This Tatra T77 was the 9th production car built. Serial numbers have been verified by Michaela Bortlova, who is the chief archivist at the Tatra Museum in Koprivice CZ. Certain numbers have also been verified by Tatra historian Ivan Margolius, who is the author of Tatra, The Legacy of Hans Ledwinka. This excellent book is available on Amazon and through other fine booksellers worldwide.
The Tatra marque can trace its origins back to 1891 when it was doing business under the name Nesselsdorfer Wagenbau-Fabrik. The company started out as a wagon manufacturer, and built its first automobile in 1897. Nestled near the Tatra Mountains, the firm changed its name to Tatra in 1919. The firm produced passenger cars, trucks, and had a successful early racing career. Dr. Ferdinand Porsche made several visits to the Tatra factory during the 1930s, and his engineering work on the original Volkswagen Beetle and later on his own brand air cooled rear-engined sports cars was heavily influenced by the innovations he studied at the Tatra factory.
Had it not been for the German occupation during World War II, and more so the Soviet occupation thereafter, the Tatra marque would’ve likely been as well known as Porsche and Volkswagen are today. Instead, its history of innovation is only now coming to be understood and appreciated in the automotive community. Restored examples of Tatra T77s are few and far between and rarely come up for auction.
The T77 was introduced to the public at the 1934 Berlin auto show on March 8, 1934, and is known to be one of the earliest examples of a streamlined automobile. The T77 was largely the brainchild of Tatra’s chief engineer Hans Ledwinka and Paul Jaray, who was an aerodynamicist for the Zeppelin dirigible company. Jaray’s experience was beneficial in streamlining the T77. A 1⁄5 scale model of the T77 was tested in the Military Research Institute Letnany tunnel and obtained an average drag coefficient reading of 0.245 on the T77, which was clearly understood to produce higher speeds while using a smaller engine for reduced fuel consumption. Ledwinka would incorporate revolutionary engineering concepts including a rear-mounted 2.9-liter 60 HP air-cooled V8 engine with hemi heads, dry sump lubrication with oil coolers and overhead valves mounted directly to a four-speed transaxle and independent rear suspension. An independent suspension would also be used for the front wheels. Six passengers could ride comfortably in speeds up to 90 mph (145 kph) while enjoying the fuel economy of a considerably smaller vehicle. Also, with the engine placed behind the rear seat passengers, the cabin was quiet and free from the smell of gasoline and noxious fumes often found in front-engine automobiles. The car was marketed to customers in Czechoslovakia, Germany, and England, with brochures tailored to the specific language of each country. Factory records indicate that 106 examples of the T77 were built. The car offered for sale is one of only five known restored and drivable T77s worldwide.
When the car was introduced to the public, it was like no other on the road at the time. It sat closer to the ground with a height almost a foot less than the typical American automobile of the time. It was a lot faster, too. With no radiator upfront, and a pronounced central fin on the rear deck for lateral stability, the car looked like something out of a science fiction novel. Interestingly enough, the wheelbase, overall length, and height are very similar to that of a modern Porsche Panamera!
This particular T77 was produced and sold to Count Jaromír Czernin-Morzin. Czernin’s and a second T77 toured the Italian Alps. The success of the tour was a great interest to the public thanks to the reliability of the two automobiles on the challenging Italian roads. Available records show that Count Czernin owned the car through 1936. (Czernin is remembered in history as having to sell the family’s rare Vermeer painting to Hitler to avoid imprisonment.) Under the Munich Agreement the Third Reich assumed control of the Tatra factory in 1938. From 1939 until the end of the war in 1945, the German army confiscated many automobiles from Czech citizens, and Tatras were no exception. As a result of confiscation by the Nazis, public records of automobile ownership in Czechoslovakia prior to and during the war are often incomplete. Those records continued to be incomplete during the period of Russian occupation and the ensuing incorporation of Czechoslovakia as a satellite state of the USSR.
According to correspondence with a fellow Tatra enthusiast based in the Czech Republic, the car offered for sale was a barn find in Slovakia that he offered to purchase from its owner. It is believed that the car was driven until at least the mid-1970s when it was finally retired and put in storage. The car was purchased by Axel Schütte of fineautomobiles.com in 2005, cleaned up and then was presented at the 2006 Essen Classic Motor Show. The car was acquired by Mr. Simo in 2007. Restoration work began in earnest in 2012 after Simo found a firm that he felt confident would do the T77 justice. Finding spare parts was difficult at best. So few T77s survived World War II that there was no available cache of parts from donor cars. Dozens of calls and letters to museums asking for information and photographs of other T77s went unanswered. Simo never wavered from his commitment to see his T77 restored.