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The Trabant was an automobile formerly produced by East German auto maker VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke Zwickau in Zwickau, Saxony). It was the most common vehicle in East Germany, and was also exported to other socialist countries. The selling points was that it had room for four adults and luggage, and was compact, fast and durable. Despite its poor performance and smoky two-stroke engine, the car has come to be regarded with affection as a symbol of East Germany and of the fall of communism, as many East Germans streamed into West Berlin and West Germany in their Trabants after the opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It was in production without any significant change for nearly 30 years.

The name Trabant means "satellite" in German; the cars are often referred to as the Trabi, pronounced with a short a. Since it could take 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 skillful in maintaining and repairing it.

There were two principal variants of the Trabant, the Trabant 500, also known as the Trabant P 50, produced 1957-1963; and the Trabant 601 (or Trabant P 60 series), produced from 1963 to 1991. The engine for both the Trabant 500 and 601 was a small two-stroke engine with two cylinders, giving the vehicle modest performance. At the end of production it delivered 25 horsepower (19 kW) from a 600 cc displacement. The car took 21 seconds from 0 to 100 km/h and the top speed was 112 km/h. The main problem with the engine was the smoky exhaust and the pollution it produced.

The Trabant was a steel monocoque design with roof, bootlid, bonnet 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 did not provide much crash protection, although in crash tests it has actually proved to be superior to some modern small hatchbacks. The Trabant was the second car to use Duroplast, after the "pre-Trabant" P70 model (1954-1959).

More than three million Trabants were made.


The Trabant was not a particularly advanced car when it was launched; by the late 1950s small cars in western countries mainly used cleaner and more efficient four-stroke engines, as employed in the Volkswagen. 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 obsolete Trabant remained in production 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, and much of the work was carried out by Vietnamese guest workers. In 1989, a smaller 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 coach spring-suspended chassis with one using MacPherson and Chapman struts. However, by the time it entered production in May 1990, German reunification had already been agreed to. 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.

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 possibly resulted from an East German derogatory term for the car: "Rennpappe" or "race-cardboard".) 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.

In the late 1990s, the Trabant was supposedly put back into production in Uzbekistan as the Olimp. However, after the 1997 notice, evidence is lacking that this really happened.

In 1997, the Trabant was celebrated for passing the "Elchtest" ("moose test"), a 60 km/h 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".


  • Trabant 500 (Limousine and Universal - Combi)
  • Trabant 601 (Limousine and Universal - Combi)
  • Trabant 601 S & Trabant 601 De Luxe (With optional equipment including rear and front anti-fog lights, rear white light and an additional odometer)
  • Trabant 601 Hycomat (Made for users with crippled or unfunctional left leg. It had included an automatic clutching system)
  • Trabant 1.1 (Limousine and Universal - Combi)


  • Early P50 (Now in Sachsenring Museum. Built in 1954)
  • Trabant 603 (Build with the Eisenach factory that produced Wartburg. Built in 1979)
  • Trabant 601 (Whole body was made from steel. Never went in production becouse of costs of production. Built in 1982)
  • Trabant Hatchback (Probably a custom car, not an actual prototype from the factory. You can see it in Sachsenring Museum)
  • Trabant Diesel (It used a very small (about 900ccm) diesel engine. Many of the improvements where further used in the production model of Trabant 1.1 . Build in 1986, you can see it in Sachsenring Museum)
  • Early Trabant 1.1 (It had a various body style than the producion model. Built in 1988)

Trabants in popular culture

The rock group U2 used Trabants as props on their Zoo TV Tour, including several vehicles suspended from the ceilings of concert halls. These cars can now be seen suspended from the ceiling at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.

A feature film about the Trabant, Go Trabbi Go, a comedy about an East German family making their way across Europe released shortly after reunification. In it, they highlight the performance gap between it and newer models, but it was regardless a film laced with admiration.

A bright blue Trabi features in Good Bye Lenin!, the award-winning German film made in 2003 about the fall of the wall.

A scene in the movie Black Cat, White Cat by Emir Kusturica shows a Trabant being eaten slowly by pigs. This is referred to by the Serbian rock group Atheist Rap (Ateist Rep), which has a song named "Wartburg limuzina" in which they mention that pigs ate a half of their "Trabant". They also have a separate song, "Blue Trabant".

In the 1996 Czech film Kolja, the protagonist is ecstatic at finally getting a Trabant.

The name of the Czech band Traband is an obvious pun, also name of Icelandic electro-rock band Trabant, just like the Polish rock band Los Trabantos.

The Trabant can be also seen several times in the videogame Half-Life 2 produced by Valve Corporation.

The Trabant also appears in the videogame Interstate '82 as a secret car, the Stein PappKarton. According to the game, the PappKarton was made in an East German refrigerator factory. The German word Pappkarton translates to cardboard box.

A long-running parody in the U.S. automotive magazine Car and Driver in the late 1980s (before the Berlin Wall opened) showed its competitor Motor Trend fawning over the Trabant and declaring it "Car of the Year."


Volkswagen Group

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Current Models: NT

Historic cars: P70 · P50 · 500 · 600 · 601 · 1.1

Racing: 800 RS

Patrick Hünniger

Jørgen Skafte Rasmussen Corporate website A brand of NDK

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