Monday, June 1, 2009

Your Next Car -- The Trabbie?

The Trabant put communist-era Eastern Bloc residents on wheels, as big a revolution behind the Iron Curtain as the VW Beetle was for their western cousins.
Several versions were made, but the famous P600 (plastic body, 600cc two-stroke) 'Trabbie' was made for 30 years unchanged.
That ugly little car became famous in 1989 when thousands of East Germans used it to cross to the West. The Trabant originally derived from a well regarded West German car (the DKW) made by Audi, which today produces some of the most prestigious cars in the world. In the hands of the East German government, the unfortunate DKW became a farce of a car. The bureaucrats and the union that ran the Trabant factory made the car smaller and boxier, to give it a more proletarian look. To reduce production costs, they cut down on the size of the original, already small DKW engine, and they replaced the metal body with one made of plastic-covered cardboard. What rolled off the assembly line was a kind of horseless carriage that roared like a lawn mower and polluted the air worse than a whole city block full of big Western cars.

After German reunification, the plucky little "Trabi" that East Germans used to wait 10 years to buy became an embarrassment, and its production was stopped. Germany's junkyards are now piled high with Trabants, which cannot be recycled because burning their plastic-covered cardboard bodies would release poisonous dioxins. German scientists are now trying to develop a bacterium to devour the cardboard-and-plastic body.

Reported by Lt. Gen. Pacepa, the highest ranking Soviet bloc official granted political asylum in the U.S., WSJ, 6/1/09

Images of many great Euro cars here:

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