Insane Barn Find! 1936 Tatra T87

If you’re among the legions of enthusiasts claiming that all the good barn finds are gone, prepare to be corrected. This is an exceedingly rare Tatra T87, a Czechoslovakian oddball of which less than 3,100 were ever made. These cars seemingly only show up any more when discovered exactly like this, left forgotten in a barn, surely the result of the last caretaker having little in the way of resources to maintain such an exotic machine. Exotic? Yes, exotic, with a 2.9L air-cooled V8 mounted in the rear, producing 85 b.h.p. and capable of rocketing to 100 m.p.h. These days, restored examples command a premium, well into the low six-figure range. Find this astounding barn find here on craigslist with no price listed.

The Tatra’s windswept design was as novel as the engineering, for cars simply were not born in wind tunnels like they are now. In addition to the highly respectable power output for the era, the Tatra could also deliver close to 20 miles per gallon. For the era, these were extremely respectable figures, made even more so when you factor in how large the car was. Still, the T87 was a smaller car than its predecessor, and the novel magnesium alloy V8 helped to keep the weight down. With the engine in back and the transmission in the front, the interior was quite spacious. Really, the packaging is incredibly smart.

When new, it’s safe to say the interiors were opulent. But despite the space created by the drivetrain layout, the suspension was unforgiving, with a swing axle out back that caused undesirable consequences for drivers who put their foot in it without considering the very real handling limits. Inside, there’s little doubt this Tatra has been standing for quite some time, and the seller doesn’t provide much in the way of history other than slipping in an anecdote about being previously owned by a German field marshal – do with that what you will. Hemmings provided a report that indicated many German officers found out about lift-throttle oversteer the hard way when the car was new.

The example seen here is clearly a total restoration project, but one that is surprisingly complete. That’s a good thing, because I’m guessing your local parts distributor isn’t going to have a set of plug wires or valve cover gasket on the shelf for a T87. The attraction here is the historic nature of the car, along with the scarce supply of surviving examples, particularly in the U.S. Throw in the fact that it’s actually a fairly competent driver and it’s clear why these cars are almost always restored. Find another one – I’ll wait. Thanks to Barn Finds reader Ikey H. for the find.

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Comments

  1. RayT Member

    Fascinating, Jeff! I have wanted a T87 for many, many years, but the closest I ever got (that was in my price range) was being told about a Tatra-in-a-barn not too far from where I lived back in the early 1980s. I rushed over, checkbook in hand, and found a Tatraplan (smaller, with a VW-esque flat-four powerplant) instead. Not at all what I wanted.

    It was in roughly the same condition as this one appears to be, which essentially means it’s a good thing for a driveway mechanic like me to stay away from. Finding any of the missing/irreparable trim would be a nightmare, and I’ll bet even Rock Auto can’t help with parts. Try to find a shop manual, too.

    From what I’ve been told over the years, the best thing to do with a T87 like this one is crate it up and ship it back to the Old Country, where ex-Tatra people and others can find/make parts and produce a quality restoration. That’s not at all inexpensive, but I’ve seen two T87s done in Czechoslovakia, and both were near-perfect.

    But oh, do I want one! They are more plentiful than the seller suggests, but it would take a Powerball-size miracle for me to have one…..

    Like 22
    • Martin Horrocks

      Absolutely correct on ship it back to Czech Republic for restoration. Apart from the expertise, there are some seriously impressive restoration shops in CZ ( can recommend from personal experience Ivo Smutney at https://www.auto-veteran.com/index.php/en )

      Shipping 2 ways would be about $6000 in a 20ft container, but T87s are cars for deep pockets, although valuable when done properly.

      Like 10
    • Ed Smith

      Funny you mention Rock! I just went to their site and they have a Tatra listing! It goes from 1950 to 1968, so probably all Tatraplan. But i was amazed at the huge selection of Spark Plugs they sell, as that was the only part listed for any year!

      Like 2
  2. Big_Fun Member

    It’s like Father VW and Mother Jaguar had a love child. I find this vehicle alluring and disgusting at the same time…

    Like 18
    • Poppapork

      Weird thing to say considering this predates VW beatle type 1. And the beatle itself was a tatra rip-off (tatra v570 and tatra 97)

      Like 8
      • RayT Member

        The first T87 was produced in 1936. Its predecessor, the Type 77, which had the same basic layout and similar design, entered production in 1934. At the time, Dr Porsche was still working on blueprints.

        Like 3
      • Bill McCoskey

        A post war VW engine will bolt onto a Tatra T87 gearbox without any modifications. Think about that for a while. In 1962 German Court settlement records, Dr. Porsche admitted he and Tatra engineer Ledwinka “Often looked over each other’s shoulders”.

        The basic early VW engine & transaxle were based on the pre war Tatra rear engine 4 cylinder cars.

        Like 4
    • Mr.BZ

      Hilarious, and quite accurate in my book!

  3. Keith FRASER

    Tampa Auto Museum has a few Tatra cars on show

    Like 1
    • Pete Phillips

      So does the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee. Last time I was there, they had half a dozen of these.

      Like 2
      • Little_Cars Little_Cars Member

        “Biggest assemblage of Tatras in the US” is their claim. I believe it. The Lane museum is a real treat, a few miles from my old house. I make the pilgrimage there periodically and our car club had their annual meeting there as well, until our group became too big for their formal meeting space.

        Like 1
  4. bone

    Owned by Rommel ? gee, does he still have the registration to prove it ? LOL

    Like 6
    • Steve S

      It just said that it could of been owned by a field marshal. It don’t say who so it could of been a different field marshal that owned the car and not rommel. The car also looks like it would be fun to own and drive but expensive to get parts for it.

      Like 1
      • bone

        The Craigslist ad says “Romel” , not the BF listing

        Like 1
    • Kenneth Ufheil

      Mr Thompson in San Antonio has absolutely no documentation of this car belonging to Rommel. The actual Rommel car was found in Cairo Egypt around 1991, at the old safe house he had there, where he had abandoned it is his rush to get back to Europe to prepare the beaches of Normandy for the impending Allied invasion.

      Like 3
      • Mike

        Rommel in Cairo? Hard to believe he had a safe house there when the closest he got to the city was 150 miles.

        Like 1
  5. Ed

    Not sure if it’s true but I heard that Hitler took over the Tatra plant after invading Czechoslovakia, and stole Tatra’s design, and it was used in developing the Volkswagen/Porsche.

    Like 3
    • Martin Horrocks

      Nope, it is earlier and more complicated than that.

      Hitler invaded Czechloslovakia in 1938, KdFwagen/VW was already well under way. In the 1920s, when still a political minnow causing low life trouble mainly in Austria, Hitler had a Tatra T22 as transport and was apparently impressed by the air-cooling, which found its way into the spec sheet which formed the basis of the KdFwagen/VW.

      Hitler was very personally involved in defining the KdFwagen/VW project, Dr Porsche was responsible for delivering it, which is why Dr Porsche was arrested and imprisoned for war crimes in France after the war (he was in Paris a consultant to Renault on the 4/4 project). Ferry Porsche began to produce VW-based sports cars under the Porsche brand in order to raise money to get his father released.

      So are we going to give Tatra/Ledwinka with Porsche too?

      Like 1
  6. Little_Cars Little_Cars Member

    Someone call Jeff Lane, STAT! He’s the one with the wherewithal to do something with this project. Owner/proprietor of the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville.

    Like 3
    • Beyfon

      Lane’s Tatra collection is fantastic. They even had one on skis for snow adventures!
      Other than that I was once invited to visit a reclusive collector in Sweden who probably had around 50 cars in his barns. He mostly focused on Lancia but also had a pretty nice all original T77. Such a cool car!

      Like 1
  7. Bill McCoskey

    I’ve been a Tatra owner for decades, and I can tell you those of us in the “Tatra world” are very familiar with this car and it’s owner. He’s advertised this car in Hemmings for at least a decade, and the price has always been advertised as $1,000,000.00. The owner has made a lot of “interesting” claims about this car, without any evidence to back them up. Historical records indicate Field Marshal Rommel was a Mercedes-Benz man, and 99% of known Rommel photos show him in M-B vehicles.

    The car is missing a lot of small parts that are extremely hard to find. The true value of this car is more along the line of around $50,000 to $75,000. If this car had been priced reasonably decades ago, it would have been in the Lane museum by now, fully restored.

    Like 29
  8. Stevieg

    Being both a history buff & a gearhead, this really calls out to me too!
    It will never happen, since I don’t gamble lol, and can’t seem to find employment with pay big enough for this lol.

    Like 2
  9. chillywind

    That looks like a pain to back up! no rear window.

    Like 1
    • Dave

      I saw a backup camera setup at Costco for $150. I do love the fin on the back…kinda makes it look like a Missing Link from when cars first crawled out of the sea to drive on land.

      Like 16
    • Bill McCoskey

      Chillywind,
      I’ve had to back up a T87 into parking spaces at car shows, and can tell you first hand that it’s very difficult to back up, especially if the rear window [above & forward of the engine] is dirty.

      There is a good reason to invite other people to join you in a drive; so they can help direct you if needed.

      Like 6
    • Beyfon

      There is indeed a back window, it’s just that it’s between the passenger compartment and the engine. So first you have the small window slot and then the louvers in the hood.

      A backup camera is not a bad idea.

      But I’m guessing that with a Tatra in the Czech Republic in 1936 the only time you had to worry about seeing what’s behind you was if you lifted the throttle too suddenly in a fast turn?

      Like 1
  10. Bill McCoskey

    I’ve had the opportunity to drive T87 cars in Europe and Britain, and here’s my take on them:

    Incredible styling, with those triple headlights, streamlining, and that wonderful fin. Leading edge mechanical engineering and design, including a rear mounted V8 engine, with a split [2-piece] magnesium case, dual overhead cams, and a 4-speed transaxle. The T87 body shell is 100% welded steel [the only structural wood was in the doors].

    But in my opinion the T87 cars [and likely the earlier T77 cars] ride and handle terribly. A good friend once remarked that his tractor rode better than a T87. That said, even with the rough riding and handling characteristics, I still want one!

    As one who has had a fascination with Tatra cars & trucks since the age of 5, when I saw a 1957 Time Magazine article on the Czech ambassador’s new Tatra T-603, the photo of that Tatra having been forever imprinted into my young mind. I told my dad that someday I would own such a car [he laughed]. It only took another 35 years to find a couple of them after the fall of the iron curtain, I found two T2-603 V8 cars, one came out of the Czech republic, the other out of East Germany, a former “secret police” car.

    I’ve often wondered what modern Tatra cars would look like had the company been in western Europe, instead of facing state restrictions in eastern Europe.

    Like 8
    • Gary Cullen

      Hi Bill, My T87 rides really nicely, surprisingly so. The T77 I’ve driven (John Long’s) is another story! Handling, well, it’s quite steady on the highway but cornering at speed is a no-no!

  11. Virgil Haataja

    Looks like the car Frankenstein drove in the first death race 2000

    Like 1
  12. Paul Trickett

    Stahl’s Automotive Museum in Chesterfield Michigan has a beautifully restored one in their collection along with many Pebble Beach cars. Well worth checking it out if you live near there.

  13. BobinBexley Bob in Bexley Member

    So freaking cool. Has a Truk Lagoon vibe. I’ve mentioned this before…anybody remember one of these sitting in a junkyard/field in New Philadelphia, Ohio about 40 yrs ago ? I do. We came upon it & freaked. Didn’t know what it was. Attempted to raise the hood & nest of bees come buzzing out.

    Like 2
    • RayT Member

      I grew up in Southern California, and I remember — vividly! — seeing a tired, gray T87 sitting immobile in front of a machine shop in Lakewood (I think). We passed the shop every few weeks while driving down to visit my grandfather, and I must have yammered at my dad to stop every time we went by.

      Not doubt you can imagine that one of my first runs when I got a license was down Lakewood Blvd. to see if it was still there and, being more imaginative than smart, trying to buy it. If this were a story in a book, it would have been there. But it wasn’t. Even the machine shop was gone.

      Like 1
  14. Doc

    https://www.warhistoryonline.com/war-articles/czech-car-killed-nazi-officers-than-active-combat.html

    Interesting history to these cars! They did help the war effort unintentionally!

  15. ChingaTrailer

    I too have spoken with the fruit cake seller a few times over the years. He doesn’t seem to have the slightest grasp of reality. When he croaks, perhaps his heirs will dispose of it.

    Like 1
    • Kenneth Ufheil

      LOL, I think the same thing.

  16. chrlsful

    these were all way over the top for me. Fella hung out w/Porche and Abarth, no?

  17. Gary Cullen

    The trip to the far north a friend and I did 20 years ago in our Tatra T87’s.

    http://web.archive.org/web/20021206224157/http://www.openthinkinc.com/tatra/index.html#Background

    Like 1
    • Peter Zobian

      I think these two Tatra T87’s stopped in at my shop, VINTAGE AUTOMOBILIA, in Cambria, CA. I have a photo of them both in my parking lot.

      Like 1
  18. Kelly Breen

    I don’t know if this is true, but I have read from several sources that German officers tended to love these cars, but so many got killed driving them too quickly around corners that orders were issued forbidding officers from driving them. Maybe an urban legend…… I don’t know. I would like to get a definitive answer on that one.

    • Gary Cullen

      This story has been around and repeated for decades but there has never been any evidence that it was a fact. I would not be surprised if it happened but not to the extent made out in those articles. I’ve owned a T87 for nearly 30 years and have read a lot but nope, no solid evidence on this story.

  19. Gary Cullen

    Hi Peter, yes that was John Long and I, that was in 2002. We still have our Tatras but no more long trips. Loved you store!

    • PETER ZOBIAN

      Thank you Gary,
      I’m retired from my store VINTAGE AUTOMOBILIA and now live in rural Virginia, so I don’t expect to see very many Tatras here on The Blue Ridge Parkway. But I sure do remember yours and I still have the photos of your visit!
      Peter

      • Gary Cullen

        Hi Peter, here’s the old web site John Long made of our travels in our Tatras. It’s still out there on the WayBackMachine web. http://web.archive.org/web/20021206224157/http://www.openthinkinc.com/tatra/index.html

      • Little_Cars Little_Cars Member

        Another Old Dominion car fan! What part of the state do you live, Peter? I was raised in Alexandria, went to college in Southwest VA, and traveled the state for almost thirty years scouring the countryside for vintage tin. My oldest friends reside from one end of the state to the other.

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