Paul Gavora and his T87


FAIRBANKS – The Golden Days Parade this year features two Czechoslovakian imports that both traveled a long way to be here — Paul Gavora and his newly-renovated Tatra 87.

Much of the information here is courtesy of the Gavora family.

Paul Gavora, of course, is a well-known Fairbanksan. He was born in the small village of Brezova in western Slovakia in 1931. At the age of 16, he was forced to leave his home and family after the Soviets installed a puppet regime in Czechoslovakia after the war. He went first to Austria, then to Germany, and finally to America on a United Nations boat for war refugees.

In Colorado, he met his bride-to-be Donna Tighe and in 1958, they made their way to Fairbanks.

The Tatra 87 is also from Czechoslovakia, named after the mountain range that forms the border between Slovakia and Poland. It was built in 1947 by Tatra, one of the oldest car manufacturers in the world. Tatra has been producing cars and trucks since 1897.

This Tatra 87 originated in central Europe. The Tatra, a luxury five-seat sedan, was called the “Nazi killer” and the “Czech secret weapon” during World War II because it was so powerful and aerodynamic that German soldiers had a tendency to kill themselves in it speeding around occupied Czechoslovakia. It could reach speeds of nearly 100 mph.

Even today, nearly 70 years after it was manufactured, the Tatra 87 is a unique automobile. It is streamlined, based upon the design of the Tatra 77, the first car designed for aerodynamic purposes.

The car has three headlights. Its sleek, air-slicing curves are highlighted by a large rear fin. That fin helps divide the air pressure on both sides of the car, a technique used in later aircraft, according to Wikipedia.

Combine that design with a rear-mounted, air-cooled overhead cam V-8 engine, and you have a truly unique car that looks like a zeppelin and drives like a speedboat.

Design elements of this car were copied by later car manufacturers, including Ferdinand Porsch. He was sued by Tatra for his design of the Volkswagen Beetle.

This particular car was discovered about 25 years ago by Paul Gavora’s brother Svetozar. He acquired it as an undriveable, rusting hulk.

Sveto was determined to restore the car himself and he tinkered with it for years. Fifteen years ago, Paul Gavora came upon the vehicle, lying in pieces in Sveto’s garage in Slovakia.

It took years, but Paul finally convinced his brother to sell the car to him. Then Paul and his nephew Martin Gavora had the car shipped to the original Tatra headquarters in the Czech Republic to be restored.

The result is a gleaming blue, rare antique car with all its original parts, including the original V-8 engine.

From the Czech Republic, the newly-restored Tatra traveled by truck to Antwerp Belgium. From there, it was placed in a shipping container and made the long trip across the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal and up the West Coast to Seattle. There, Paul’s son Matthew Gavora put the car on a trailer and towed it up to Fairbanks.

Other Tatra 87s are on display in museums and private collections all over the world. But Fairbanksans can see the local Tatra 87 in the Golden Days Parade on Saturday, driven by owners Paul and Donna Gavora.

It’s a spectacular way to celebrate the end of a very long journey.