14 February 1878|
Klosterneuburg, Lower Austria, Austro-Hungarian Empire
|Died||2 March 1967
Munich, West Germany
|Children||Erich Ledwinka, Fritz Ledwinka|
|Projects||Tatra 11, Tatra 77, Tatra 87, Tatra 97, Tatra 111,|
|Significant design||Backbone chassis, air-cooled engines, swing-axles|
He started his career as simple mechanic, and later studied in Vienna. As a young man he worked for Nesselsdorfer-Wagenbau in Nesselsdorf, the company that later became known as Tatra in Moravia. He was first employed in the construction of railroad cars, and later involved in the production of the first cars produced by this firm. He designed the 5.3-litre six-cylinder Type U motor car. In 1917, in the midst of World War I, he left the company to join Steyr.
Chief designer at Tatra
Ledwinka returned to Tatra company (originally Nesselsdorfer-Wagenbau) in Kopřivnice (Nesselsdorf), then in Czechoslovakia, now in Czech Republic, and between 1921 and 1937 he was their chief design engineer. He invented the frameless central tubular chassis (so-called "backbone chassis") with swing axles, fully independent suspension and rear-mounted air-cooled flat engine. Another of Ledwinka's major contributions to automobile design was the development of the streamlined car body. Under him, Tatra brought to market the first streamlined cars that had been mass-produced. Together with his son Erich, who took over as chief designer at Tatra, Ledwinka and Erich Übelacker, a German engineer also employed by Tatra, designed the streamlined Tatra models T77, T77a, T87, and T97. All of these models had rear mounted, air-cooled engines.
Both Hitler and Porsche were influenced by the Tatras. Hitler was a keen automotive enthusiast, and had ridden in Tatras during political tours of Czechoslovakia. He had also dined numerous times with Hans Ledwinka. After one of these dinners Hitler remarked to Porsche, "This is the car for my roads". while the book Car Wars, quotes Hitler as saying it was "the kind of car I want for my highways". In any case, of Ledwinka, Porsche admitted "Well, sometimes I looked over his shoulder and sometimes he looked over mine" while designing the Volkswagen Type 1. There is no doubt that the Type 1 bore a striking resemblance to the earlier Tatra. Tatra launched a lawsuit, but this was stopped when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. At the same time, Tatra was forced to stop producing the T97. The matter was re-opened after World War II and in 1965 Volkswagen paid Ringhoffer-Tatra 1,000,000 Deutsche Marks in an out of court settlement.
After the Second World War, Ledwinka was accused of collaboration with the German occupation forces and jailed for five years in Czechoslovakia. After his release in 1951, he refused to work for Tatra, and retired to Munich, Germany where he died in 1967.
In 2007 Hans Ledwinka was inducted in the European Automotive Hall of Fame.
Ledwinka's son Erich, was also a car designer. He designed the unique Haflinger for Steyr-Daimler-Puch, as well as the larger Pinzgauer High Mobility All-Terrain Vehicle. Both utilize tubular chassis and swing portal axles.
- Willson, Quentin The Ultimate Classic Car Book. New Your, New York: DK Publishing Inc., 1995. ISBN 0-7894-0159-2. Pages 214-215
- Margolius, Ivan and Henry, John G., Tatra - The Legacy of Hans Ledwinka, Harrow, SAF, 1990
- Car Wars, Jonathan Mantle, Arcade Publishing, 1997
- Schmarbeck, Wolfgang (1997). Hans Ledwinka: Seine Autos - Sein Leben (in German). Graz: H. Weishaupt Verlag. p. 174. ISBN 3-900310-56-4.