Tatra: the legendary Czech car, designed by Hans and Erich Ledwinka.
Ledwinka was born in Klosterneuburg, near Vienna, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As a young man he worked for Nesselsdorfer Wagenbau in Nesselsdorf, the company that later became known as Tatra in Moravia. He was first employed in the construction of railroad cars, and later involved in the production of the first cars produced by this firm. He designed the 5.3-litre six-cylinder Type U motor car. In 1917, in the midst of World War I, he left the company to join Steyr.
Ledwinka returned to Tatra, then in Czechoslovakia, and between 1921 and 1937 was their chief design engineer. He invented the frameless central tubular chassis with swing axles, fully independent suspension and rear-mounted air-cooled flat engine. Another of Ledwinka´s major contributions to automobile design was the development of the streamlined car body. Under him, Tatra brought to market the first streamlined cars that had been mass produced. Together with his son Erich, who took over as chief designer at Tatra, Ledwinka and Erich Übelacker, a German engineer also employed by Tatra, designed the streamlined Tatra models T77, T77a, T87, and T97. All of these models had rear mounted, air-cooled engines.
From 1933 onwards, Ledwinka and Porsche met regularly to discuss their designs and Porsche admitted "Well, sometimes I looked over his shoulder and sometimes he looked over mine" while designing the Volkswagen.The Beetle bore a striking resemblance to the Tatras, particularly the Tatra V570. The Tatra T97 of 1936 had a rear-located, rear-wheel drive, air-cooled four-cylinder boxer engine accommodating four passengers and providing luggage storage under the front bonnet and behind the rear seat. Among other similarities also found in the Beetle is the central structural tunnel. Tatra launched a lawsuit, which was stopped when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. At the same time, Tatra was forced to stop producing the T97. The matter was re-opened after World War II and in 1961 Volkswagen paid Ringhoffer-Tatra 3,000,000 Deutsche Marks in an out of court settlement.
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