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Trabbi 601-S - Typenschild 1.jpg
Manufacturer VEB Sachsenring
Production 1957–1991
Body style(s) 2-door sedan (Limousine, Saloon)
2-door station wagon (Universal) There was also an army version

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. 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 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 refueling the car required lifting the hood, filling the tank with gasoline (only 24 litres[1]), then adding two-stroke oil and shaking it back and forth to mix. It was in production without any significant changes for nearly 30 years with 3,096,099 Trabants produced in total.[2]



A Trabant 601 Limousine.
A view inside the Trabant 601

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 required the well-known long wait.

There were four principal variants of the Trabant, the P50, also known as the Trabant 500, produced 1957-1962; the Trabant 600, produced 1962-1964; the Trabant 601, produced 1963-1991; and the Trabant 1.1 produced 1990-1991 with a 1.05L VW engine (the name is confusing, because the engine's capacity isn't 1100 cc, but 1043 cc). The engine for the Trabant 500, 600 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 monoxide emissions of the average European car of 2007. The fuel consumption was 7 L/100 km (40 mpg-imp; 34 mpg-US)14,28 km/l.[4]

Trabant two-stroke engine.

The Trabant was a steel monocoque design with roof, bootlid/trunklid, bonnet/hood, bumpers/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]


Trabant P50 built in 1959.

The decision to build a car came late in the planning process.[7] The name Trabant, which in medieval German denoted a foot soldier or personal guard[8], 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 budgetary constraints forced the use of 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.

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 water-cooled 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 1.1s 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 23 hp 600 cc engine in 1962, becoming the P60.

Trabant 601 presentation in 1963.

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.

Trabant 1.1 model with VW Polo four-stroke engine.
Trabant P1100 prototype
Production of the last Trabants in 1990.
Many Trabants were abandoned after 1989. Leipzig, 1990

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, the two states had already agreed to German reunification. 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 and the factory in Mosel (Zwickau), where the Trabant 1.1 had been made, was sold to Volkswagen. The rest of the company became HQM Sachsenring GmbH.

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 labor-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.[9]

In the late 1990s, there were plans to put the Trabant back into production in Uzbekistan as the Olimp.[10] However, only a single model was produced.[11]

Former Bulgarian Foreign Minister and Atlantic Club of Bulgaria founding president Solomon Passy owned a famous Trabant, which he used to take NATO Secretary Generals Manfred Wörner, George Robertson and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer for a ride. Passy's Trabant was also blessed by Pope John Paul II in 2002. In 2005, Passy donated the vehicle, which had become a symbol of Bulgaria's NATO accession, to the National Historical Museum of Bulgaria.[12]

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".[13]

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.[14][15]

In 2007 the Trabant (A 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.[16]

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.[17][18]


Trabant 601: A Kombi/station wagon version was also produced.
  • 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 and car tuning community

The painted Trabants used by U2 on their Zoo TV tour are displayed on The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Trabant as a racing car

The particularly archaic look and unique two-stroke engine sound of the Trabant has made it become a beloved model amongst the car tuning community in central Europe.

Many variations exist although two major streams have been developed.

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 power to weight ratio, giving it a remarkable boost.

The second stream goes beyond the sentimental sound and encompass a range of modifications from a complete engine swap to a thorough upgrade on the traction of Trabant, leaving only the chassis to hide a modern powerful car underneath (e.g. the Sascha Fiss' Volkswagen Lupo GTI). Some say that the perplexing effect caused by a postmodern Trabi that can overtake modern cars as described above 150 km/h (93 mph) is worth all the efforts.

Some cars with supercharged implants have a rated power over 150 hp (112 kW) which allows them to achieve a performance comparable to drag racers due to its light body weight.

It has become an established tradition for Trabant fan clubs in central Europe to organize annual meetings to present new tuning modifications and performance accessories for the vehicle.

Potential revival

Even though Trabant doesn't have a history of being green, two German companies are trying to find investors to create the Trabant nT, an electric car that will be equipped with a 45 kW asynchronous motor powered with a lithium-ion battery.[19] The nT will have a 100 mile (160 km) range on a full charge, a top speed of 80 mph (128 km/h), and a cost of US$29,000 or about €19,600.


See also


  1. ^ "Daily Telegraph"
  2. ^ "Trabant Canada"
  3. ^ a b PBS - Scientific American Frontiers:Previous Shows:Transcripts:Special From Germany
  4. ^ Trans National Trabant Tour 2007
  5. ^ Sachsenring Trabant
  6. ^ TrabiRent
  7. ^ DW: Go, Trabi, Go! East Germany's Darling Car Turns 50
  8. ^ Anatoly Liberman, J. Lawrence Mitchell: An analytic dictionary of English etymology, 2008 (second edition), ISBN 0816652724, p. 208 (at the Google books). The term was possibly borrowed from the Czech language.
  9. ^ Keats, Jonathon (July 2003). "High-Performance Artist". Wired. Retrieved 2007-09-04.  
  10. ^ Trabant Clunks Back to Life
  12. ^ "Соломон Паси подари трабанта си на НИМ" (in Bulgarian). Вести. 2005-07-13. Retrieved 2009-11-13.  
  13. ^ Petite feat -
  14. ^ International Herald Tribune: The 'Trabi' automobile, once a symbol of East Germany, to be revived
  15. ^ Deutsche Welle: German Firm Plans to Launch Revamped Trabant
  16. ^ "British Deputy Ambassador's ride small and green". Politics.Hu. Retrieved 2009-04-28.  
  17. ^ "Smoke-belching Trabant to be reborn as electric car". Retrieved 2009-08-14.  
  18. ^ "German group develops new Trabant". Retrieved 2009-08-14.  
  19. ^ "Eco Cars: All-electric Trabant NT Gears To Clean 20-year-old Mess". Ecofriend. 2009-09-17. Retrieved 2009-10-14.  

External links


Simple English

File:Parkeerplaats in Oostberlijn
A parking lot in East Berlin, in 1983. Mainly Trabants, a white Wartburg and a dark green Lada

The Trabant (or Trabi) was a series of cars built in the German Democratic Republic. When the first cars were released, people saw them as being innovative. The cars were also easy on fuel, they did not need much fuel. Trabant had a two-stroke engine. Trabants were not made with steel or iron, because the German Democratic Republic did not want to import steel and iron for the cars, because that would have been too expensive. Instead, the Trabant was made of Duroplast, a special kind of plastic, made by mixing formica and bakelite, and made stronger with fibres of cotton. After the Berlin Wall was opened the Trabant did not sell as much as before, because the people wanted bigger cars that they could get after the wall was opened. Trabants can still be found in East Europe, for example in Hungary.


The Trabant was a small car, good for driving in the city. Because it was made of plastic it was not very safe in a crash, and the two-stroke engine created lots of air pollution.


Version Years of production N° of cars producted
AWZ P70 since 1954 to 1959 36.151
Trabant P50/500 since 1957 to 1962 131.440
Trabant P60/600 since 1962 to 1965 106.628
Trabant 601 since 1964 to 1990 2.818.547
Trabant 1,1 since 1989 to 1991 39.474

Between 1957 and 1990, about 3 million Trabants were built. As of January 2005, about 67.000 such cars were still registered.


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