The Trabant, more than all the other Eastern cars, was the real symbol of the division of the world in two parts, until the fall of the Berlin Wall, in the 1989. A great number of these little cars, in the day of the fall of the Wall, has passed the "Checkpoint Charlie", the sad point where many German citizens were killed, trying to pass in the Western part of Berlin, therefore the Trabant is also the symbol of the German freedom from the communist dictatorship. This car has a long history, and now is not only a car, but also a part of the history of a people.
The history of this car, little and great at the same time, begins in the '50s. After the post-war division of the Germany, many factories of the Western Germany were partially controlled by the Soviet army. One of these factories was the Horch, a luxury-car brand, and the plant of this brand, placed in the city of Zwickau, was used to produce tractors. But, since 1949, in the former-Horch factory, the production of the "F8" (first pic above) and "F9" (second, third and fourth pics above). These cars were equipped with two-stroke engines, three cylinders, liquid cooled (two cylinders and air cooled for the "F8"); substantially, they were based on pre-war DKW projects. The brand was "IFA", national group that featured all the automotive and motorcycle brands in the DDR. After some time, the production of the "F9" was transferred to EIsenach; its three-cylinders engine generated the series of the Wartburg cars.
The "Trabant" name was not still present. Also a luxury-car with a 6-cylinders engine, the Sachsenring "P-240" (first pic, above) was produced in limited series, This car, born in the 1956, was reserved to the "nomenklatura" of the DDR, but also other versions were realized, as the station-wagon (second pic), the police version for the sadly known "Vopos" (the name stands for "Volkspolizei", "Police of the People"; third pic), and the cabriolet version for the military parades (fourth pic).
In the three pics above, another beautiful evolution: the "P-240 Repraesentant", realized in the 1969 specifically for the military parades. This car was not less luxurious than the other limousines produced in the East Europe, the Czech Tatra and the Russian ZIL and GAZ "Chaika"; it's sure that the Communist leaders had cars very different from the cars of the common people! The "Repraesentant" had the same unit of the normal "P-240": the old Horch 6-cylinders pre-war engine, 2407 cc, 80 hp.
Some year after, the brand of the Zwickau's cars became "AWZ" (Auto-Werke Zwickau, that means "Zwickau Motor Factory"). The AWZ "P 70" of the 1955, the base of all the following Trabants, came into production ("P" stands for "plastic", and "70" for the displacement, about 700 cc). Its engine was based on the old F8: two-cylinder, two-stroke, 690 cc, 22 bhp. The total weight was 820 kg, the max speed 90 km/h. The gearbox was three-speed asynchronized, with front-wheels drive. The mechanical components were effectively the sames of the old "F8", but the powerplant was rotated by 90 degrees and placed further the front axle. This car had the typical feature of all the Trabants, the coachwork realized with "Duroplast" fiberglass. The "Duroplast" was an intelligent solution, because it's cheap, easy to produce, and it's not attacked by the corrosion, although it can't be recycled (strange for a plastic material)! Above, there are images of the sedan and "Kombi" version, and also an image of a military version.
But the "Duroplast" also had some defect: obviously, it was less resistant (although the group of engineers in the first pic tries to show the contrary...), and sensible, during the years, to heat and cold. Moreover, the "Duroplast" can't be recycled, and its recycling is still today a problem! In the second, third and fourth pics above, instead, the "P-70 Coupè", nice "sporty" version of the normal "P-70", always with 700 cc. engine, 22 hp. It was an age when there was still space for special version, before the era of the "same car for all the people" in full Communist doctrine!
In the 1957, the Trabant "P 50" (four pics above, sedan and station-wagon versions) was launched. This was the first car with the "Trabant" name on the rear cowl; the AWZ name was abandoned. The brand of the Trabant is a "S", that means "Sachsenring", the name of the factory. "Trabant" is a name that means "satellite", but also "servant" or "companion, comrade"; it's a clear metaphor of the times, when thousands of persons were called "companion", but they were, simply, servants...The "P-50" keeps the technical scheme of the AWZ "P-70": two stroke engine (500 cc, air cooled, twin cylinder, 18 hp) and plastic coachwork (but the AWZ had the plastic panels fitted on a tubular frame). The design, probably, is more pleasant than the following "P-601", because it's more "soft", as a beautiful toy! But, also the "P-601" is considered as a beautiful toy by the owners...
The "P-601": the national car of the DDR
In the 1964, the new "P-601" was launched. This is the most famous Trabant, the model that's remained in production for almost 30 years, without important modifications. The coachwork is always in plastic...see the first pic: it seems the box of a toy of the '60s! The "P-601" was an example of extreme essentiality: no valves, no camshaft, no timing belt (the engine is a two stroke), no oil pump, no water pump, no radiator (air cooled)! The gearbox has four speeds (three on the previous "P-50"); there is the electronic ignition, and the Trabant, even in this great simplicity, was one of the first cars with this system. The "Trabi" (familiar name used by the Germans, like the VW van, called "Bulli") was available in the sedan and "Kombi" station wagon versions, in the second and third pics.
The "P-601" is more powerful than the previous "P-50", with redesigned cylinders (26 hp). In the first pic above, the "Kubelwagen" for the army, and, in the second and third pics, the "Tramp", the civil version of the "Kubelwagen". These cars are perfect to go to the beach, very better than the war! The "Trabi" was realized even in rally versions: in the fourth and fifth pics, the Trabant "800 RS" (1986), with an engine increased to 800 cc, 65 hp! The Trabant "P-601" (or simply "Trabant"...it's the same!), during these years, has signed the days of work and entertainement of the Eastern Germans; a car that was "servant" and "companion" simple and cheap. In the sixth pic, a beautiful pic of a Trabant in the traffic, between other two Eastern cars: a polish FSM-Fiat "126" and a Russian Lada "Zhighuli" (but always derived from an italian Fiat model): this seems a symbol of the DDR, placed between the Eastern world and the Western world. About the technology, the car was improved during the years, with an improved electric system (passed from 6 to 12 volt, as the "Beetle"...) and less need of oil for the lubrification of the engine.
Although the inertia characterized the production until the the closing of the factory, the Trabant realized some prototype for new models. In the 1961, the Trabant-Wartburg "P-100" (first, second and third pics above), also called "Paloma", was realized. It was a classic and elegant sedan, powered by the same engine (1000 cc, 47 hp, three cylinders, liquid cooled, two stroke) of the Wartburg cars, but fitted in the rear (also the radiator was placed in the rear; i think that it was not very good...). This project was abandoned, for the difficulties of adaptation of the Wartburg engine (realized for the front wheel drive, not for the rear wheel drive). The little "P-601", instead, was realized also in a 3-door hatchback version (fourth and fifth pics above), called "P-602 V", and powered by a Skoda four-stroke engine, four cylinders, 1000 cc.
In the first, second and third pics above, three stages of a prototype that was destined to replace the "P-601": the Trabant "P-603", of the mid-'60s. This car, realized in the early '60s, was intended even to be equipped with a Wankel engine (single rotor, 500 cc, 55 hp), in the fourth pic above. Also other Wankel engines were realized (fifth pic), with two or three rotors, destined to eventual new cars of higher category. Unfortunately, the "P-603" and all the Wankel engines never entered in production; anyway, of the classic "P-601", also a 3-cylinders diesel prototype (sixth pic) was realized, and this shows that the factory tried to introduce new models and technologies, but the lacks of money has stopped these projects.
Between the 1979 and 1982, the Trabant engineers maked new attempts to produce a new car: in the first, second and third pics, the "P-610" prototype, with a typical '70s-'80s styling, and always with the coachwork realized in Duroplast. The "P-610" was equipped with a Skoda 1100 engine (four strokes, 4 cylinders, 50 hp), but there were also exemplars with the same coachwork but powered by Wartburg motors, or also by the classic Trabant twin-cyllinder engine ("P-603 N", fourth pic). These cars never entered in production, like the car in the fifth pic, powered by the VW "Polo" engine, and probably realized between the 1988 and the 1991, before the closing of the Zwickau's factory.
In the first pic above, a sedan prototype, but only static, without engine, of the same period. All these attempts were useless; even the last evolution of the outdated "P-601", the ugly prototype in the second and third pics above (called Trabant "1.1 E"), based on the "Trabant 1100" model, never went in production, although the substance was limited to very slight modifications to the coachwork. The financial situation of the Zwickau's factory was close to the collapse.
The end of the automotive production
The time goes away, and the life of the East-Berlin people remains the same, like the little plastic car with two-stroke engine. But, in the 1988, in Germany start to blow the famous "wind of change"; also the Trabant factory see that this change is very near at hand, and, during this year, a "new" model is launched, the "Trabant 1100" (first pic above), with the engine of VW "Polo" (four cylinders, 1050 cc, 45 hp). The car, with the new engine, became a sort of rocket (!), with 135 km/h, a maximum speed very low for others car, but not for the frame of a "Trabi"! Anyway, the suspension were improved; the external modifications to bumpers and grille are very slight. In the meantime, for a short period, in the Zwickau's plant also the production of the "Polo" was started (second pic above): an outstanding symbol of the past and present!
The 1989 is the year of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Thousands of persons goes with the Trabants to the Western part of Berlin: there are reunifications of families, the people celebrates the event. For the little German car, now a symbol of freedom, it seems a triumph. But the Trabant factory in Zwickau, not more protected by the communist economy, enter in a hard crisis, the sales of the Trabi falls to very low levels. A sea of used "Golf" and "Kadett" (for a family, these cars are very better than an old and smoky car with the engine of a motorcycle...) replaces the Trabants, that are terribly outdated. The little and smoky car, after 40 years of travel across a parallel dimension where the time was always motionless, ends the run. The Sachsenring factory closes, in the 1991, and the Trabant passes to the history.
Now, the renewed "Sachsenring" -as said, it's the name of the factory- produces components for the automotive industry, and makes prototypes for several European carmakes. But, in the 1996, a very advanced minivan with hybrid engine was presented: the "UNI-1" (four pics above), first car, since the end of "P-601" production, with the "S" of "Sachsenring" (the brand of the old Trabants) on the cowl. This car was powered by an Audi engine, 1.9 turbodiesel with 90 hp, and by an electric engine for the use in the city; the coachwork was all-aluminium. This car was intended to be utilized as taxi, or others public transport organizations (the programmed production was of 10.000 units per year), but it's never entered in production. Anyway, this car shows that the factory is still in full activity, although it not produces own cars.
The Trabant as...art work!
The Trabant, since the end of the production, obtained an outstanding place in the automotive history. Several owners restores these old and cheap cars, enjoying the sound (and the smoke...) of the two-stroke engines! The Trabant is perfect, as relic of "industrial archeology" (like 2CV, Beetle, Mini and -to remain in the field of the eastern cars- the Yugo), to be painted, modified, tuned in a million of ways!
...and, the Trabant was celebrated even by Bono Vox and friends: above, three images taken from the sleeve of the U2's record "Achtung Baby!" (yes, record, not CD, with all the difficulties to place the record in the scanner)...
...and this is a shot by me (above): a Trabi with one million of stickers, seen during a travel in Prague (1998). A Trabi, is like the Eiffel Tower or the Coliseum: it's not possible to not take a photograph!
I finish this beautiful story with a symbolic image: an overloaded "Trabi" that goes on a desert road, transporting his owner, perhaps, to another destiny, with all the relics of a past that is not more existant. Somebody says that the "Trabant" brand has been bought by a manager that want to utilize it for unknown utilization. If the objective is to produce another "fake-replicant", the result will be like the new Mini or the New Beetle: cars very elegant and modern, but without "spirit", and quite expensive, therefore with a totally different concept in comparison with the original versions. In two words: beautiful, but with nothing to tell. It's better to remember the old "Trabi" as the thing that was: a simple, humble, but beautiful toy.
The toy of a poor child.
Some pic taken from http://www.team.net/www/ktud/eastern.html , http://www.peterfrost.clara.net/ , http://auta5p.hyperlink.cz , http://www.trabi.de/astri/viertakttrabant/prototypen.htm