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Getting from Here to There



Faster Than a Bullet
Hans Ledwinka, <i>Tatra T-87 Four-Door Sedan</i>, 1948 (designed 1936), all-metal construction
zoom Hans Ledwinka, Tatra T-87 Four-Door Sedan, 1948 (designed 1936), all-metal construction

 

Imagine you could run your hand over this car. How would it feel? As you moved your hand, would you hit many sharp angles and jagged edges, or would you feel smooth bends and sleek curves? Why do you think a car would have this shape?

This car, the Czechoslovakian Tatra T87, was designed for speed and efficiency. In the early 1930s, engineers and designers worked on streamlining airplanes, automobiles, and trains, creating a shape that would reduce the amount of drag on the moving vehicle.

What makes the Tatra T87 so aerodynamic? Its design, developed by the Austrian engineer Hans Ledwinka, was based on carefully tested scientific and engineering principles. The Tatra’s unique form—its smooth lines, rounded edges, short front end, and long, tapered rear—let it slip through the air more easily than a boxy, flat-fronted car.

Of course, to interest car buyers, the Tatra also had to be stylish. Its front “Cyclops” fog light, sliding sunroof, leather seats, three-part windshield, delicate rear lights, built-in fenders, and rear-mounted V-8 engine are just some of the features that appealed to the public.

Visually, the most striking part of the Tatra T87 is the big fin at the rear. Not only does it add dramatic flair, it also serves a purpose. Without it, a crosswind would make the tapered body waver at high speeds.


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1. The “Cyclops” fog light was very useful for early-morning misty drives in the mountains of Germany and Austria.
2. The leather seats make the ride more comfortable, and the side windshields help the driver see.
3. The Tatra’s V-8, 75-horsepower engine is at the rear. With this engine, the Tatra could travel at 100 miles per hour.

 

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October 2006