I Found This Beautiful, Bizarre Car In A German Design Museum — And Its Backstory Is Fascinating

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I was in Munich for DLD, a conference, and I had a morning to kill.

So I joined a group tour of modern art museum Pinakothek der Moderne's design wing.

There was all kinds of impressive stuff – but I immediately gravitated to a crazy-looking, beautiful car.

You can see it on the bottom left of this photo.

Here it is. Just look at it.

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It looks like a car from the distant past's lost vision of the distant future.

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The placard said it's a Tatra 87 from 1937…

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…designed by a man named Hans Ledwinka.

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Our guide, chief curator Corinna Roesner, said the Tatra 87 was the first mass produced "streamlined" car – meaning it was designed in a wind tunnel.

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But that's not true. The first mass-produced streamlined car was this one, the Tatra 77.

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And Hans Ledwig didn't design the 87 or 77's body. This guy, Erich Übelacker, did.

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And actually, Übelacker really got his design from this man, Paul Jaray

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A pioneer of streamline design, Jaray made his name designing zeppelins like this LZ 127

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Jaray designed the very first streamlined car (not mass-produced) in 1922, the Ley T6.

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These are Jaray's sketches.

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You can see the Ley T6 in the Tatra 87…

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…particularly in that curving swoop of its back.

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I love the car's little design details, like this air vent behind the rear windows…

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…and these slits above the back bumper.

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Here's a shot of the interior.

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The streamlined looks aren't just for show, by the way.

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The Tatra 87 was fast for its time, with top speeds of nearly 100mph.

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The engine is a V8, making 85 horsepower. (Today's V8s make 400+ horsepower)

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The Tatra got amazing fuel efficiency too. Going 18 miles per gallon, versus an average of 11 mpg for cars in its class.

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Loved by Germans, Tatra was actually a Czechoslovakian car company

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Ledwinka may not have come up with the Tatra 87's design, but he was lead engineer. So he deserves some credit for those great numbers.

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The car cost about $25,000 back in 1937. Today, it costs $125,000.

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The Tatra 87 has lots of famous admirers, including Jay Leno and John Steinbeck…

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…and Hitler.

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Lore has it that Hitler rode around in Tatras during political tours to Czechoslovakia in the 1930s.

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It's said that after one tour, Hitler went to Ferdinand Porsche and said: "This is the car for my roads." (This is Hitler opening a Volkswagon factory)

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Porsche took the hint. The museum had a Volkswagen and a Porsche to show they are influenced by the Tatra.

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You can see it, right?

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I look at the curve of the back.

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Hans Ledwinka certainly noticed. He sued Porsche.

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Then the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia. The suit was dropped.

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Of Ledwinka, Porsche said: "Well, sometimes I looked over his shoulder and sometimes he looked over mine."

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Jaray, a Jew, survived World War II in Switzerland. In his career, he designed cars for Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz, Maybach, and defunct brands like Adler.

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Here's one last look at the Tatra 87. Beautiful, right?

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