A symbol of an era.
What is it?
Meet the most common vehicle on the streets of East Germany, a state in the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War period. It was so popular during that time that it can be considered East Germany’s answer to the Volkswagen Beetle.
Where and when was it made?
Actually, the Trabant 601 is the third generation of a model that was launched in 1958 as the P50. It was followed by the P60 in 1962 and turned to what we know as simply the Trabant in 1963. For nearly 28 years, a total of 2,818,547 Trabant 601s were manufactured at an assembly plant in Zwickau, Germany.
At first, the P50 featured a 0.5-liter air-cooled two-cylinder two-stroke engine with only 18 horsepower (13 kilowatts). When the car debuted, it was a relatively advanced car, as it featured front wheel drive, composite bodywork, and independent suspension. In 1962 the engine was upgraded to 23 hp (17 kW) and in 1989 the last facelift of the car brought a radically different Volkswagen-sourced 1.05-liter four-cylinder four-stroke motor with 45 hp (33 kW).
Why is it special?
We just love it. You can hear it, you can feel it coming. You can even smell it. It’s arguably the most recognizable vehicle in the world with its emotional engine buzz and gray exhaust gases. It has the love of literally thousands of passionate collectors around the world, mostly in the regions that were part of the Soviet Bloc. You can even still take a nostalgic tour across Berlin behind the wheel of a 601.
As mentioned above, when it debuted, the car was relatively modern thing for that time. In fact, the only letdown was the archaic engine based on DKW pre-war motor that was already obsolete in the 1960s. But during the 601’s life, it received several very important improvements, such as 12-volt electronics and coil springs for the rear axle.
After production of the car ended in 1991, the assembly lines in Zwickau were sold to Volkswagen, which is, to say the least, a very interesting decision. The exact same factory was originally owned by Audi, a brand owned by Volkswagen...
After the Berlin Wall collapsed, many 601s were sold for just a few Deutsche Marks, and some were even given away from owners. Interestingly, while its loved from car collectors from all around the world, prices of the car are still relatively low, as you can find a running example in some parts of Europe for less than $500.
Photos: Trabant via AutoWP