Trabant

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Trabant
Trabbi 601-S - Typenschild 1.jpg
Overview
Manufacturer VEB Sachsenring
Production 1957-1990 (East Germany)
1990-1991 (Germany)
3.7 million produced
Body and chassis
Body style 2-door sedan (Limousine, Saloon)
2-door station wagon (Universal)
Doorless jeep (Kübelwagen)
Layout Transverse front-engine, front-wheel-drive
Powertrain
Engine 500cc two-cylinder two-stroke (1957~62)
600cc two-cylinder two-stroke (1963~1989)
1.0L VW Polo I4 four-stroke (1989~1991)
Dimensions
Wheelbase 2,020 mm (79.5 in)[1]
Length 3,360 mm (132.3 in)[1]
Width 1,500 mm (59.06 in)[2]

The Trabant (/trəˈbɑːnt/; German pronunciation: [tʀaˈbant]) is an automobile which was produced from 1957 to 1990 by former East German car manufacturer VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke Zwickau. Although it is often seen as symbolic of the defunct East Germany and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in general, it was a sought-after car in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Trabant had a hard plastic body mounted on a one-piece steel chassis (a so-called unibody or monocoque), front-wheel drive, a transverse engine, and independent suspension – unusual features at that time.

Called "a spark plug with a roof", 3,096,999 Trabants in a number of models were produced over nearly three decades with few significant changes in their basic design.[3] Older models became popular with collectors in the United States due to their low cost and fewer restrictions on the importation of antique cars. The Trabant also gained a following among car tuning and rally racing enthusiasts.

Overview[edit]

Small white Trabant in a museum
Trabant 601 limousine
White station wagon
Trabant 601 Estate

Trabant means "satellite" or "companion" in German, derived from the Middle High German drabant (“Hussite foot soldier”).[a] The car's name was inspired by the Soviet Sputnik satellite.[5][6] The cars are often referred to as "Trabbi" or "Trabi". Produced without major changes for nearly 30 years, the Trabant became the most common automobile in East Germany. It came to symbolize the country during the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, as images of East Germans crossing the border into West Germany were broadcast around the globe.[7][8] To acquire a Trabant, East German buyers were placed on a list; their waiting time depended on their proximity to Berlin, the capital.[5]

Simple automobile interior
Interior of a 601

The Trabant had a steel unibody frame, with the roof, trunk lid, hood, fenders and doors made of Duroplast, a hard plastic made from recycled cotton waste from the Soviet Union and phenol resins from the East German dye industry.[5][9] It was the second car with a body made of recycled material; the first was the AWZ P70 Zwickau, produced from 1955 to 1959. The material was durable, and the average lifespan of a Trabant was 28 years.[9]

The car had four principal variants:

  • The P50, also known as the Trabant 500 (produced 1957–1962)
  • The Trabant 600 (1962–1964)
  • The Trabant 601 (1963–1991)
  • The Trabant 1.1, produced in 1990–1991 with a 1,043 cc (63.6 cu in) VW engine
Trabant with the hood up; the engine is small.
Trabant two-stroke engine

The engine for the 500, 600 and the original 601 was a small two-stroke engine with two cylinders, accounting for the vehicle's modest performance. Its curb weight was about 600 kg (1,100 pounds). When it ceased production in 1989, 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[10][11] (62 mph).

The engine produced a very smoky exhaust and was a significant source of air pollution: nine times the hydrocarbons and five times the carbon-monoxide emissions of the average 2007 European car. Its fuel consumption was 7 l/100 km (40 mpg‑imp; 34 mpg‑US).[12] Since the engine did not have an oil pump, two-stroke oil had to be added to the 24-liter (6.3 U.S. gal; 5.3 imp gal) fuel tank[13] at a 50:1 (or 33:1) ratio of fuel to oil at each fill-up. Contemporary gas stations in countries where two-stroke engines were common sold a premixed gas-oil mixture at the pump. Today, owners carry a container of two-stroke oil in the car for this purpose. Because the Trabant had no fuel pump, its fuel tank was above the motor so fuel could reach the carburetor by gravity; this increased the risk of fire in front-end accidents. Earlier models had no fuel gauge, and a dipstick was inserted into the tank to determine how much fuel remained.

Best known for its dull color scheme and cramped, uncomfortable ride, the Trabant is an object of playful ridicule for many Germans and is regarded as symbolic of the fall of the Eastern Bloc.[14] Known as a "spark plug with a roof" because of its small size, the car gained public affection and something of a cult following.[7][8] Its design remained essentially unchanged since its introduction in the late 1950s, and the last model was introduced in 1964. In contrast, the West German Volkswagen Beetle received a number of updates (including improvements in efficiency) over a similar period.[15]

History[edit]

Origins[edit]

The Trabant was the result of a planning process which had intended to design a three-wheeled motorcycle.[5] In German, a trabant is an astronomical term for a moon (or other natural satellite) of a celestial body.[16]

Full production[edit]

Two-door sedan, with a driver at the wheel
A 1959 P50

The first of the Trabants left the VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke Zwickau factory in Saxony on 7 November 1957. It was a relatively advanced car when it was formally introduced the following year, with front wheel drive, unitary construction and independent suspension. The Trabant's greatest shortcoming was its engine. By the late 1950s many small Western cars (such as the Renault) had cleaner, more-efficient four-stroke engines, but budgetary constraints and raw-materials shortages mandated an outdated (but inexpensive) two-stroke engine in the Trabant. It was technically equivalent to the West German Lloyd automobile, a similarly sized car with an air-cooled, two-cylinder four-stroke engine. The Trabant had a front, transversely-mounted engine and front-wheel drive in an era when many European cars were using rear-mounted engines or front-mounted engines with rear-wheel drive. Its greatest drawback was its largely unchanged production; the car's two-stroke engine made it obsolete by the 1970s, limiting exports to Western Europe.

The Trabant's air-cooled, 500 cc (31 cu in) engine—upgraded to 600cc in 1962–63—was derived from a pre-war DKW design with minor alterations during its production run. The first Saab car had a larger (764cc), water-cooled, two-cylinder two-stroke engine. Wartburg, an East German manufacturer of larger sedans, also used a water-cooled, three-cylinder, 1,000 cc (61 cu in), two-stroke DKW engine.

The original Trabant, introduced in 1958, was the P50. Trabant's base model, it shared a large number of interchangeable parts with the latest 1.1s. The 500 cc, 18 hp (13 kW) P50 evolved into a 20 hp (15 kW) version with a fully synchronized gearbox in 1960, and received a 23 hp, 600 cc engine in 1962 as the P60.

Trabant with brown trim in a museum
A 1963 Trabant 601

The updated P601 was introduced in 1964. It was essentially a facelift of the P60, with a different front fascia, bonnet, roof and rear and the original P50 underpinnings. The model remained nearly unchanged until the end of its production except for the addition of 12V electricity, rear coil springs and an updated dashboard for later models.

A blue Trabant
P1100 prototype

The Trabant's designers expected production to extend until 1967 at the latest, and East German designers and engineers created a series of more-sophisticated prototypes intended to replace the P601; several are on display at the Dresden Transport Museum. Each proposal for a new model was rejected by the East German government due to shortages of the raw materials required in larger quantities for the more-advanced designs. As a result, the Trabant remained largely unchanged for more than a quarter-century. Also unchanged was its production method, which was extremely labour-intensive.

The Trabant 1100 (also known as the P1100) was a 601 with a better-performing 1.05-liter, 45HP VW Polo engine. With a more-modern look (including a floor-mounted gearshift), it was quieter and cleaner than its predecessor. The 1100 had front disc brakes, and its wheel assembly was borrowed from Volkswagen. It was produced between from 1989 to 1991, in parallel with the two-stroke P601. Except for the engine and transmission, many parts from older P50s, P60s and 601s were compatible with the 1100.

1989–1991[edit]

Junked, vandalized car
Many Trabants like this one, photographed in Leipzig in 1990, were abandoned after 1989.
Two-door sedan with a man standing behind it
Trabant 1.1 with VW Polo four-stroke engine

In mid-1989, thousands of East Germans began loading their Trabants with as much as they could carry and drove to Hungary or Czechoslovakia en route to West Germany on the "Trabi Trail". Many had to get special permission to drive their Trabants into West Germany, since the cars did not meet West German emissions standards and polluted the air at four times the European average.[17]

A licensed version of the Volkswagen Polo engine replaced the Trabant's two-stroke engine in 1989, the result of a trade agreement between East and West Germany. The model, the Trabant 1.1, also had minor improvements to its brake and signal lights, a renovated grille, and MacPherson struts instead of a leaf-spring-suspended chassis. When the 1.1 began production in May 1990, the two German states had already agreed to reunification.

By April 1991 3.7, million vehicles had been produced.[18] However, it soon became apparent that there was no place for the Trabant in a reunified German economy; its inefficient, labour-intensive production line survived on government subsidies.

The Trabant ceased production in 1991, and the Zwickau factory in Mosel (where the Trabant 1.1 was manufactured) was sold to Volkswagen AG; the rest of the company became HQM Sachsenring GmbH. Volkswagen redeveloped the Zwickau factory, which is a centre for engine production and produces some Volkswagen Golfs and Passats.

1990s and later[edit]

According to Richard Leiby, the Trabant had become "a symbol of the technological and social backwardness of the East German state."[19] Trabants became well known in the West after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when many were abandoned by their Eastern owners who migrated west. Unlike the Lada Niva, Škoda Estelle, Polski Fiat and Yugo, the Trabant did not sell well in Western Europe.

A Trabant could be bought for as little as a few Deutsche Marks during the early 1990s, and many were given away. Although prices recovered as they became collectors' items, they remain inexpensive cars. In her Bodywork project, performance artist Liz Cohen transformed a 1987 Trabant into a 1973 Chevrolet El Camino.[20] The Trabant was planned to return to production in Uzbekistan as the Olimp during the late 1990s,[21] but only one model was produced.[22]

White Trabant with lettering, with the Capitol Building in the background
A Trabant during the first Parade of Trabants in 2007

Former Bulgarian Foreign Minister and Atlantic Club of Bulgaria founding president Solomon Passy owned a Trabant which was blessed by Pope John Paul II in 2002 and which he took NATO Secretaries General Manfred Wörner, George Robertson, and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer for rides. In 2005, Passy donated the vehicle (which had become symbolic of Bulgaria's NATO accession) to the National Historical Museum of Bulgaria.[23] In 1997 the Trabant was celebrated for passing the moose test without rolling over, as the Mercedes-Benz W168 had; a Thuringian newspaper's headline read, "Come and get us, moose! Trabi passes A-Class killer test".[24]

The Trabant entered the world of diplomacy in 2007 when Steven Fisher, deputy head of mission at the British Embassy in Budapest, used a 1.1 (painted as close to British racing green as possible) as his diplomatic car.[25][26] American Trabant owners celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall with the Parade of Trabants, an annual early-November rally held in in Washington, D.C. The event, sponsored by the privately owned International Spy Museum, includes street tours in Trabants, rides, live German music and displays about East Germany.[27]

Car tuning[edit]

Green-and-yellow Trabant on a track
A racing Trabant

The first Trabant car tuning attempts date back to its early production, utilizing the car's light weight and front-wheel traction. Its archaic appearance and the sound of its two-stroke engine have made it popular among car tuners in Central Europe.

Several variations exist in two general groups. The first preserves the two-stroke-engine sound by tuning the original two-cylinder engine for higher performance or using a two-stroke propulsion unit designed for another car, such as the 1000cc Wartburg). Since the Trabant is light—750 kg (1,653 lb)—a small increase in engine power can rapidly increase its power-to-weight ratio. Some enthusiasts have used the durable, easily tuned Trabant for rally and other types of racing.

The second group encompasses a range of modifications from upgrading the car's traction to replacing the engine, leaving only the body over a modern, powerful car (for example, the Sascha Fiss Volkswagen Lupo GTI).[28] Another modification combine a Trabant boday with a Japanese superbike engine, such as the Suzuki Hayabusa (a combination known as Trabusa). Some of these cars have a rated power of over 150 hp (112 kW). The Trabant's light weight gives a power-to-weight ratio of 11 lb/hp (149 W/kg), giving the vehicles a performance comparable to modern mid-range sports cars.

Planned reintroduction[edit]

The Herpa company, a Bavarian miniature-vehicle manufacturer, bought the rights to the Trabant name and showed a scale model of a "newTrabi" at the 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show. Plans for production included a limited run, possibly with a BMW engine.[7][8][29] A Trabant nT model was unveiled two years later in Frankfurt.[30]

The Trabant nT consortium includes Herpa, the German specialized-auto-parts manufacturer IndiKar and the German automobile-engineering company IAV.[31] The group was looking for investment, design and production in the Trabant's original hometown of Zwickau,[32] with sales "in 2012".[33] The Trabant nT electric car would be equipped with a 45 kW asynchronous motor powered by a lithium-ion battery.[34]

Models[edit]

A Trabant in Dresden in 1961
Trabant P50 Universal, later known as the 500 Universal
  • P50: Later known as the 500 (Limousine and Universal [Combi])
  • 600 (Limousine and Universal)
  • 601 Standard (Limousine, Universal)
    • 601S (Sonderwunsch; Special Edition) with fog lamps, a rear white light and an odometer
    • 601 DeLuxe: Similar to the 601S, with two colours and a chrome bumper
    • 601 Kübel: Doorless jeep with a folding roof, auxiliary heating system and RFI-shielded ignition
    • 601 Tramp: Civilian version of the Kübel, primarily exported to Greece
    • 601 Hycomat: For drivers unable to use their left leg, with an automatic clutch
    • 800RS: Rally version
  • 1.1: Limousine, Universal and Tramp (convertible)

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ According to Elof Hellquist's Svensk etymologisk ordbok (Swedish Etymological Dictionary, ISBN 91-40-01978-0), the word also exists in Low German dravant, French trabant and Italian trabante but its origin is unknown: "It is not even certain whether the Romance words have been borrowed from the German, or vice versa."[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Legends of the Open Road. Rizzoli International Publications. ISBN 978-88-6130-066-8. 
  2. ^ World Cars 1978. Herald Books. ISBN 0-910714-10-X. 
  3. ^ "Trabant Canada". Trabant.ca. Retrieved 2 December 2010. 
  4. ^ "99 (Svensk etymologisk ordbok)". runeberg.org (in Swedish). 1922. Retrieved 2017-02-28.  (in Swedish)
  5. ^ a b c d James, Kyle (19 May 2007). "Go, Trabi, Go! East Germany's Darling Car Turns 50". Deutsche Welle. 
  6. ^ Stokes, Raymond G. (2000). "Plastics and the New Society: The German Democratic Republic in the 1950s and 1960s". In Reid, Susan E.; Crowley, David. Style and Socialism: Modernity and Material Culture in Post-War Eastern Europe. Oxford, U.K.; New York, N.Y.: Berg. ISBN 1-85973-239-9. OCLC 898724665. 
  7. ^ a b c Williams, Adam (6 September 2007). "The 'Trabi' automobile, once a symbol of East Germany, to be revived". International Herald Tribune. Reuters. Archived from the original on 4 December 2008. Retrieved 17 September 2011. 
  8. ^ a b c "German Firm Plans to Launch Revamped Trabant". Deutsche Welle. 7 September 2007. Retrieved 2 December 2010. 
  9. ^ a b "Special From Germany: Show 402". Scientific American Frontiers. PBS. Archived from the original on 3 July 2015. 
  10. ^ "BBC". bbc.co.uk. 1 January 2007. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  11. ^ "carfolio.com". carfolio.com. 28 February 2013. Retrieved 2 May 2014. 
  12. ^ "Trans National Trabant Tour 2007". Transtrabant.cz. Retrieved 2 December 2010. 
  13. ^ Silk, Bernard (3 May 2003). "Daily Telegraph". London: Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2 December 2010. 
  14. ^ Hockenos, Paul (7 November 2014). "Berlin Welcomes Back the Trabant, if Only for a Day". The New York Times. 
  15. ^ Richard Stroup (2003). Eco-nomics: What Everyone Should Know about Economics and the Environment. p. 32. ISBN 978-1-930865-44-0. 
  16. ^ http://www.interglot.com/dictionary/de/en/translate/Trabant
  17. ^ Sebetsyen, Victor (2009). Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. New York City: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-375-42532-2. 
  18. ^ "Trabant". Archived from the original on 2011-04-14. 
  19. ^ Richard A. Leiby (1999). The Unification of Germany, 1989–1990. Greenwood. p. 185. ISBN 978-0-313-29969-8. 
  20. ^ Keats, Jonathon (July 2003). "High-Performance Artist". Wired. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  21. ^ "Trabant Clunks Back to Life". Moscowtimes.ru. Retrieved 2 December 2010. 
  22. ^ "Automobile Industry In Uzbekistan". Retrieved 2 December 2010. 
  23. ^ "Соломон Паси подари трабанта си на НИМ" (in Bulgarian). Вести. 13 July 2005. Retrieved 13 November 2009. 
  24. ^ "Petite feat". drive.com.au. 6 May 2005. Retrieved 2 December 2010. 
  25. ^ "British Deputy Ambassador's ride small and green". Politics.Hu. Retrieved 28 April 2009. 
  26. ^ Zsolt, Csikós (10 November 2008). "A brit nagykövethelyettes Trabantja ("The British Deputy Ambassador's Trabant")". TotalCar.hu Ltd. Retrieved 5 October 2012. 
  27. ^ "Sixth Annual Parade of Trabants". International Spy Museum. Retrieved 5 October 2012. 
  28. ^ Kolb, Michael (15 July 2005). "Trabant P50 von Sascha Fiß: Fliegendes Grau". Axel Springer Auto Verlag GmbH. Retrieved 5 October 2012. 
  29. ^ Williams, Adam (6 September 2007). "The 'Trabi' automobile, once a symbol of East Germany, to be revived". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 October 2012. 
  30. ^ "Photo Gallery: Electric Trabant Unveiled at Frankfurt Motor Show". Spiegel Online. 16 September 2009. Retrieved 5 October 2012. 
  31. ^ "German group develops new Trabant". London: news.bbc.co.uk. 14 August 2009. Retrieved 14 August 2009. 
  32. ^ Hall, Allan (14 August 2009). "Smoke-belching Trabant to be reborn as electric car". London: telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 14 August 2009. 
  33. ^ "The "newTrabi" idea becomes the "Trabant nT" concept car". Trabant nT GmbH. Retrieved 5 October 2012. 
  34. ^ "Eco Cars: All-electric Trabant NT Gears To Clean 20-year-old Mess". Ecofriend. 17 September 2009. Retrieved 14 October 2009. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Berdahl, Daphne. "'Go, Trabi, Go!': Reflections on a Car and Its Symbolization over Time." Anthropology and Humanism 25.2 (2000): 131-141. online
  • Rubin, Eli. "The Trabant: Consumption, Eigen-Sinn, and Movement." History Workshop Journal (2009) 68#1 pp 27–44. online
  • Zatlin, Jonathan R. "The vehicle of desire: The Trabant, the Wartburg, and the end of the GDR." German History 15.3 (1997): 358-380. online
  • Lisse, Jürgen (2010), Fahrzeuglexikon Trabant (in German) (2. erweiterte ed.), Witzschdorf: Bildverlag Böttger, ISBN 978-3-937496-34-4 
  • Röcke, Matthias (2011), Die Trabi-Story. Der Dauerbrenner aus Zwickau (in German), Bath: Parragon, ISBN 978-1-4454-6266-0, vormals in zwei Auflagen erschienen im Heel Verlag 
  • Stiegler, Theo (2007), Der Trabant wird 50! In guten wie in schlechten Zeiten (in German), Dresden: edition Sächsische Zeitung/Saxo’Phon, ISBN 978-3-938325-36-0 

External links[edit]

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