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Trabant 601 motorcar


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 communist bloc.

Trabant East German Commercial 1960's

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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.[2]


The name was inspired by Soviet Sputnik. The cars are often referred to as the Trabbi or Trabi, pronounced with a short 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.[3] 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; 34 mpg-US).[4]

Trabant Estate 601 Car


Trabant 601 Estate 

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.[5][6] 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.[3]


Originally planned as a three-wheeled motorcycle, the decision to build a four-wheeled car came late in the planning process.[7] 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 Zwickau).

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 vehicle.

1959 Trabant P50 Car


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.[8]

In the late 1990s, there were plans to put the Trabant back into production in Uzbekistan as the Olimp.[9] However, only a single model was produced.[10]

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".[11]

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.[12][13]

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.[14]

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.[15] [16]


  • Trabant P50—later called Trabant 500 (Limousine and Universal [Combi])
  • 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 additional odometer)
  • Trabant 601 Hycomat (Made for users with missing or dysfunctional left leg. It had included an automatic clutching system)
  • Trabant 800 RS (Rally version)
  • Trabant 1,1 (Limousine, Universal and Tramp (Cabrio))

Trabant Racing Car going fast


Trabant Racing Car 

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 remarkable boost.

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 5 kg/HP.

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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