Zikmund and Hanzelka's legendary Tatra 87 car added to cultural heritage list

Tatra 87

As of the 1st of January a few more items will be added to the national cultural heritage list. Among other monuments, the government has decided to include the bells of Prague's St Vitus' Cathedral, the television tower on Jested Mountain - one of the few architectural masterpieces of the communist era - a number of medieval manuscripts and also a collection of historic automobiles. The most famous among them is probably the legendary Tatra 87, in which the popular post-war explorers, Miroslav Zikmund and Jiri Hanzelka travelled around the world.

Tatra 87 | Photo: Elena Horálková,  Czech Radio
Serial production of the sleek Tatra 87 model in the car factory in Koprivnice was launched in 1936 and the last car came off the line in 1950. In 1947, two fresh Prague economics graduates, Miroslav Zikmund and Jiri Hanzelka, came up with a daring idea for an expedition to remote parts of the world. They gained sponsorship from the car company and were given a silver Tatra 87 to promote the make during their travels. Miroslav Zikmund, who's now 86, recalled the duo's first trip in an interview for Radio Prague earlier this year.

"I was travelling with my friend Jiri Hanzelka. The first trip was through Africa and Latin America, 1947-1950. It was three and a half years, continuously, non-stop."

The Tatra 87 proved to be a reliable companion on Zikmund and Hanzelka's travels and was sometimes referred to as the third member of the two-man team. The duo had to know the car inside out and that's why they went through three months of thorough training in the Koprivnice works before they finally set off.

The original automobile has been restored and is now displayed in Prague's National Technical Museum. When, earlier this year, the museum learnt about the government's proposal to add Zikmund and Hanzelka's silver Tatra to the cultural heritage list, it suggested including the complete collection of the oldest automobiles produced by the Koprivnice company. Karel Ksandr is the deputy director of the National Technical Museum.

"These five cars, most of which were made in pre-war Czechoslovakia and shortly after the Second World War, are important not only for the Czechoslovak car industry but for motor sport globally. The 1898 President model was the first car produced in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Then there is the Tatra 11 with a breakthrough tubular-construction chassis. Then, of course, the Tatra 77, the world's first serially-produced aerodynamically styled car and then the Tatra 80, a luxury limousine made in 1935 for Czechoslovak President Tomas Garrigue Masaryk."

Karel Ksandr says the fact that the status of these historic exhibits has been promoted is more than a matter of prestige for the National Technical Museum. It also means the museum will now be receiving more money for the maintenance of its priceless collection.