Trabant 601 Limousine.
The Trabant is an automobile that was produced by former
East German auto maker VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke Zwickau in
Zwickau, Sachsen. It was the most common vehicle in East Germany,
and was also exported to countries both inside and outside the
Trabant East German Commercial 1960's
The main selling point was that it had room for four
adults and luggage in a compact, light and durable shell. Despite
its mediocre performance and smoky two-stroke engine, the car is
regarded with derisive affection as a symbol of the failed aspects
of former East Germany and of the fall of communism (in former West
Germany, as many East Germans streamed into West Berlin and West
Germany in their Trabants after the opening of the Berlin Wall in
1989). For advocates of capitalism it is often cited as an example
of the disadvantages of centralized planning as even refuelling the
car required lifting the hood, filling the tank with gasoline (only
6.5 gallons), then adding two-stroke oil and shaking it back and
forth to mix. It was in production without any significant change
for nearly 30 years with 3,096,099 Trabants produced in total.
The name was inspired by Soviet Sputnik. The cars are often
referred to as the Trabbi or Trabi, pronounced with a
Since it could take years (usual waiting time 15 years)
for a Trabant to be delivered from the time it was ordered, people
who finally got one were very careful with it and usually became
skilful in maintaining and repairing it. The lifespan of an average
Trabant was 28 years.
Used Trabants would often fetch a higher price than new ones, as the
former were available immediately, while the latter had the
aforementioned waiting period of mostly at least ten years.
There were two principal variants of the Trabant, the Trabant
500, also known as the Trabant P 50, produced 1957-1963;
and the Trabant 601 (or Trabant P 60 series), produced
from 1963 to 1991, with a 1.1L VW engine being introduced in 1990
(see below). The engine for both the Trabant 500 and original
601 was a small two-stroke engine with two cylinders, giving
the vehicle modest performance. At the end of production in 1989 it
delivered 19 kW (26 horsepower) from a 600 cc displacement. The car
took 21 seconds from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) and the top speed was
112 km/h (70 mph). There were two main problems with the engine: the
smoky exhaust and the pollution it produced—nine times the amount of
hydrocarbons and five times the carbon monoxides of the average
European car of 2007. The fuel consumption was 7 L/100 km (40 mpg-imp;
The Trabant was a steel monocoque design with roof, bootlid/trunklid,
bonnet/hood, fenders and doors in Duroplast, a form of plastic
containing resin strengthened by wool or cotton. This helped the GDR
to avoid expensive steel imports, but in theory did not provide much
crash protection, although in crash tests it allegedly performed
superior to some contemporary Western hatchbacks.
The Trabant was the second car to use Duroplast, after the "pre-Trabant"
P70 (Zwickau) model (1954–1959). The duroplast was made of
recycled material, cotton waste from Russia and phenol resins from
the East German dye industry, making the Trabant the first car with
a body made of recycled material.
Originally planned as a three-wheeled motorcycle, the decision to
build a four-wheeled car came late in the planning process.
The name Trabant, Latin for "traveller" or "companion", was
chosen in an internal contest in 1957, the year of Sputnik, the
first artificial satellite. Previous motorcycle production at
Sachsenring had been under the aegis of AWZ (Auto-Werke
The Trabant was a relatively advanced car when it was launched in
1958; with front wheel drive, a unitary construction, composite
bodywork and independent suspension all around. The main letdown was
the engine: by the late 1950s small cars in western countries mainly
used cleaner and more efficient four-stroke engines, as employed in
the Volkswagen, whereas the budgetary constraints forced to use a
two-stroke engine in the Trabant. When released the Trabant was
technically equivalent to the West German Lloyd automobile, which
had an air cooled two cylinder four-stroke engine in the same size
Trabant P50 built in 1959.
The Trabant's air cooled two cylinder 500cc (later 600cc)
two-stroke engine was derived from a pre-war DKW design, with minor
alterations being made throughout the car's production run.
Wartburg, a GDR manufacturer of larger saloons, also used a DKW
engine: a watercooled 3 cylinder 1000 cc two-stroke unit, also found
in earlier Saab cars.
In 1958 production began of the original Trabant, the P50. This
car was the base of the Trabant series, and even the latest 1.1's
had a large number of interchangeable parts with this car. The 500cc
18 hp (13 kW) P50 evolved into a 20 hp (15 kW) version in 1960,
gaining a fully synchronized gearbox amongst other things, and
finally got a 23hp 600 cc engine in 1962, becoming the P60.
The updated P601 was introduced in 1964. This car was essentially
a facelift of the P60, with a different front fascia, bonnet, roof
and rear, whilst retaining the original P50 underpinnings. This
model stayed practically unchanged up to its production end, with
the most major changes being 12v electrics, coil springs for the
rear and a different dash for the latest models.
In 1989 a licensed version of the Volkswagen Polo engine replaced
the elderly two-stroke engine, the result of a trade agreement
between the two German states. The model, known as the Trabant
1.1 also had minor improvements to the brake and signal lights,
a revised grille and replaced the leaf spring-suspended chassis with
one using MacPherson struts. However, by the time it entered
production in May 1990, German reunification had already been agreed
to. The inefficient, labor-intensive production line was kept open
only because of government subsidies. Demand plummeted, as residents
of the east preferred second-hand western cars. The production line
closed in 1991.
The Trabant's designers expected production to extend to 1967 at
the latest, and East German designers and engineers created a series
of more sophisticated prototypes through the years that were
intended to replace the Trabi; several of these can be seen at the
Dresden Transport Museum. However, each proposal for a new model was
rejected by the GDR leadership for reasons of cost. As a result, the
Trabant remained in production largely unchanged; in contrast, the
Czechoslovak Škoda automobiles were continually updated and exported
successfully. The Trabant's production method, which was extremely
labour-intensive, remained unchanged.
Although Trabants had been exported from East Germany, they
became well-known in the West after the fall of the Berlin Wall when
many were abandoned by their Eastern owners after migrating
westward. News reports inaccurately described them as having
cardboard bodies. This is likely due to the fact that the body of
the Trabant was Duroplast, a material that, in East German
production, often made use of varying quantities of different fibers,
such as cotton, or occasionally paper.
In the early 1990s it was possible to buy a Trabant for as little
as a few marks, and many were given away. Later, as they became
collectors' items, prices recovered, but they remain very cheap
cars. Green Trabants are especially popular as they are said to
bring good luck. The popular culture surrounding the Trabant was
referenced by the performance artist Liz Cohen in her Bodywork
project, which transformed an East German 1987 Trabant into a 1973
Chevrolet El Camino.
In the late 1990s, there were plans to put the Trabant back into
production in Uzbekistan as the Olimp.
However, only a single model was produced.
In 1997, the Trabant was celebrated for passing the "Elchtest"
("moose test"), a 60 km/h (37 mph) swerve manoeuvre slalom, without
toppling over like the Mercedes-Benz A-Class infamously did. A
newspaper from Thuringia had a headline saying "Come and get us,
moose! Trabi passes A-Class killer test".
In 2007 Herpa, a miniature vehicles manufacturer in Bavaria,
showed a scale model of the "New Trabi" and revealed that they
planned to introduce it. They bought the rights to the name and plan
to produce a series of 5,000 cars. It would likely have a BMW engine
and be sold for around €50,000.
In 2007 the Trabant (P50 painted British Racing Green) was
brought into the world of Diplomacy. Steven Fisher, the Deputy Head
of Mission in the British Embassy of Budapest uses it as his
diplomatic car for work.
In August 2009 it was announced that a new Trabant powered by an
electric engine will be unveiled at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show on
17 September with production starting if investment can be secured.
- Trabant P50—later called Trabant 500 (Limousine and
- Trabant 600 (Limousine and Universal)
- Trabant 601 (Limousine, Universal and Tramp (Cabrio))
- Trabant 601 S & Trabant 601 De Luxe (With optional equipment
including rear and front fog lamps, rear white light and an
- Trabant 601 Hycomat (Made for users with missing or
dysfunctional left leg. It had included an automatic clutching
- Trabant 800 RS (Rally version)
- Trabant 1,1 (Limousine, Universal and Tramp (Cabrio))
Trabant and car tuning community
Trabant has for its particularly archaic look and unique
two-stroke engine sound become a beloved toy amongst car tuning
community in central Europe.
Many variations exist although two major streams occur.
The first stream meticulously preserves the two-stroke engine
sound, while either tuning the original two cylinder engine for
higher performance or using a two-stroke propulsion unit designed
for another car (e.g. the 1000 cc Wartburg). Since the car is very
lightweight (approx. 750 kg), a small increase in engine power can
rapidly increase its weight to horsepower ratio, giving it
The second group goes beyond the sentimental sounds and makes a
range of changes from an engine swap to completely upgrading the
traction of Trabant leaving only the chassis to hide a modern
powerful car underneath (e.g. the VW Volkswagen Lupo GTI of Sascha
Fiss. The perplexing effect of being overtaken by a postmodern Trabi
as described above 150 km/h (93 mph) is worth all the effort.
Some cars with supercharged implants have rated power over 150HP,
which including its light weight gives them performance of drag cars
It has become an established tradition in central Europe that
Trabant fan clubs organize annual meetings to introduce new
increments in their collections.
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