Tatra History


History of the TATRA Works

Historical Review of Production and Development

of the TATRA Koprivnice Works


TATRA vehicles are supported by more than 150 years of tradition of manufacture of carriages, wagons, cars and trucks

in the Koprivnice factory. The founding of TATRA Koprivnice is closely linked up with the industrial revolution of Bohe-

mia and Moravia. First historical records of this nature can be

traced back to 1850 – 1853. Halfway the nineteenth century Ignac Schustala and Adolf Raska established a coach and cart factory in the east Moravian village of Koprivnice.


The first stage of development in 1860 – 1862 is marked by the

construction of additional industrial premises, with the acquisition of a steam engine, of power-operated lathes and saws as well as of grinding machines.

In addition to the “Neutischeinek” buggies production started of semi- and fully covered luxury coaches.

The commercial success of the Schustala’s coach factory was aided naturally by showing their products at important industrial exhibitions and by the acknowledgements that were bestowed on the Nesselsdorf (Koprivnice) plant exhibitions in Central Europe. Between 1870 and 1880 the construction of the factory was completed and its annual production volume rose to 1200 vehicles. In those days the factory employed as many as 150 workers


In 1881 the construction of the Studenka – Stramberk railway

line was completed within a few months. The introduction of

traffic on this line on Dec.18,1881 and the first order of

railway wagons in the middle of 1882 year opened up a new

chapter in the development of the Koprivnice factory.

The subsequent progressive expansion of the production activities caused the construction of new premises and an ampli-

fication of the existing production facilities and equipment.

In 1887 the forgery was expanded and the construction of

a new assembly shop initiated, in the latter a carpentry

and cabinet makers shop was installed to cater to the railway

wagon production shops.


In 1891 enterprise was converted into a joint stock com-

pany. The working capital under this arrangement amounted al-

ready two million Austrian crowns.


With the assistance of a motor car enthusiast baron Lie-

big and following a decision of the factory’s general ma-

nager Hugo Fischer, the development and manufacturing of the

first motor car was taken in hand in 1897. With this event

a new chapter of the Koprivnice factory was initiated and

a motor car factory was born which later would evaluate into the Tatra works as it exists till today.


In 1898 the first automobile “NW Präsident” came out of the factory, the first Austro Hungarian works built automobile. Leopold Svitak was the man in charge of the management of the “Präsident” production.

On May 21, 1898 the “Präsident” motor car started for its first

long-distance run from Koprivnice to Vienna (328 km) which

was covered in 14.5 hours net travel time.

In 1898 one designed and built its first lorry of a

cab-over-engine type with a flat, four-cylinder engine. The 2.5 ton lorry had three speeds and could reach a max speed of 20 kph with a fuel consumption of 4 litres an hour.

The “Präsident” car was then succeeded by various other cars; in 1899 it was the “Meteor” with a two-cylinder engine of 6 h.p., the “Spitzbub” and in 1900 the “Nesselsdorf” automobile. The

cars manufactured after these were designated merely as the

“Vierer” types, that is, automobiles that could seat four pas-



The first racing car rolled out of the Koprivnice factory

by 1900. The car called the “NW Rennzweier” featured a two-cylinder, 12 h.p. engine, four speeds and was able of a maximum speed of 112 kph. Baron Liebig became the most successful racing car driver of the Koprivnice factory at the turn of the centuries (among other contests Liebig won the Nice – La Turbie race in 1900; in that same year he ranked second in-the Salzburg – Linz – Vienna race. He also took part in the Paris-Vienna contest and in a race for the Gordon-Benet prize).

In 1900 a steam-driven omnibus for 12 passengers with a

24-h.p, engine was built in the factory.


The manufacture and design of automobiles in Koprivnice is

linked to the name of the legendary motor car designer,

Ing. Hans Ledwinka.

Ledwinka designed most of the types of automobiles manu-

factured in the Koprivnice automobile factory. In the 1905

year he designed new elements for the “S” type, such as a

drive of the rear axle through a drive-shaft and a transmis-

sion gearbox with radial engagement of the gears. With five

gear wheels the design of this gearbox enabled the selection of four forward gears and a reverse gear.

In the course of the first ten years of automobile manufacturing

the conception of the vehicles changed several times and the

development of automobiles in the Koprivnice factory can rough-

ly be divided into three stages of development. The first one

was represented by the coach-like cars called “Alter Vierer”,

in the second stage there figured the “B”, “C”, ” D “, “E” and “F” types which were characterized by wheels of an identical size, a body that could be flipped over for engine access, an engine situated between the axles and chain-driven rear wheels.

The third stage of development was initiated by vehicles with

a rectangular frame, laminated springs, engine and gearbox in one unit situated in front and shaft driven rear wheels.


Before the outbreak of World War I the cars turned out by

the factory showed certain stabilization«of character of

each individual type. The factory was divided into three main

sections that manufactured respectively, coaches, railway

wagons and automobiles,

In spite of the favorable acceptance by the public of the

“S” type cars in all their different modifications the development was continued. The new design improvements

which formed part of a subsequent modernization program

gave birth to a new type, the “Typ T” which was manufactured from the beginning of World War I up to 1925. Contrary to the “S” type the “T” type engine featured all four cylinders cast in one block. The valves were controlled by rocker arms from a camshaft. A bell-shaped transmission gearbox made it possible, with a minimum number of two elements with internal teeth and three gear wheels, to obtain four forward gears and a reverse gear.


In 1914 NW put into production their newest in-line-six, the “Typ U” . This 55hp model would evaluate into the 65 hp Tatra T 10 by 1921.

During World War I, NW supplied the army with platform trucks based on the Typ T. The “TL 2″ two-ton lorry in fact was a rebodied Typ T. Some passenger cars were built however. The Koprivnice factory built an luxury type T with a 20-30 h.p. engine for the emperor of Austria.


From 1916 onwards the production “TL 4″ trucks began, its manufacturing being continued even in the post war days until 1924. In the course of the war the production of lorries increased substantially.

In 1915 a total of 105 vehicles were turned over to their users and in the following year the annual production figure of lorries increased to 226 which were manufactured along with 12 power-operated carts of the “T mak” type. In 1917 a total of 342 lorries were manufactured for the Austrian army. By that time the

factory employed as many as 2500 workers.


In 1919 test runs were conducted with “U” type vehicles

for which new brake keys had been designed. The test runs

took place in the High Tatra mountains on difficult terrain in winter conditions. Some tracks were hardly usable. The vehicles under test were admired by the local inhabitants of this mountainous region and said to the drivers “That would be a car for our Tatra mountains”

Looking for a new name, the Tatra direction remembered these remarks and decided to rename the factory in a nationalistic wave in “Tatra” One wanted to get rid of the German names and to name the cars “Koprivnice” instead of Nesselsdorfer was not acceptable for commercial reasons. So the first “TL 4″ lorry coming out.of the factory on March 29, 1919 featured the new “TATRA” trade mark. In 1920 the old trade mark of the automobiles “NW” (Nesselsdorfer Wagenbau) was definitely replaced by the TATRA trade mark.


The construction of a new automobile factory on an area of

15 000 m2 was inaugurated in 1921. In those days, that is,

after World War I, Hans Ledwinka foresaw that there was a future for light, inexpensive cars in post-war Europe.

Although there was still a demand for luxurious and comfortable

cars at the world markets, such vehicles were too expensive

and served only a few selected individuals, whereas according

to Hans Ledwinka’s point of view the automobile was destined

to become an object of everyday use to modem man. .. Such

an automobile had to be designed with more economy and practicability in mind. The new car made along these lines had to be simple, easy to maintain, reliable and with an very economic fuel consumption. All these parameters were included by Hans Ledwinka in the design of his new two-cylinder Tatra T 11.


But Tatra was in trouble. The wagon production that had boomed in WW I and in the years after the war, the newly founded Czechoslovakia being in need for new means transport, dropped dramatically in the early twenties. Vehicle production until then was more or less supported by the very successful and far bigger wagon production.

A solution was found when the Prague based Ringhoffer concern, like Tatra building railway stock and about twice the Tatra size, acquired a majority of the shares, donating new capital needed to make Tatra suitable for mass car production.


The new T 11 was presented to the public for the first time at the Prague Motor Show in 1923.

With this new car TATRA started a new era of motor vehicle manufacture. The TATRA 11 two-cylinder car was the first of the Tatra models whose conception entered the history of

automotive engineering as one typical for the TATRA factory.

The air-cooled engine was a 12-14 h.p twin. The

engine was rigidly fitted, through a flanged joint, to the

transmission gear case via a clutch box. It featured swing

half-axles with independent elastic suspension of all wheels.

With a realization of such advanced design features the TATRA

Works got far ahead of its time. With its innovative features Tatra would earn a prominent position among the producers of

vehicles in the history of engineering, despite their moderate production volume

With the T 11 automobile and, in particular, with the fol-

lowing T 12 type Ing. Ledwinka introduced new structural ele-

ments which have since become the corner stones of Tatra design till this very day:

- Self-supporting, torsionless rigid chassis consisting of a single tube, independent springing of the wheels using swinging half axles without articulated joints, the unsprung mass reduced to an absolute minimum,

- The adoption of these principles to all vehicles, from the

smallest and lightest ones up to the heaviest lorries has a

significant advantage: the road surface suffers from a minimum

of wear by the traffic.

- Systematic engineering of air-cooled engines.


Cars built according this new concept of the TATRA factory proved their outstanding features in a number of international con


In 1921 Josef Vermirovsky ran his first uphill race on the

Ecce Homo track in a “T” type car and got second.

In the climbing contest up the Solitude Hill near Stuttgart

in 1924 the 1.1-litre Tatra 11 run by Vermirovsky won all

the prizes which were donated by the Suttgart municipal authorities for the fastest and most successful car.

In 1925 the TATRA cars evidenced their extraordinary advantages at the Targa Florio international car race as well as in the Leningrad – Moscow – Tbilisi – Moscow long distance trial

on a track of 5300 kms, where the advantages of an air-cooled

engine could be fully proven. Vermirovsky was the only

driver who arrived without a single penalty point and, even more, was awarded two prizes in appreciation of durability and economy of his car.


The achievements of the TATRA cars in the international field

made the name of TATRA so popular among the public that in

1927 the management board decided to change the plant’s name of “Koprivnicka vozovka a.s.” (”Koprivnice Car Factory Ltd.” or “Nesselsdorfer Wagenbau Fabriksgesellschaft”) into “TATRA WORKS Ltd” (Zavody TATRA a.s.). The successful name of the cars so changed the name of the works. By the end of 1926 the firm could announced that they had manufactured since their establishment 150 000 road carts and similar vehicles of all types, 50 000 railway cars and 8 000 automobiles, apart from a large number of other products.

By that time the Koprivnice factory employed a total of 3000

workers and 300 white collar employees. The annual

production capacity of the factory rose to some 400 pas-

senger wagons, 4000 freight wagons as well as three

to four thousand automobiles.

The twenties and early thirties saw the expansion of Ledwinka’s concept of air cooled, independedly sprung cars to bigger models and even trucks. Noteworthy are the T 30, the T 52 and the T 23 and T 26/30 lorries.

Even luxury vehicles got the comfortable chassis concept. By the end of the twenties Tatra designed luxury six- and twelf cylinder cars like the T 70 and the T 80 introduced in 1931.


In 1931 the public witnessed the arrival of a new development, the “T 57″ It was meant as the successor of the T 12. Again it was a low-cost, lightweight passenger car, that in a number of different modifications was manufactured up to 1948. It gained enormous popularity and was nicknamed “Hadimrska”.

A larger version of this popular car bore the type

designation “T 75 “. It was the first car however to get a new grille, imitating a radiator. The era of the iron shaped front had finished. Other existing models got similar noses soon afterwards.

With the “T 57″ type a culminating point was reached by the

TATRA conception of a car with a central backbone beam, swing

axles and an air-cooled engine situated in the front part of

the vehicles with low cylinder volumes.


By 1934 Tatra’s streamlined era started when they introduced their T 77 prototypes, the very first series produced scientifically streamlined car. It started a row of streamlined Tatra vehicles, all featuring a rear mounted, air-cooled engine. It had a pontoon body and a box-type back bone chassis. From 1932 onwards, Tatra had already experimented with smaller rear engined cars, alike the later VW Beetle. The V 570 still exists and is exhibited in the works museum.

By 1935 Ringhoffer and Tatra merged completely. New name became “Ringhoffer Tatra.”

The designers of the “T 77″, were Hans Ledwinka and Erich. Übelacker. Further cooperation of the two resulted in improved models like the “T 77a” and “T 87″. A smaller streamliner, almost a scaled down T 87, was built as well. This “T 97″ featured a four-cylinder engine, a flat four of course.

The pre-war prosperity made itself felt in the factory from

as early as 1936, particularly in the production of the “T 27″

three-ton lorries which featured outstanding running charac-

teristics. Together with the modernized type “T 27b” they were

produced from 1930 to 1947,


In accordance with the traditionally identical principles of

conception which were adhered to in the TATRA establishment

there was created, in 1939, a six-and-half ton lorry of the

“T 81″ type with three driven axles and a 130 – 150 h,p. eight-

-cylinder engine which was still cooled by water.


War time production (The Tatra Works were occupied by Nazi Germany in October 1938) included a military version of the T 57, the T 57K, but the Nazis thought that Tatra’s chassis concept would be suitable for the eastern front. They asked Tatra to design an air cooled engine for a big lorry. Result was the the 6.5 and later 8-ton lorry TATRA T 111 with a twelve-cylinder air-cooled engine. Other models like the T 92, the T 27 and T 85 lorries and the T 87 were produced for the Nazis in the early war years, their production stopped when Germany standardized more and and more when the war continued. Apart from production vehicles, Tatra built several prototypes that didn’t make it to production. Examples are the V 809 and the V 855 Sledge


After World War II there was recorded an upswing of the pro-

duction volume of the Koprivnice factory, for it was necessary

to build 60 000 railway wagons that Czechoslovakia

had lost during the war years.

The TATRA Koprivnice automobile factory became the.largest

post-war producer of passenger cars and lorries in Czecho-

slovakia. According to statistical data it accounted for

46 per cent of the total production of automobiles in Czecho-

slovakia between 1946 and 1947. In 1945 it already employed

5100 workers.

Ringhoffer-Tatra, like all major Czechoslovak heavy metal industries, was nationalized late in 1945. Ringhoffer Tatra’s owners, the Ringhoffer family, were expelled without compensation because as they were regarded as Germans, the general director Hans von Ringhoffer was arrested. He died in a Russian secret service concentration camp in Saxony late in 1946. No trial ever took place. No charges are known.

Hans Ledwinka was arrested as well. He was accused of collaboration and sentenced to six years prison .

The manufacture of automobiles TATRA continued the old tra-

ditions in the post-war years. The well-proven “T 57b”

four-cylinder and “T 87″ eight-cylinder cars the building of

which had been cut short in 1942, were the first models to be re-introduced.


In 1946 the construction of production lines was taken up

for the “T 27b” lorries and, later on^, these lines were used

for the assembly of the newer “T 111″ and “T 114″ TATRA lor-

ries. There was also built the fleet-belt production line for the manufacturing of T 87bodies.


Between 1946 and 1947 the factory designed a new passenger car. Prototypes were called T T 1-107 and T 2-107, production models the TATRAPLAN T 600″ type. Tatra experimented with several derivatives, but none made it to production. Worthwhile mentioning are the T 600 Sodomka convertible, the two door T 601 and the front engined T 201.

Due to a reshuffle of the heavy industries in now communist Czechoslovakia, the production of the Tatraplan was transferred in 1951 from TATRA to the AZNP Mlada Boleslav (Skoda vehicle works). In that same year the production of railway wagons was terminated and Tatra National Corporation was forced to concentrate exclusively on the development and production of lorries.

In the TATRA works one concentrated on the manufacturing of the “T 128″ and “T 111 R” heavy lorries and, later on, also the

manufacture of the road towing vehicles “T 141″ for transport

of trailers and of the “T 128″ one-and-half ton off-the-road


The design of the “T 128″ lorry, was based on to use as much as possible parts from existing other lorries – mainly the T 111.

The swing axles of the vehicle enabled the 4×4 lorry to be driven faster on rough surface than vehicles fitted with rigid axles,


In 1955 the manufacture of passenger cars could start again. In Prague the factory developed the “T 603″ car with a

95 h.p. air-cooled eight-cylinder engine overhanging the rear. Final decision about its design were taken in the winter of 1954/1955 when a full size model could be presented. For the first time a flat floor was achieved and the helical springs mounted in a silentblocs made it possible to obtain the parameters and running characteristics which were typical of high-standard cars. Production of the T 603 stayed very modest. Cars were exclusively built for party officials and the like.


The T 603 wasn’t the first vehicle featuring the T 603 engine. In the early fifties the “T 805″ lorry was designed. It was a successfull one-and-a-half ton off-the-road vehicle with hub reduction and an T 603a air-cooled eight-cylinder engine situated in the front. Cabin was a cab-over-engine.


In 1959 TATRA brought to the market a new type of lorry, the “T 138″, with independent springing system and swing axles.

the springing of which is provided by longitudinal torsion

bars for single axles and by longitudinal leaf springs for

the double rear axle. Engine was a 192 h.p, V8

air-cooled one. The gearbox was operated pneumatically.


Tatra updated their T 2-603 and even experimented with new new bodies


A new type of vehicle that was put to series production in

1966 was the “T 813″ three-axle and tipper of 250 h.p. and,

after further development, a new four axle 1967 model towing vehicle on giant tyres. The inflation pressure of which could be varied while the vehicle was running. The T 813 would be known as the Tatra “Kolos”

Since 1964 the industrial production volume of the firm in-

creased by 60 per cent, A large proportion of the products

goes for export which accounts for a full 32,5 per cent of

the factory’ s total production.


To honor Tatra’s seventieth birthday of car production, the T 603 was updated once more. The model was dated now, it’s production only lengthened as the production of the new model T 613 was postponed year after year.


The T 613 prototypes were the first Tatras styled outside the Tatra Works. The less strict communistic ties of the time enabled Tatra to contact Carrozzeria Vignale. They built three cars for Tatra, at the time featuring a updated T 603 engine, the T 613 engine still under development.


While the western world suffers from the oil crisis, Czechoslovakia is about to introduce its first non streamlined Tatra since the mid-thirties.


Tatra starts production of the T 613 in their works at Pribor, just north of Koprivnice


The last and 20.422th T 603 leaves the Tatra Works in August. More than 40 years of streamlining comes to an end.


Tatra decided to give the T 613 a face lift. Plastic parts replaced various chrome parts while the engine got more economic on fuel. In the eighties other unsuccessful face lifts followed, the T 613 losing its Vignale grandeur.


Both the very successful T 148 lorry and the giant T 813 were replaced by a new cab over engine model, the T 815. It was built in numerous versions from 4×4 tractors and 3-axle tippers to 12×4 6 axle cranes and everything in between. (6×6, 8×8, 10×6)


Czechoslovakia’s velvet revolution meant a disaster for Tatra. They didn’t have a selling organization, everything centralized in communist Czechoslovakia. Gone were the traditional markets. Tatra suddenly having to compete with western products.

New markets were found in Lybia and North Korea. They were disastrous. Due to the crash of the Panam-Boeing at Lockerbie, the U.N. introduced an economic boycott for Lybia. Tatra was left with hundreds of unpaid custom built trucks with airco, the works grounds and test track full of sand-yellow T 815s.

Hundreds of black T 613s ordered by North Korea weren’t delivered as North Korea cancelled its order.

Both trucks and T 613s were finally sold for scrap prizes.

The 12.000 employees of the communist days, used to work in shifts, saw thousands of colleagues fired.

After Tatra and Tatra G.B. tried to make the T 613 acceptable for the western public, fitting the T 613 with a cat and fuel injection as well as redesigning the interior, Tatra decided upon a last try: With the help of British designer Geoff Wardle the T 613 was shaped into the T 700. With much publicity it was introduced in the Prague Hilton in April 1996. A year later it was already redesigned, giving the car, known as the T 2-700 a more modern back.


Not enough customers were found however, the T 700 prizes rising year by year.

Production was finally stopped in 1998. 100 years of car production came to an end.

Tatra had become a truck-only vehicle producer. Despite their successes in Paris Dakar, Tatra had great difficulties finding new customers. Annual production sank from 15.000 units in the mid-eighties to around 2000 in the mid-nineties. Products were improved however despite the lack of finances. Engines were improved and could choose from Deutz engines or Tatra engines. Anti-pollution measures forced to meet with Euro I and Euro II demands. Tatra managed to reach these standards in a short time.

Westerners refused to buy Tatras in quantities however, their servicing network in Western Europe being poor. By the end of the nineties, Tatra concentrated themselves on their traditional markets: former eastern-bloc countries and the Third World. Co-operations were started in India and South America.

By 1998 Tatra introduced even new models: the TERRN° 1 and the JAMAL, the latter one a tipper model with a classic nose.


In 2000 Tatra became part of a revitalization program of the Czech government, that took the enormous debts from Tatra’s shoulders. Nowadays Tatra is much smaller but reports black figures again.

Kees Smit

March 2001







Hans Ledwinka biography