Tatra. Andrew Roberts becomes well acquainted with four of the firm’s finest exports, a T87, T603 and brace of T613s, charting the models’ development from 1936 through to 1995. Each of these rear-engined leviathans boasts a thumping air-cooled V8 engine, but which is the more dynamic to drive? Dave Richards puts his foot down to find out.
One of the best-kept secrets of the automotive world is the Lane Motor Museum, a collection of about 400 (mostly European) classic cars that will celebrate its 10th anniversary this weekend. A 132,000-square-foot former Sunbeam Bakery, it’s now a spruced-up display space for the eclectic and impressive collection that has been put together by Jeff Lane, a mechanical engineer who grew up outside Detroit and inherited his dad’s love of British sports cars.
The 1955 MG TF 1500 Lane Motor Museum
A glance across the wide-open space that features a rotating stock of about 150 cars gives you the initial impression that this car guy simply collected one of everything he liked. But after looking at just a few of the cars on display and the informative plaques that accompany each—make, model, year of manufacture, and little vignettes of how and where they were found or donated—you quickly realize that this is a very well-curated collection. And every car has a story.
Perhaps the car with the best story is the beautifully restored 1955 MG TF 1500, in British racing green. It is the first car that Mr. Lane restored, and there’s a picture of him when he began the project at just 12 years old. There’s also a faded picture of him four years later, in 1976, taking his state driving test in the classic British roadster.
While this is one of the best European car collections in the U.S., clearly Mr. Lane has his favorites. Among them: nearly 20 vehicles from Tatra that tell the evolutionary story of the Czech carmaker and its revolutionary designer, Hans Ledwinka. As one panel here explains, Ledwinka was one of the first designers to realize that the automobile would one day become common in nearly every household. As the chief engineer at Tatra beginning in 1921, he revolutionized engine design, suspension systems and aerodynamics.
Among his works on display here is a 1935 T-57—nicknamed Hadimrška, or “swift little lizard.” It was equipped with a 1,256cc, air-cooled, four-cylinder engine that had a top speed of 50 miles per hour and mechanical brakes. There is also a 1938 T-97 that looks remarkably similar to the Volkswagen Beetle that Ferdinand Porsche later designed for Adolf Hitler. During a walking tour of the collection, Mr. Lane explained that production of the T-97 was forbidden after 1939 because it looked too much like Nazi Germany’s “people’s car.”
When the Communists took over from the Nazis, things changed at Tatra again. Shown here is the 1958 T-603 Saloon, one of the large sedans developed and built exclusively for party high officials and export to other Communist countries, such as Cuba. Ordinary Czechs couldn’t purchase it.
Another designer Mr. Lane clearly admires is Marcel Leyat. The museum has dedicated a small alcove to a special exhibit on the French designer and the centenary of the first propeller-driven car he built. The museum also has a re-creation of Leyat’s 1919 Helico, his most successful propeller-driven car, as well as a replica of the unique pilot-training trailer that he developed.
A propeller-driven car? One problem for early aviation, the exhibit explains, was that no plane could carry more than a single person. So how could you teach someone to fly? According to Mr. Lane, most would-be pilots were given instructions on the ground, then forced to solo their first time up. Leyat developed a special flatbed trailer that could be towed behind a car. A flight trainer sat on the trailer and, thanks to the wind generated by the speeding car, student pilots could move controls and feel how an aircraft would react in flight.
As much as some of these early car designers wanted everyone to own a car, not everyone could afford one. This was especially true in economically devastated Europe after World War II. This led to the development of affordable, efficient micro cars, which are highly sought after by Mr. Lane and other fans. One of the most eye-catching is the 1965 Peel P-50, the smallest one-person micro car ever made. The P-50 is just 4-feet-5-inches long, 3-feet-3-inches wide; has a 49cc fan-cooled engine with a top speed of 35 mph; weighs 250 pounds and originally cost just £200 ($318 today). It has no reverse gear, but a “reverse handle” that let anybody pick up the back end and swing it out of a parking space.
Mr. Lane has developed a network of automobile enthusiasts who both donate cars to the museum, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and volunteer to restore cars. Among the other unique vehicles he has on display are a 1964 German-made Amphicar, the most successful amphibious car ever produced; a 1922 Buick Speedster that participated in the modern-day re-creation of the Great Race; and a 1932 Lancia Dilambda, one of the earliest Italian luxury cars.
What’s perhaps most impressive about this collection is that Mr. Lane says that 95% of the cars are in working order and the staff goal is to drive each one at least twice a year.
“A car is meant to be driven,” he said. “It’s not a painting.”
Maybe so, but they’re great to look at just sitting idle.
Mr. Yost is a writer in Houston.
Considering a T 603 restoration?
Here is a fine example of the work you can come across to.
Enjoy over 300 photos, see the mess, the work and the results.
The colourscheme of the parts won’t be everybody’s choice but the restoration looks serious and thorough.
Have a look at www.tatra603garage.de
Generally, I like to feature old photos and stories for Flashback Friday. Today I’ve got something different: a video.
About a month ago, I drove a Scion iQ down to the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tenn., to experience some of the world’s most unique vehicles (and see if the Scion iQ really is a unique, new design!)
I won’t spoil the fun, but while I was there I had a chance to drive an original Volkswagen Beetle, Fiat 500, MINI Cooper, and Citroen 2CV—along with a Tatra T700 and the world’s smallest car, the Peel P50.
Jeff Lane, the museum’s namesake, was a fantastic host; so were the experts who work at the museum. With more than 300 vehicles, it’s amazing just to see how much work goes into keeping them all running!
We shot a video, embedded below, about the museum and Jeff Lane himself. Try to name all of the cars featured…it may be impossible.
NASHVILLE — The Lane Motor Museum is not sitting on its collection.
Located about five miles west of Nashville International Airport, the museum recently enlisted about 100 adventurers to drive some 20 cars from its collection in a fund-raiser rally between the museum and Lynchburg, Tenn.
The event, called the Rally for the Lane, was held twice this year, on Sept. 24 and Oct. 1. Participants paid $400 to $800 for the privilege, depending on the vehicle being driven; the fee covered the driver and as many as three passengers. A family-style lunch at Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House in Lynchburg, as well as a tour of the Jack Daniel Distillery there, were also included.
Wer an Tatra denkt, dem kommt sofort der T 603 in den Sinn. Die bevorzugt in Schwarz ausgelieferte Stromlinien-Limousine glich einer Zigarre vom Typ “Robusto” und war von 1956 bis 1975 die S-Klasse der sozialistischen Brüderstaaten hinter dem Eisernen Vorhang. Ein luftgekühlter V8-Motor im Heck mit 2,5 Liter Hubraum schob den Luxusliner “Z cesky¿ch luhu a háju” (Bedrich Smetana: “Durch Böhmens Hain und Flur”). Doch die Tschechen konnten auch anders. Im niederländischen Druten erwartet uns ein Tatra T 80 mit V12-Motor.
Von 1931 bis 1938 nur 25 Mal gebaut, zählte der große Tatra T 80 zur reichlich vorhandenen globalen V12-Prominenz: In Europa Daimler (GB), Horch, Maybach und Hispano-Suiza, in den USA Cadillac, Franklin, Lincoln und Packard. Zu Beginn der 30er Jahre hatte nämlich fast jeder (Premium)-Automobil-Hersteller ein Spitzenmodell mit prestigeträchtigem V12-Motor im Programm, um sein technisches Potenzial zu beweisen. So war es auch bei Tatra. Dabei nutzte das teure V12-Cabrio das gleiche technische Konzept wie seine Brot-und-Butter-Markenbrüder.
The Czech National Technical Museum reopened its doors last month after a long reconstruction period. The main hall still houses the Museum’s basic Tatra collection: The original Prasident, the Rennzweier, a T 75 convertible, the Thomas Masary T 80, a T 77a and of course the Hanzelka/Zikmund T 87. Cars are now exhibited in periods along vehicles of other brands with contemporary films projected on the walls.
More pix: http://gemik.blog.cz/1102/narodni-technicke-muzeum-fotoprohlidka