Ledwinka's next automotive success was the 100.3-inch-wheelbase T57, announced in 1931. Automobile Quarterly later termed it "a people's car -- and they liked it." That may be because its 22-hp 1.2-liter flat-four was almost indestructible. In a way so was the overall design, for it lived in production beyond World War II through evolved A- and B-models.
A forecast of the future arrived in a 1933 prototype, the V570. "Streamlining" was increasingly in vogue with industrial designers the world over, and this car had it: a compact two-door sedan with a 91.3-inch wheelbase, gently curved roofline, and a smoothly rounded nose with partly faired-in headlamps. For motive power, Ledwinka looked toward the future with a new 854-cc flat-twin, only here it was in the tail, announced by cooling louvers behind the rear side windows. The V570 clearly showed that Ledwinka was still striving toward an ideal "people's car." He was not alone. As British authors Ivan Margoulis and John G. Henry point out in Tatra: The Legacy of Hans Ledivinka, the V570 set the pattern for Adolf Hitler's Volkswagen. Hitler admired both Ledwinka and his air-cooled cars, and he met with the engineer on at least two occasions (in 1933 and 1934) for in-depth technical briefings on Tatra's latest models.
According to Hans's son, Erich, it was at one of those sessions that Der Fuhrer and Ledwinka formulated specific details of the coming VW, which Hitler then gave to Ferdinand Porsche. Visual confirmation comes from the Beetle's Porsche-designed precursors. In particular, the experimental Zundapp Type 12 looks remarkably like the V570.
But Ledwinka had bigger things in mind, and in 1934 he put 30 years of advanced thinking into one car, the Tatra 77. It was different to say the least. As Ray Thursby later observed in Road & Track, it "owed far more to aircraft practice than to existing automotive design.... The only clues to the engine location were the louvered rear deck lid and an air scoop on each side where quarter windows might have been." Streamlining was served by covered rear wheels, recessed door handles, and a startling dorsal fin running down the engine lid from roof to rear bumper. Otherwise, the 77 looked rather like the Chrysler and DeSoto Airflows and the Peugeot 402 that appeared that same year.
Again striving for performance, Ledwinka and his son made the 77 the world's first rear V-8 production car, drawing up a 3.0-liter air-cooled "boxer" unit with one overhead camshaft per hemi-head cylinder bank. The cams operated the valves via rocker arms and also drove the cooling fan. The block and cylinder heads were all cast from light-weight alloys. A four-speed rear trans-axle mated with the engine to form a compact power pack designed for quick and easy removal or installation, a feature of Preston Tucker's car some 14 years later.
The 77 chassis was a strong box-section affair with Ledwinka's favored backbone, but was mostly integral with a new all-steel four-door body A sliding cloth sunroof replaced the old-fashioned fabric roof insert. The predictable all-independent suspension retained transverse leaf springs at each end, joined to swing axles in back and single keystone-type arms in front. Hydraulic shock absorbers were used all-around. Like the Airflow, the T77 cradled all occupants comfortably between the wheels, but a rangy 124-inch wheelbase combined with the rear-mounted powertrain for a truly vast interior. The aerodynamic styling paid dividends, too. Despite just 59 bhp, the T77 could breeze to nearly 94 mph.
For more information on creating the Tatra T90, continue on to the next page.
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