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2. The Universe / The Earth / Europe / Germany
The Trabant: The East German People's Car
This little car was made by a company called VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke Zwickau in Zwickau, Saxony and production of the Trabant began in 1957.
The factory used to build the car was once the Audi factory prior to the Second World War and before the separation of East and West Germany after the war. Numerous models were made during the first ten years of production but the most famous was the model number 601 that first appeared in 1967 and was sold until after the unification of Germany in 1991. The 601 model remained unchanged in design and build through to the end of the Trabant's production. Production of all Trabants ceased in late 1991.
The style and shape for the Trabant was simple and due to steel shortages in the early 1950s the body was made from a plastic material that was similar to fibreglass called Duraplast. The chassis was of a steel monocoque1 construction. Duraplast is a type of plastic containing resin strengthened by wool or cotton.
The Trabant had an average top speed of about 100kph (65mph), and was powered by a two-cylinder two-stroke engine that had only five moving parts. The engine was so small and light it could be lifted out of the car by one person. The reason for the engine being two-stroke was that there were fewer moving parts required as well as the shortages of raw materials. Materials that were available were too expensive to use.
The first model Trabant was called the P50 and was manufactured between 1957 to 1962. Modifications were carried out to the P50 in 1962 which then became the P60. The main change being that a new engine was fitted increasing the power capacity to 600cc, approximately 25 horsepower. It had a nought to 60mph speed of over 21 seconds.
The P60 was manufactured for two years, from 1962 to 1964.
Further enhancements and modifications were made to the P60 in 1964 and this then became the P601.
The P601 then remained, more or less unchanged from 1964 to end of production in 1991. Some minor changes were made to lighting, electrics and the interior but overall the P601 became a standard, basic car.
The engine had some modifications carried out that meant there was less oil required to be put in the petrol though the two-stroke engine was never upgraded to the more commonly used four-stroke used elsewhere. Volkswagen did experiment with a four-stroke engine in what started as a joint venture but by this time, (late 1990 to early 1991) production was being scaled down and ceased altogether in late 1991.
Due to the engine being of a two-stroke variety, exhaust emissions were high in pollutants and also had a very distinct smell. Instead of the normal petrol smell common to four-stroke engines, the Trabant's exhaust gave out a burnt oil smell as well as emitting blue smoke. It would certainly fail all of today's relevant car exhaust emissions tests. Also, reliability became an issue as well as the engine wasn't the most robust of units.
However, someone saw a way to turn even this issue into a method to keep the Trabant legend going. One Thorsten Jahn decided to 'can' the smell of a Trabant exhaust and sells it on his website. In a news report to the BBC he says,
The smell is something very special and scarce nowadays.
The Trabant 601 was used as a prop by the pop group U2 and included in their Zoo TV Tour. They had several vehicles hanging by wires from the ceiling of the concert halls the band appeared at.
The same cars are now hung from the ceiling in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, in the US.
A comedy film was made about the Trabant called Go Trabbi Go. It featured an East German family travelling across Europe and was released shortly after reunification of Germany in 1992.
A bright blue Trabant was the 'car star' of the 2003 award-winning film about the fall of the Berlin Wall, Good Bye Lenin.
In 2001 an American film called Spy Game featured a car chase which involved a Trabant. It was being driven by the actor Brad Pitt who was playing the spy Tom Bishop. In the film he is trying to smuggle an East German from East to West Berlin before the fall of the wall.
The Trabant now has a popular following with Trabant car owners' clubs being formed all over Europe.
The name Trabant translates as 'satellite'. The name was chosen as it was originally made as a spin-off from the very similar P70, which was first built in 1955. The main difference was that the P70's 22HP engine was more powerful than the original Trabant's 18HP.
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