Masaryk's car, preserved against all odds, goes on show in Vienna

Masaryk's Tatra 80, photo: Stanislav Jelen

A large black 12-cylinder Tatra T 80 from early 1930s that was once the personal car of first Czechoslovak president Tomas Garrigue Masaryk was hidden under a pile of tyres during the Second World War. It was later featured in the collections of the National Technical Museum in Prague, and has just gone on display at the Chrome Jewels exhibition in Vienna.

Masaryk's Tatra 80,  photo: Stanislav Jelen
Founder of Czechoslovakia and its first president Tomas Garrigue Masaryk was 85 when in 1935 he bought his last car - a massive black 12-cylinder Tatra 80. (However, Masaryk never learned to drive and was always chauffeured). After he died two years later, the Tatra passed onto a foundation he had established. When Nazi Germany occupied the country in 1939, a loyal car enthusiast from Benesov, central Bohemia, thought it would be safer to hide the car to save it from the Nazis. Jarmila Slavickova, the daughter of the loyal car fan, says that what escaped the eyes of the Nazi police did not escape her.

"We used to have a large garage in Benesov, and it was full of tyres. When my father wanted to please me, he sometimes took me with him to the garage, and I was allowed to climb the piles of tyres from the floor to the ceiling. One day I climbed to the very end, and suddenly I saw this black car."

Recollecting the wartime years of her childhood, Jarmila Slavickova says that the discovery made her father very nervous as the whole family could get into serious trouble for hiding such a valuable artefact.

"First of all he was not very pleased with me, but I saw what I saw. He climbed with me, opened the car and allowed me to sit inside. He told me that the car belonged to President Masaryk. We also found a brush inside with the initials TGM. We took it as a souvenir, and as far as I remember, my parents kept the brush behind a mirror's frame in our living room."

After the war, the president's personal Tatra was returned to the Masaryk Institute, which handed it over to the National Technical Museum in Prague in 1957. It was put on display, but the name of its first owner, not a favourite of the Communists, was not revealed. Petr Kozisek is the curator of the transport collections at the National Technical Museum in Prague.

"For a long time, there was no mention of its first owner. It was simply exhibited as a 12-cylinder Tatra but the important information that it was a car of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk was missing in the caption."

The black Tatra 80 is featured at an exhibition of cars owned by famous people at the Technical Museum in Vienna which runs until March 2008.