08 Aug 2018 109 views
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photoblog image Trabant



A visit to the Trabant museum, almost next to Checkpoint Charlie. The car was manufactured from 1957 to 1990 by VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke Zwickau in East Germany.


The East German government had nothing. No plans, no resources, just an old, leftover DKW factory and a general idea that the East German people needed a car they could afford. The Trabant is a triumph of making something from nothing. They didn’t even have enough steel to build the bodies out of, so Trabant engineers developed what was the first large-scale application of recycling to solve this problem: they took cotton waste from the Soviet Union (think Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev’s old underpants) and phenol resins from the dye industry and used that to make Duroplast, the fiberglass-like stuff Trabant bodies were made from.


The two-stroke engine has maybe five moving parts. The gas tank is positioned as high as possible in the engine compartment, and the carb as low as possible because there’s no fuel pump; it’s all a gravity feed. In case of a head-on collision that will leave you with an extreme fire hazard. But, so did the VW Beetles ...


When it ceased production in 1990, the Trabant delivered 19 kW (26 horsepower) from a 600 cc (37 cu in) displacement. It took 21 seconds to accelerate from zero to its top speed of 100 km/h (62 mph). The final two Trabant years also saw a Trabant 1.1 manufactured parallel to the 600 cc model. The 1.1 engine is touted as a VW Polo engine, but the Trabant engineers claimed that the VW used a Trabant engine. A long political story.


The German leute (especialy in Berlin) like to give petnames to various objects. The Trabant is referred to as a Trabi. In a similar fashion People from erstwhile East Berlin are Ossis, vs the Wessis from old West Berlin. One cannot yet say that Ossis and Wessis are unreserved Berliners in each other's company.


Oh, and the interior shown in the bottom left is not a stripped interior. That is how it was. The other 3 pictures are just various style applications of the Trabant.



comments (13)

  • Beth
  • United States
  • 8 Aug 2018, 01:27
Very interesting collage even for someone with little car knowledge.
Louis: Thank you, Beth. My mother used to say that she knows the steering wheel, gear shift, brakes, hand brake and for the rest, she had her husband's telephone number smile
I've never seen one, but have read about them, surely though, a head on crash with a V.W. Beetle wouldn't matter with the engine in the rear...However, a rear ender....smile
Louis: The VW beetle's fuel tank (gas tank, in your new country smile) is in front. When you lift the bonnet, you have some luggage space and below that the fuel tank. With a head on crash, there is almost nothing protecting that tank of fuel. The tendency is then for the fuel to splash backwards, under and over the car. Just one spark and the whole car is a ball of flame. After I received my driver's license as a young man (18), the first serious accident I came across, was a head on between the VW and the other car. It was late night and I was the only person not involved in the accident. Because of the almost instantaneous ball of flame, there is nothing I could do for the family in the VW. I couldn't even guess the gender of the two kids, afterwards. I focused on helping the people in the other car, before the fire spread. When the fire brigade arrived, sometimes later; they told me that the VW family, probably died of a lack of oxygen that is immediately slurped up by those flames. The likelihood that they felt the burning pain, is extremely small. All of this happened back on a country road, no cell phones, etc. By the time the authorities arrived, they just did admin and mop up.
Jolie présentation de ces voitures anciennes.
Louis: Merci, Martine. Ces voitures sont mignons, je pense.
What a great collection!
Louis: They had more variants in the museum.
That is quite a story, Louis, about sheer determination and grit to make something happen...out of nothing, as you have so well stated.
Louis: If you are there, they play tapes and films with the engineers and the others who were involved at the time. No change to the car was permitted without the approval of the Politburo, even when the engineers came up with no cost or low cost solutions. The politicians loved to say "no". The frustration of the engineers are clear in those films.
  • Chris
  • Not Nowhere
  • 8 Aug 2018, 06:26
Not only all of what you said Louis but the waiting list was a very long one to obtain a brand new Trabi - party members first, of course. The DDR was a controlled blinkered society in so many ways..
Louis: Those were the bad old days, Chris.
They are a part of history in the same way the VW Beetle is
Louis: Yes, they both originated as "People's Cars".
  • gutteridge
  • Somewhere in deep space
  • 8 Aug 2018, 08:10
Oh they are wonderful iconic cars. How funny that such a rubbish vehicle can become so revered.
Louis: What is interesting, is that when they saw first light, they were not so far off - considering. However, the Politburo's constant nay saying to any suggested improvements, had these little cars fall out of contention into ridicule.
I think this is a great collage, to us folks outside East Germany they were a great subject of humour but for the people there they no doubt served their purpose. A few years ago our local television station featured an elderly man who kept a collection of between 50 and 60 of these in a field near his home and of course the local authorities decided he had to move them. Sadly the TV company didn't follow up on the story so I have no idea what happened to them or him.
Louis: The first Moris Minor was a slow poke, compared to the Trabant. Only later Minors evolved to a better vehicle in terms of luxury and performance.In East Germany, the Politburo had to approve any change to the Trabant, which they very seldom did.

An interesting situation about those Trabants in a field.
  • Astrid
  • Nederland
  • 8 Aug 2018, 18:03
This brings back memories. When I was East Berlin I saw a line-up in front of the petrol station all Trabantjes.... Man alive, Louis, this is the one car that always drives... and basic as basic is... Great collage.
Louis: Yes, you didn't have to be an engineering giant, to be able to service this little car.
I've seen one or two in various parts of the old communist empire - they certainly got people around!
Louis: Same as the VW Beetle, the Trabi saw life as a people's car. Recently, production of an Indian people's car was stopped, because of low interest. Some kind of snobbery has become part of our modern social fibre, it seems.
I don't know about the internal workings, Louis, but the exterior paint is quite bright & cheery.
Louis: They bright and cheery, indeed, Beverly.
My heavens what a basic car!

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