Saturday, July 17, 2021

1934 Hansa 500

Hansa 500 - The car everyone wants

A 30-year tradition in automobile construction brings with it a great deal of experience. Based on these decades of experience, the "Hansa 500" was created. A comfortable, well-equipped four-seater for RM 1680 – so inexpensive because the "Hansa 500" is not a car for the few, but a high-quality-assured series-produced car for everyone to enjoy.

A spacious four-seater, the "Hansa 500" is available as a cabriolet limousine in many colors, offering all the comfort that no automobile enthusiast can or will want to do without today. Electric blinkers, electric horn and electric windshield wipers, with the horn button and indicator switch conveniently mounted on the centre of the steering wheel. Speedometer with odometer, large dimmable headlights and not to forget, the spare wheel and tires, stored in a dust-proof and invisible compartment. These are valuable features that will serve you well on every journey and bring you driving pleasure.

How comfortable and safe you feel behind the steering wheel of this car, which draws in your eye. With a top speed of 70 km per hour, even the longest drive is enjoyable. Through the side windows, from which the large, vent windows can be swivelled around to ensure draft-free ventilation, all passengers have a clear field of vision.

Are you interested in the engine? It is exposed with one hand! The flexible two-cylinder two-stroke engine gives the car traction, strength and endurance. Water cooling has been replaced by the modern and always reliable air cooling. The direct connection of the engine with the gearbox and drive unit placed at the rear, minimizes power loss through the cardan shaft and frees the inside of the car from disturbances and noise. By relocating all drive units to the rear, it has been possible to set the centre of gravity of the car low so that, in conjunction with the four when independent wheel suspension, the ideal driving characteristics that characterize the "Hansa 500" are achieved. All in all, the "Hansa 500" is a car for the family, for the businessman and for the sportsman and is a big step towards the goal that we are striving for in the new Germany: a car for everyone.

A free and non-binding test drive will inspire and convince you.

More joy in life with Hansa!

The 'people's car' concept was pursued by dozens of companies and engineers in Germany during the late 1920s and early 30s. Thanks to the promotional efforts of Dutch author, Paul Schilperoord, Josef Ganz' work in this sphere has been elevated above those of other pioneering and talented engineers. Ganz' Standard Superior of 1933 is now presented as the precursor and inspiration of the Volkswagen Beetle. Superficially, the Standard Superior looks similar to the later Volkswagen, but that does not mean anything. Interestingly, another rear engined 'people's car' also went on sale in 1933, but that car is never proposed as a Volkswagen precursor, despite it being virtually identical to the Standard Superior in concept and layout. This was Carl Borgward's Hansa 500.

Carl Borgward was a pioneering auto engineer from Hamburg, Germany. He started manufacturing exhausts, radiators and fittings. In the late 1920s he developed a simple motorized cart for use within his factory. The Blitzkarren 'fast cart' was never intended for public sale, but Borgward received so many requests from other industrialists that he decided to build a version for public sale. It would become an overnight success. In 1931 Borgward introduced a new three-wheeled passenger car based on the delivery cart called the Pionier (Pioneer). Demand for cheap motoring was such that more than 4000 Pioneers were sold.

The success of the Goliath Pioneer and commercial tricycles allowed Borgward to weather the depression years and he capitalized on the harsh economic times to pick up the bankrupt Hansa company. Hansa had a reputation as a quality automotive concern but their heavy and expensive cars found no market in the early 1930s. Borgward tasked the engineers at Hansa to develop a cheap, modern car based on the Pioneer. The result was the Hansa 500.

Apart from the obvious addition of a fourth wheel, the Hansa 500 was very similar to the Pioneer. The car had a simple ladder chassis, but rigidity was provided by a steel floor. A two cylinder, air-cooled two-stroke engine of 400 or 500cc was mounted far in the rear. A flywheel mounted fan blew cooling air across the cooling fins of the engine. The car had independent suspension on all four wheels, which gave it excellent handling. Unlike the Standard Superior with its very spartan fittings, the Hansa 500 was noted for the quality of its fittings. This helped make the Hansa a better selling car than the Standard Superior.

Like the Standard Superior, the Hansa 500 was only on sale for a few years. By 1935 Germany's economy had recovered and the demand for 'kleinstwagens' (very small cars) had evaporated. Hansa replaced the 500 with bigger and better cars like the 1100 and 1700. Hansa would continue building cars until the 1938 Schell Plan rationalized the German motoring industry. Carl Borgward's group of companies - Goliath, Hansa and Borgward - were directed to cease civilian car production and concentrate on trucks and commercials.

The story of the Standard Superior -

The Goliath Pionier -

Smaller engine version, the Hansa 400, is here -

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Hagerty's Tatra Rollover Stunt

Death Eaters images courtesy of Hagerty Media. Photos by Andrew Trahan.

Several years ago, in the UK there were three idiots with a TV show about cars. In their desperate search for ratings they would do stupid things like purchase older cars and drive them to destruction for the amusement of the masses. In one of their popular stunts they purchased a number of three-wheeled Reliant Robins and drove them sharply around corners, flipping the cars over. The masses were amused and laughed and tutt-tutted at the ridiculous idea of a three-wheeled car. What was not disclosed was that those dangerously unstable Reliants had had their rear suspensions removed and were carrying extra ballast, strategically placed to ensure they would roll over in a turn.

It was all a bit of fun and foolishness, and few people would have lamented the destruction of a few clapped out old Reliants. Certainly, no one would exercise such dangerous stupidity with an expensive and rare automobile, would they?

Hagerty is a prestigious US auto insurer, auction house and motoring publisher. They have a popular website, which can be visited here:

The internet is a cesspool of lies and disinformation, and modern online publishing is a desperate search for clicks, likes and impressions. In 2021, Hagerty endorsed a group of ‘motoring journalists’ who were keen to test out some of motoring history’s greatest myths. The series they proposed was called "The Death Eaters." One of the first myths the Eaters chose to test was the Tatra T87’s reputation as a ‘Nazi Killer.’

I’m going to stop right here and state for the record – no one ever called the Tatra a Nazi killer. No one. There was no spike in Tatra related deaths in the German office corps and there never was a ban on German officers driving Tatras. Never. It’s not even a myth. It is a lie cut out of whole cloth long after the war, possibly to obscure the fact that Tatra, under their German owners, the Ringhoffer Group, was a major manufacturer of trucks, trains, rolling stock, diesel engines, tanks and half-tracks for the German army. Not that they had much choice in the matter as all automotive concerns in ‘Greater Germany’ were nationalized by the Nazis and directed to war production, but you get the picture. Personally, I don't think the motive for the story is even that complex. I believe the story is wholly invented by lazy journalists creating an angle to popularize an obscure marque that few people (in the west) had ever heard of.

Ivan Margolius' "Tatra - The Legacy of Hans Ledwinka", is an excellent book and the standard Tatra reference work in English. Ivan mentions a wartime German ban on driving Tatras due to accidents on pages 132-134. The reference to that claim traces back to a 'Road and Track' magazine article by Ray Thursby (pg 312) in 1987. The paragraph in question says:
"Shortly after the 87's introduction, German troops occupied Czechoslovakia and, on orders from Berlin, converted most of Tatra's production lines over to the manufacture of military vehicles. One casualty of this decision was the Type 97, a scaled-down version of the 87 powered by an air-cooled flat-4 engine. One can only suspect that the Germans considered the 97 to be too similar to their KdF-Wagen for its own good. The German high command also took note of the 87 - which continued in limited production throughout the war - and its strange handling qualities by issuing an order forbidding German officers to use the 87s under any circumstances." Road and Track UK. April 1987 pg 62.
Thursby however provides no references and his comments are extremely general, peppered with assumptions and suppositions and cannot be relied on without supporting evidence. Ivan adds additional detail in his book with a brief quote from Ing. Albert Richter, a former Tatra employee who provided repair and service facilities for German Tatra owners during the 1930s. Richter claimed to have been interviewed by the Wehrmacht transport commission in Berlin about the safety of Tatra cars. Richter claimed he informed them the Tatra was safe if handled appropriately (this applies to any car really), but 'the order came through.' The date of this discussion is not specified and the quote and its context is extremely vague and traced to an article in Thoroughbred and Classic Car Magazine (UK), June 1983, "Forgotten Genius.", by Brian Palmer, sub-titled "Brian Palmer talks to Albert K. Richter Dipl.-Ing about his idol, Hans Ledwinka, 'the forgotten engineering genius' and the incredible Tatra cars." Margolius notes in the references that "Palmer interviewed A K Richter for his article." Turning to the Palmer article we find this quote:
"Albert Richter's knowledge and personal experience driving and working on Tatras also caused him to be summoned to Command Headquarters in Berlin. A number of high-ranking officers occupying Czechoslovakia were using the Big Tatras for personal transport and at high speed, crosswinds or the uncertain swing-axle behaviour in cornering caused a number of them to come to grief. The army could not afford to lose its best men in this manner and they began to wonder whether the Tatra was the Czechs secret weapon against them. Richter argued that at modest speeds the Tatra was perfectly safe, indeed superior in many respects, to most vehicles then on the roads. High Command was not convinced, however, and the order went out that Tatras were verboten."
The Origin of the Nazi-Killing Tatra Myth -

What does all this mean? What can be proven?

Tatra cars were well known in Germany. The revolutionary Tatra T77 was unveiled at the Berlin Motor Show in 1934 and created a sensation. Adolf Hitler held an enthusiastic discussion with Tatra Technical Director, Hans Ledwinka, at the show, much to his handler's annoyance. Hitler was so impressed by what he saw that his own ideas about Germany's 'volkswagen' were transformed. In the eyes of Hitler, the Tatra was not a Czech or foreign car, but a practical example of cutting edge German engineering. Ledwinka may have held a Czech passport, but was in fact, like Hitler and Ferdinand Porsche, a German speaking Austrian. He never learned to speak to Czech and surrounded himself with German and bilingual colleagues. After Germany annexed the Sudetendland from Czechoslovakia in 1938 (including the Tatra plant in Koprivince), motoring magazine 'Motor-Kritik' would openly describe Tatra as a new German automobile manufacturer.

Tatras were extremely popular with the avant-garde in Germany, famous owners being Robert Ley (director of the Nazi labour front), Ernst Heinkel, and Erwin Rommel. After Tatra was bought under German control, they became fully integrated into the German centrally managed economy. The 1938 Schell Plan saw comprehensive rationalization of automobile production. Designs were standardized and all surplus models were removed from the market. Tatra manufactured both cars and trucks and was instructed to focus primarily on trucks, but they were also permitted to continue building the T87 in small numbers (they were only ever built in small numbers). I believe the Richter story probably ties into this rationalization and if we knew more of the backstory we would likely find the context would be in terms of approving the T87 for an official staff car contract, such as Mercedes Benz obtained. We know for certain that the T87 continued to be built right through the war so clearly there was never any ban on their use, otherwise T87 production would have been stopped. Interestingly, Tatra was one of the only German auto manufacturers permitted to continue building civilian cars throughout the war.

The Tatra T87 is a big, heavy car. It is powered by a 3.4 litre air-cooled V8 engine mounted behind the rear axles. For its size, the engine is remarkably light thanks to its use of aluminum-magnesium alloy, but its placement far in the rear does make the car’s handling at speed ‘delicate.’ This is not helped by the fact that the Tatra uses swing axles, which were seen as extremely modern at the time but are well known not to perform well in a high speed turn. If not driven with care, the car could be flipped. Tatra knew this and the T87 drivers manual provides explicit warnings about driving at speed and how to handle hard turns. There is no mystery here.

Despite not being an 'officially sanctioned' staff car, a small number of T87s were commandeered for military use and they saw service all over Europe. There was an SS division in Italy that used them as staff cars. I am not aware of any reports of major accidents or death toll. If the story had any legitimacy we should at least have one anecdote or a name of some officer killed, but there is none that I am aware of. Ergo - the story is without factual basis.

So, where does this story come from? After the war the Allies undertook a comprehensive survey of German technology. Specialists from the British motoring industry analyzed and test drove all captured German vehicles they could get their hands on. There was a lot of lessons that the British should have learned from Germans, especially when it came to high precision engineering, something the Germans excelled at. Something the British did poorly at. However, the British proved not particularly willing to learn the lessons that were served to them on a plate. Famously, the Rootes Group were invited to evaluate the Volkswagen and determined that it ‘did not meet the minimum requirements of a motorcar.’ Rootes would later go bankrupt and Volkswagen took over the world, so what did they know?

The Allies had captured several Tatra T87s during the war and they too used these luxurious vehicles as staff cars. In 1946 the British Vauxhall company were handed a captured Tatra staff car for evaluation. The car was an extremely poor condition, having completely shot suspension, four different tyres on four different rims, and an out of tune engine misfiring on several cylinders. Nevertheless, Vauxhall followed Rootes' example and decided to road test the car ‘as is.’ Needless to say, they rated the car highly unstable and poorly engineered. It is amazing how petty the assessors were, criticizing the floor mounted gear shift as making it difficult for the driver and passenger to switch places and complaining that the front wheel arch intruded into the footwell, requiring one to move their feet towards the centreline somewhat. If Vauxhall - indeed anyone in Britain - wanted to evaluate the Tatra's actual performance and handling, they need only have requested well-known motoring enthusiast, Captain Fitz-Maurice, to take them for a drive in his Tatra T77. Fitz-Maurice had purchased his car in 1935 and it was, for many years, the only Tatra streamliner in Britain. Fitz-Maurice was so impressed with his Tatra that he wrote a glowing letter to the factory on 29th October 1935 outlining his observations. It's worth quoting him here:
"When this car was "run in" and had covered about 10,000 kilometres, I had a good opportunity of trying it for maximum speed and on the main Coventry road, with driver and two passengers, the speed of 95 m.p.h. was obtained.....Points that strike me and my friends about the car are:-
First class road-holding without anxiety.
Excellent suspension and wonderfully light and untiring steering control at all speeds. The wide field of vision makes fast driving safer.
The excellent braking.
The petrol consumption, considering the performance, is abnormally light.
The increased loading space is a great advantage.
There is no doubt that you have provided a solution of the owner driver's Reisewagen de luxe for general world use that is year's ahead of any similar product."

The point of these evaluations however, wasn't to learn anything. They were political exercises designed to reassure the British people and industry leaders that the Germans had nothing to teach plucky Britain. After all, if the Germans were so clever, why had they lost the war - twice. The point however, is this. The story of the Tatra and dead Nazis originates in Britain and the source of the myth of Tatra's poor handling likely originates with the Vauxhall report, being the only one available in English.

The Stunt

So the 'journalists' from Hagerty decided to test the fake Nazi Killer myth by putting the Tatra T87 from the Lane Motor Museum through a slalom course where they could push the car beyond its limits. Like their predecessors at Vauxhall, they took no care to ensure the car was adequately prepared. Observers pointed out at that the car’s rear tyres were rather flat, but the testers determined to press ahead regardless. The car was swung around the course with the driver snapping out the tail as hard as he could. It would not take a genius to realize this was dangerous, but driver was certainly taken by surprise when the US$300,000 car flipped over on its side and slid down the road.

The Death Eaters have been at great pains to explain away the accident. In a lengthy interview with Jeff Lane of the Lane Motor Museum (see below), they clam that the Tatra rolled over at 20 mph on its first chicane. I don't believe a word of it. There is no way that the car can simply flip over at only 20 mph. You have to try really hard. The published photos tell a pretty convincing story. Tellingly there is no video of the incident. The photo sequence are courtesy of Hagerty. Photography by Andrew Trahan.

Seconds from disaster - a view from the rear shows the right tyre is rolling under. This is not natural. The tyres are under-inflated.

Now the left hand rear tyre is sliding under of its rim.

And now the car lifts off. The car cannot be traveling at only 20 mph for the front to lift this far from the road.

And the car continues to roll

And it's over.....

...and begins to roll over onto its roof. 20 mph....

Tatras are built tough. Despite the flip, the panels are in relatively good shape.

With a bit of manhandling the Tatra was put back on its wheels and Jeff Lane commented that the test should be repeated with tyres at the proper pressure. The subsequent handling tests didn’t have quite the same ‘frisson’ but it scarcely mattered. They had secured spectacular photos of the Tatra upending and therefore confirmed the fake myth of the Nazi Killing Tatra. Hagerty, the insurer, also gained a little publicity, approving a claim for repairs to Lane’s formerly stunning T87.

This is one of the dumbest stunts ever pulled by new media 'journalists.' Tatra enthusiasts around the world have expressed outrage at such an unprofessional and unscientific test. Any old car can be unsafe if handled beyond its limits. It's clear that something was wrong with the Tatra's suspension and tyres. Tatra owners have identified issues with the cars tyres, tyre pressure, dampers and leaf springs. Nothing was proved. The fake Nazi killing myth is still just as fake.

The Lesson - the ignorance of the modern mind
Having read several dozen articles about Tatras and their 'problematic handling' I think I now understand how these stories came about. In the west, Tatra was a long forgotten marque that produced some interesting and unusual cars in the 1930s and then disappeared behind the Iron Curtain. However, in the 1980s, Czech authorities began disposing of their old T603 consular cars in favour of the newer T613s. A trickle of T603s made their way onto the market in western countries. Both owners and journalists embellished or fabricated stories about their vehicles and Tatra to make them seem more interesting. Despite their being no evidence - indeed substantial counter-evidence - the myths of the Nazi killing Tatra grew with each retelling because it was an 'angle.' The fact that the Tatra was technically unorthodox gave the story plausibility while its rarity meant few could actually challenge the narrative. Vague plausibility, as covered in Thursby's 'Road and Track' article would give way to historical certainty as authors and writers repeated their predecessor's claims.

Every modern Tatra article claims that T87 is 'flawed' because of its unpredictable handling, is dangerous in a high speed turn, and has poor rear vision. And yet, these observations are never made by contemporary writers in the 1930s. On the contrary, writers at the time praised the car's handling, especially at speed. Restricted rear vision is never mentioned. Why the contrast? Because modern writers cannot step out of their own experience and place themselves in the mindset of someone driving a car in 1936. Modern cars are expected to perform at high speed through a slalom course, turn while braking, with all round visibility. Cars in the 1930s were not, but modern writers write about them as if they should. It is a conceit of the modern.

Hans Ledwinka and the Tatra design team did not design the T87 to perform a 90 degree turn at 145 kph because no one designed a car to do a 90 degree turn at 145 kph. To hold them to account for not considering this is ludicrous. No one drove a Tatra - or any other car like that. The T87 was a saloon car with sportscar performance. It was designed for the autobahn, which involved long, fast runs on a generally straight road. Its handling was perfect for that type of driving. Rear vision was sufficient for a car that could outpace almost everything else on the road. These were the observations of drivers and writers at the time. It is their voices we should be listening to if we want to understand what driving a Tatra was really like. 

The Death Eaters version can be found here -

A very disingenuous interview -

A skeptical analysis by Paul Neidemeyer -

Tatra - The Legacy of Hans Ledwinka -

I have covered the Nazi 'myth' earlier here -

The Origin of the Nazi-Killing Tatra Myth -

For dedicated Tatra content, see my blog -

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Bunbury-Geographe Motor Museum

A group of motoring enthusiasts in the south-west of Western Australia have established a motor museum in the city of Bunbury. The museum opened in 2019. It is situated right in the heart of the old part of the city at 21 Wellington Street, Bunbury.

The collection is composed of personal cars of enthusiasts in the area. The entry hall has a strong Ford focus.

There is also a large collection of veteran motorcycles.  This is a rare 1914 Royal Ruby

1925 BSA Round-Tanker

1912 Rudge

1914 Premier

Cracklin' Rosie, a customized Yamaha RD200 that was best in show in the 2019 Hot Rod Show.

View into the main hall.

A Messerschmitt KR201, the iconic German bubblecar.

Some 60 odd Messerschmitt's were sold in Western Australia.

A real rarity in Australia - a 1948 Crosley station wagon

Crosley built budget cars in the US from 1939 to 1958. This model, one of their most popular, was powered by a twin cylinder air-cooled engine. By the 1950s the US was in its big car phase and small car companies like Crosley were unable to compete.

Ford station wagon.

1949 Holden 48-215 (FX)

The museum hosts a large Jawa motorcycle collection. I think this was my favourite. 1951 Jawa 350.

Another British veteran - 1925 Triumph Baby Two Stroke

1929 Triumph CO

1932 BSA V Twin. I believe my grandfather had one of these.

Jawa's most successful model - 1964 Jawa Californian

1959 DOT scrambler

1951 Ariel Red Hunter

CZ scrambler. CZ were the Czechoslovakian budget motorcycle manufacturer, specializing in 125-250cc bikes and scramblers.

Another classic Jawa - 1948 Jawa 250cc in traditional red with a silver tank.

Volkswagen Type 2 utility

Iso Milano scooter


Another Jawa

Velocette LE 'noddy bike.' For inexplicable reasons, the Velocette LE was extremely popular with the British police.

1964 Toyota Tiara utility

1927 Model T Ford and Chevrolet

1939 La Salle

La Salle with Auburn in the background

This is quite a rarity. It is a 1928 Auburn 8-90. The car was delivered in Australia as a chassis and running gear and given a locally built roadster body. The car eventually ended up on a farm where it was used as a runabout. The owners restored the car with an appropriate roadster body.

Unrestored 1950 Lambretta LC 125

1926 AJS

1924 Douglas

The museum has a great collection of model cars. They should consider selling some models as a fund raising venture.

All up Bunbury-Geographe Motor Museum is an interesting diversion when down in Bunbury. The volunteers who have pulled this together have done a great job. For more details, check out their Facebook page -