A good paying and steady job is what most young adults want. Not so 32-year-old Willem Engel from Alkmaar. He invested his hard-earned money in an old Tatra 813 army truck, rebuilt it himself and drove it all the way to Africa.
As a teenager Willem was a big fan of Truck Trial. In Europe, the 8x8 drive Tatra has become renowned for its unparalleled off-road capability in this tough sport. The Dutchman says: “In my eyes the Tatra was the largest toy truck money could buy. It looked like a Tonka on steroids!’’ After finishing school, Willem started work as a motorcycle mechanic. At 21 he obtained his truck driving licence and worked for a time as a temporary driver for various transport companies. “On one of my international hauls I passed by a survival centre in the UK where a whole range of unusual vehicles were parked up. The outfit did not seem to be in business any more but the fleet looked okay. There were jeeps, buses, trucks and even army tanks. But I was most interested in a big Tatra 4-axle truck that sat in a corner. It appeared to be once used by the East German Army. The truck was ‘rustic brown’, or better said, ‘all rust’. But it looked more or less original. It was just the kind of all-terrain behemoth I had dreamed of as a young lad,’’ said Willem. A few months later, he crossed the North Sea again with a rented Scania and semi low loader to collect the rare machine. “The Tatra did not really want to leave the UK,’’ he laughs.“Because the clutch did not work and all air lines were rusted through. We had a heck of a time to get it on to the trailer. The fact that the Tatra has a tare weight of a whopping 14,000kgs did not help either!’’ With only 640 kilometres on the odometer and 108 operating hours, the 1974-built military truck was, in theory, still new. “The biggest problem was that it had stood idle for many years. That does not do much good to a vehicle,’’ said Willem. Two years went by before the Tatra’s new owner mustered up enough courage to start a rebuild. “Because everything is heavy and oversized on the Tatra you can hardly work on it by yourself. You simply need some extra hands. At the time I had just changed jobs and was working in a steel construction firm. The owner of it kind of liked my project and offered to help me in the weekends. And so did some friends who I promised a free off-road ride once the truck was fully operable again.’’ The first thing was to detach the cargo body. “The chassis is made of extremely thick steel and did not need any repairs. The cab, however, was a different story. Rust had eaten up
Go anywhere, with almost anything!
The Tatra 813 Kolos, as it is officially known, was a purpose designed truck/tractor for military/defence applications. From 1967 it was offered in combination with the Transporta P50 semi low loader that featured five axle lines and 40 wheels. Gross combination weight was 120 tonnes. The Tatra has a tubular chassis and independent wheel suspension, which makes it a formidable off-road vehicle. Pulling power is also awesome thanks to the 19-litre V12 diesel that pushes out 360hp and the 2x5 gearbox plus transfer case. Once in a while it is used in combination with the trailer to haul a real load, such as heavy equipment for a collector of military wagons.