While other heavy truck manufacturers that originated in the historical territory of the Czech state either did not exist for very long or were swallowed up by more successful ones, the TATRA brand is still alive. It is the only one to keep the flag of the Czech design school hoisted in its segment. The TATRA vehicle factory has always had the following features:
- The oldest vehicle factory in Central Europe and the third oldest in the world.
- The first passenger car was produced in 1897 and the first truck in 1898.
- Key production features: the TATRA vehicle concept, the directly air-cooled diesel engine.
- Historically important vehicles which can be used where others cannot pass.
- A modern production programme with unique design solutions.
Let us return together to the history of TATRA vehicle production and recall both important moments as well as cars.
- The foundations of the second oldest car factory in the world
- The route to a car
- Brilliant ideas and the TATRA vehicle concept
- Gradual transformation into a Czech company
- The truck that won a monument
- Legendary trucks (TATRA 138, Trambus T 813 and T 815)
- Change in strategy after 1989 and the LIWA project
- Achievements developed in house
- Civilian and special sectors
- Brand new T 815-7 vehicles
- The current TATRA production programme
The foundations of the second oldest car factory in the world were laid in 1850 when Kopřivnice was officially called Nesselsdorf and Ignác Šustala an ambitious entrepreneur manufacturing carriages and couches, officially known to the authorities as Ignatz Schustala.
This was during the era of Austria-Hungary and Franz Joseph. Incidentally, Vienna played an essential role in the formation of the company that later became known as TATRA. In 1891 the Guttmans brothers, local bankers, capitalised Ignatz Schustala & Comp (founded in 1858) and transformed it into Nesselsdorfer Wagenbau Fabriks Gesellschaft.
Ignác Šustala had died of a heart attack and did not live to see this financial operation. Hugo Fischer von Röslerstamm who worked as a counsel in Nesselsdorf for many years took over the number one position in the new company. He was originally a railway inspector and the production of railway wagons in the company boomed under his leadership.
The sons of Mr. Šustala, who originally held important positions in the factory, did not participate in the development of the company’s production programme toward new technical achievements either. In protest against practices of the joint-stock company management they sold their shares (under price, incidentally) and, in a sulk, decided to establish another company in 1895 and 1896, later called Vagónka Studénka.
The route to a car
It cannot be denied that engineer Fischer of Röslerstamms was a visionary. It was he who played an important role in the construction of the first car with a combustion engine in Austria-Hungary and Central Europe.
Perhaps he was wondering how to use the skills of cart-wrights, upholsterers and other crafts which had no more place in the company due to the drop in demand for carriages and coaches. He might have come to the idea of car manufacture after seeing some photographs of a “horseless carriage” published in La Locomotion Automobile (bundled editions from 1895 to 1898 are deposited in the archive of the car manufacturer). Quite probably, Fisher the proctor contemplated as follows: “We are able to manufacture carriages and coaches and these only lack a little something compared to those in the photographs – just add an engine, transmission and a steering wheel and you would have a car at once. One of the “little somethings” – the engine – could be sourced from manufacturer. The remaining parts and assembly could remain in Kopřivnice”. This idea was genius in its simplicity!
At this moment Baron Theodor von Liebieg, a Liberec (Reichenberg) factory-owner, came onto the scene. Purely thanks to his friendship with Karl Benz, the inventor of the car with a combustion engine, the latter agreed to deliver one of the first two-cylinder engines manufactured in 1897 to Kopřivnice and undertake regular supplies of further engines for the first series of Kopřivnice cars.
Brilliant ideas and the TATRA vehicle concept
Only several few years after the origin of the car as we know it, the first Präsident car was produced in Kopřivnice in 1897. Actually only a single year separates the first truck produced in the world and the first truck from Kopřivnice (1898) from each other.
It is obvious that the production of the predecessors of the TATRA vehicles, branded NW in their era, was always at the leading edge. Soon the first full-drive Jaguar towing vehicle was produced, and it was as if this augured the vehicle segment in which TATRA would began to celebrate its international triumphs.
The mass production of trucks was commenced in the middle of the 1920s. The TATRA brand had appeared on vehicles for the first time before 1920. After some consolidation in the company management arising from the new arrangement of Central Europe and the establishment of an independent Czechoslovakia, the spiritual father Hans Ledwinka, a designer, prepared a surprise for the entire world with what we now call the “TATRA vehicle concept”.
In 1923 a chassis consisting of a central load-carrying tube, at the end of which a directly air-cooled engine and transmission were installed with independently mounted swinging half-axles, was introduced as a new product. The consequent years of production of vehicles designed in this way proved the greatness of the design. It gradually became prevalent as a light version in special vehicles, and later in heavier off-road vehicles.
Gradual transformation into a Czech company.
After 1918 the name of the Kopřivnice company was changed from Nesselsdorfer Wagenbau to Kopřivnická vozovka, a.s. At that time, the management of the company moved from Vienna to Prague after a call from the Czechoslovak state authorities.
In 1919 the TATRA brand appeared on vehicles for the first time. By coincidence, these were the first mass produced (since 1914) trucks, NW TL2 and NW TL4.
The company did not manage to part with the Nesselsdorfer brand until 1926. At that time, the automotive industry had been admiring the genuinely brilliant Ledwinka concept of backbone frame for three years. In the same year, Kopřivnická vozovka, a.s. was incorporated into the Ringhoffer Corporation. In 1936, after another approximation with the Prague magnate, Ringhoffer TATRA, a.s. was founded and renamed to Ringhoffer TATRA Werke A G two years later.
After 1945 all TATRA production was finally based in the Czech lands. The TATRA national enterprise (state-owned) was established and its designers perfectly elaborated the war-period design of the first TATRA heavy truck with a directly air-cooled diesel engine of TATRA’s own original design.
The truck that won a monument
The TATRA 111 remained in production for the next 16 years, until 1962. It literally transported away all the fundamental constructions of the era of building the new society, and not only in Czechoslovakia. Its popularity is proven by the fact that it is the only truck in the world whose thankful customers built it its own monument.
It is no surprise that this occurred in Magadan, in the Soviet Far East. Hardly anybody will remember now that a derivative of the T 111 in the form of a T 141 heavy towing vehicle was once placed on a pedestal of a monument in Bánovcë nad Bebravou, Slovakia, as well.
Another legend that appeared on the roads in 1959 (the first prototype was made in 1956) was the TATRA 138, the development of which resulted in the T 148 version range. A new eight-cylinder engine, later modernised, a synchronized TATRA-Synchro transmission, inter-axle differentials, a modern cab and interior design and many other technical and design features promoted TATRA into a highly competitive vehicle manufacturer in this period.
At that time, heavy TATRA trucks were exported to 53 countries in five continents. At the end of the 1960s TATRA once more brought to the world’s attention an unprecedented design – a cab-over-engine vehicle, the T 813 8x8 Kolos - the first four-axle TATRA again equipped with a twelve-cylinder air-cooled diesel engine of its own design and a transmission which made it possible to use an unrivalled up to twenty forward gears and four reverse gears.
After a closed series of one hundred thousand T 148s in 1982, the model ranges were united and a T 815 with a COE cab was introduced. Its development culminated in a version with a EURO 2 specification engine.
The Trambus T 815 range is also important for TATRA vehicle development because during its production a decision was made on the further development of a directly air-cooled V8 engine with supercharging and intake air cooler for the Euro 0 up to Euro 5 emissions specifications. With relatively minor design changes, the engine power output of 177 kW and torque of 850 N.m rose to its current 325 kW with torque of 2100 N.m.
Change in strategy after 1989 and the LIWA project.
With the change of political and social situation in 1989, the orientation on a single model range became a significant burden in terms of commercial development.
The LIWA customer project was a certain turning point for TATRA. Based on an end customer’s requirements, a liquid-cooled KHD Deutz engine and a Twin Disc automatic transmission were successfully installed into a T 816 8x8.
The winning tender for the United Arab Emirates Army meant not only a batch of 1,127 vehicles produced and sold within eighteen months, but also a significant shift in the production strategy.
The ARMAX (1999) and FORCE (1999) model ranges appeared. The first was the T 815-2 which adopted the name TERRN0 1 and was based on civilian production (1997), and vehicles suitable for use in special services were prepared through so-called militarisation. FORCE, the second range of special vehicles, built upon the possibilities for incorporating engines and transmissions from other producers into the original TATRA vehicle concept.
The experience in the incorporation of liquid-cooled engines was also reflected in the possibility of equipping civilian versions of TERRN0 1 in this way. The civilian T 163 range (Jamal, 1997) – vehicles which had a bonneted cab after a long period when the COE arrangement prevailed, were created for work in the most demanding terrain.
Achievements developed in house
TATRA has achieved great success in the development of its own directly air-cooled engine:
- Firstly, it is the first and only company in the world to homologate a V8 diesel engine with supercharging, an intake air cooler and a mechanical injection pump with Euro 3 emissions specification.
- Later, in 2006, after the engine was equipped with SCR technology (the treatment of exhaust gases by injecting AdBlue – a 32.5% aqueous urea solution) also in Euro 4 emissions specification and Euro 5 in 2008. This step was also an unprecedented first in global vehicle design.
Civilian and special sectors
In 2002 TATRA purchased the intellectual property, rights and technical documentation for the production of the Ross R 210 medium heavy military vehicle approved for operation in the Army of the Czech Republic.
Through the successful modernisation of the vehicle with a ladder frame and rigid axles, in 2004 it entered confirmed association with the Army of the Czech Republic and later (2006) a confirmed rearmament contract for 556 medium heavy military vehicles with the TATRA 810 ATS model.
The customer modernisation project was based on the possibilities of the original classic frame and rigid TATRA-Neumann portal axles. After the fulfilment of the Army contract, TATRA also offered a civilian version of the T 810 as well (2010).
Brand new T 815-7 vehicles
In the meantime, the Design and Development Departments intensively worked on a brand new range of special vehicles originally designated as T 817, later T 815-7 for homologation. In 2004 TATRA’s own medium heavy truck – the T 817 4x4 with a Cummins engine and a ZF transmission – was introduced as the first version. In the following two years the range was supplemented with 8x8 and 6x6 versions.
There are strong links between the individual T 815-7 model ranges, while their design enables great variation in terms of the engines and drivetrains used.
Besides air-cooled TATRA engines (V8, supercharged, with an intake air cooler, meeting emissions standards according to Euro 2 up to Euro 5 without the use of an electronically controlled fuel injection system), the vehicles can also use liquid-cooled Cummins or Caterpillar engines. Similarly, besides the mechanically controlled gearbox, an automatic gearbox or TATRA’s own gearbox with a TATRA-Norgren electronic transmission system can be used (2010).
The all-metal tilt cab is made in several versions. A low height of the cab and the vehicle as a whole allows for easy air transport in C-130 Hercules aircraft.
The vehicle design enables the additional assembly of auxiliary cab armour-plating in several protection grades according to STANAG 4569. Since 2007 the T 815-7 range of special vehicles overlapping into the civilian sphere (2010) form part of TATRA’s standard range.