one memorable phone conversation began. It was talk show host and car buff Jay Leno calling from Hollywood, California.Leno invited Cullen and his wife Karoline down to see his massive car collection, housed at the Burbank Airport.They visited Leno’s workshop, and Cullen advised Leno’s mechanic crew on the many complexities of Tatra restoration, as replacement parts aren’t easy to come by.“He has about a half dozen guys working for him, but he gets in there too,” says Cullen. “He likes to get his hands dirty.”Cullen’s T-87 is by no means a “garage queen,” and he drives it around town regularly, even taking it on some far flung road trips.In 2000, he and another Tatra T-87 owner travelled to the Arctic Circle on the legendary unpaved Dempster Highway with their families in tow. The six-week trip took them trough B.C., Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and into Alaska.“The reactions we got varied from total disbelief to amazement,” he says.Despite getting caught in a blizzard in the middle of August north of the Arctic Circle, the Tatras made it home safe and sound, if a little dinged up.“They still hold up surprisingly well,” he says.
We have been informed that Kurt Maier (80), has passed away. He was one of the founders of the Tatra Club International, Tatra car collector, printer of the TFI magazine for many years, founder of a streamline car museum in Fachsenfeld über Aalen (now closed) and a friend of German streamlining pioneer Reinherr Koenig von Fachsenfeld, has passed away. He published unpublished work of Koenig Fachsenfeld (“Aerodynamik des Kraftfahrzeuges” Koenig-Fachsenfeld, Kurt Meier publishing house Heubach).
May he rest in peace.
We have been informed that Walter Hübner has passed away on May 31.
The 79 year old Walter and his wife Heti were enthusiastic T 603 0wners and mainly visited TRD meetings.
May he rest in peace.
The cremation will be held at Waldfriedhof Lauheide, on May 6th, 13.30.
Contact: 48163 Münster, Heuenkamp 18
The Czech “Order of Laurel” Award, that is awarded by the Czech Chamber of Commerce, set during its last year premiere a goal to appreciate the important personalities of the local society.
Searching and highlighting exceptional representatives from various areas of human activity natural moral authority and patterns is one of the irreplaceable conditions of function of the advanced society.
The Order of Laurel has also one significant specify. Every citizen of the Czech Republic has the opportunity to nominate candidates for award. The jury of the Order of Laurel, which is composed of personalities, then selected 26 nominees for award levels.
Czech Dakar-Legend and former Tatra-pilot Karel Loprais was one of the nominees for the Order of Laurel for 2013. He personally collected the award – the golden Order of Laurel on 3rd April 2013 in the Bohemia Grand hotel in Prague.
The president of the Chamber of Commerce awarded significant businessmen, leading experts and other social-wide significant people too. Among the awarded were for example Cardinal Dominik Duka, Jirí Bartoška, the actor and Dana Drábová, the chairman of the State Office for Nuclear Safety.
Among the first laureates of the award belong also Bohdan Pomahac, the plastic surgeon and Václav Moravec, the moderator of the Czech Republic. The single diamond award went to Meda Mládková, the art patron. Karel Loprais commented this event modestly: “There was a fantastic atmosphere there and it was an honor for me to be among such personalities.”
It started as a joke and took longer as we planned, but here it is: an appealing T 87 YouTube video. It was shot last autumn in the woods of Soesterberg, Netherlands with Rolf Kroes on camera and my brother Hendrik-Jan driving the film-car. Editing was by Rolf Kroes. Hope you enjoy!
One of Tatra World wishes was to make the website more interactive.
We have now integrated it more with Facebook enabling the Tatra World fans to make immediate comments on the news, photos and articles shown. still experimenting to make a good balance though.
After WW II, the Ringhoffer-Tatra works were nationalised, its general director Hans von R%inghoffer and Koprivnice director Hans Ledwinka captured. Von Ringhoffer ended up in a Russian NKVD camp near Mühlberg an der Elbe (East Germany), Hans Ledwinka spend six years in custody before being released in 1951. Von Ringhoffer died in the camp from dysenteria in dreadfull circumstances. It was only after the reunion of the two Germanies, that spontenuously simple crosses were planted by the victims family. The site of the former camp evaluated in a monument. Some former employees of Ringhoffer-Tatra led by Pierre Prousek (the family is now Porsche dealer in Prague), took care of the fact that Hans von Ringhoffer got a cross as well.