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Monday, December 27, 2010

This article is taken from the New York Times from 2008 and describes the Trabi safari tours available in Berlin, where you drive a trabi along city streets.


A Red Menace That You Can Drive Yourself

Towle Tompkins for The New York Times
In Germany, you can drive like a native in a Trabant.
Published: November 26, 2008
BERLIN
Jessica York for The New York Times
Some cars in the tour were painted as a zebra and giraffe.
Towle Tompkins for The New York Times
With an exterior made of plastic, you can't expect luxury inside.
OSTENSIBLY, there’s not a whole lot to love about a car that creaks like an out-of-warranty pirate ship and spews more smoke than a Winston Churchill-Fidel Castro summit could have produced. Yet, somehow, the Trabant I drove here recently has a primitive charm — along with an aroma of burning oil and smoldering brakes.
There are several ways to tour Germany’s capital city: by foot, tour bus, taxi, bicycle or the U-Bahn subway system. But, for those who want to steep themselves in cold war history, a Trabant transports you to the 1960s.
While Saabs were “born from jets” and Jaguars were “born to perform,” Trabants were born out of desperation. From 1957 to 1991, as West Germany made BMWs, Porsches and Mercedes-Benzes, East Germany took the road less traveled.
Because the economy was so bereft, the communist government decided to convert a plant that made motorcycles and tractors into a car factory. Thus was born the Trabant, a symbol for the failings of state-supervised industry. The body was made of plastic and the car plodded along with a 26-horsepower 500-cubic-centimeter 2-stroke 2-cylinder engine.
By East German standards of the time, the price, about $3,000, was not cheap. And although the car cost about a year’s salary, it still was not easy to obtain — after placing the order, an owner could wait 15 years for delivery.
Demand for the Trabant (and for the Wartburg, another woeful East German car) ended once the Berlin Wall came down and East and West were reunified. Easterners were then free to buy Western vehicles, and Trabant sales collapsed.
Today, there are collector rallies and Trabi clubs in Europe and North America, but I did not see any Trabants in the German cities I visited this fall. Which is what makes my driving one through Berlin so special.
The good news is that the Trabant is twice as powerful as a Sears Craftsman two-stage snow blower; the bad news is that it’s twice as loud. It is also not easy to shift.
In fact, not much is easy on a Trabant. The wheel wells could hide pregnant bulldogs. Two knobs the size of Captain Kangaroo’s buttons control the heat and the windshield wipers, which are slower than a stretching class on a senior citizens’ cruise. The tachometer is a series of green and yellow lights with no numbers. The needle on the speedometer (which optimistically goes to 75 m.p.h.) bounces as if it’s auditioning for the Richter scale.
The column-mounted manual shift is a puzzle. It is moved down for first and up for second, then a return to neutral to push in the lever and then down again for third and up for fourth. For reverse, it’s a return-to-neutral-and-push-all-the-way-in-and-down maneuver.
There is no fuel gauge.
The interior of my car had tan and rose-colored vinyl and cloth, and the exterior paint was what Trabant called Frog Green; an appropriate name would have been Gulag Green.
An Audi A8 it isn’t. Which was why the driver of the one behind me was impatient as I accelerated away when the traffic light near the Reichstag turned green and I found myself in third, not first. Not that I was going to burn much rubber when the shift points on this P601 S model were 15 m.p.h. for second and 28 m.p.h. for third. (I never made it to fourth.) The car accelerates from 0 to 60 m.p.h. in about 20 seconds, proving, perhaps, that the “S” in the model name stands not for socialist, but for sluggish.
Thanks to their Duroplast bodies (a weight- and money-saving composite of plastic and cotton-waste fiberglass), a Trabant weighs only 1,355 pounds. Trabants can hold four people and some luggage in a body about the size of a Fiat 124 sedan of the late 1960s.
But people notice this car when it explores Berlin, thanks to a company called Trabi Safari. It has several dozen Trabants and offers guided tours from its location at what sounds like a microfilm drop in a John le Carré novel — the BalloonGarten at the corner of Zimmerstrasse and Wilhelmstrasse.
In the passenger seat was a colleague, Logan Pingree, who appeared slightly amused riding in a vehicle that probably wouldn’t get a call back from the producers of the movie “Cars.” Behind us were two more colleagues, Jessica York and Brian Emerson, in a Trabant. Ahead of us was Simone Matern and Julie Robert of Trabi Safari. Ms. Robert was driving and Ms. Matern was narrating a tour of Berlin via a walkie-talkie — companion units of which were in holders on the dashboards of our vehicles.
An unintended safety feature of a Trabant: you would never even think about using a cellphone while driving. All of your brain’s bandwidth is occupied by shifting to keep the car in the flow of traffic, the concentration to maintain the engine revs high enough that you don’t stall and the concern about whether the brakes will actually work if a truck suddenly blocks your path.
On the tour, as the car passed some iconic structures of the once-divided city — the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate and Gendarmenmarkt Square — I began to understand how this slow, cheaply made, quirky vehicle became so popular. It represented a glimmer of freedom in a rigidly controlling society. While that era has long passed, some of these diminutive cars still motor on, powered by nostalgia, and, no doubt, a loophole in Germany’s recently enacted smoking ban.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Surprising Stats! Come and say hello??

Just had a look at the stats for this blog and I'm amazed at the traffic it has generated.
People from all over the world, Usa, Canada, Uk, Hungary, Germany, Poland, Russia, The Netherlands and many other's have looked at this blog.
Well, I only hope you all found something of interest.

Please feel free to leave a comment on any of my posts and drop me an email if you're a fellow classic car owner, whatever the car may be. I'd love to hear from you.
 Merry Christmas to all who reads it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Pretty quiet now on the run up to Christmas

Nothing much to report these days.
Trabi is running great and I've had it out a few times. But , with Christmas looming and the snowy weather here at the moment, it will be the new year before there's any more to report.

I did buy some nice chrome lettering insignia to replace the old tired plastic, "Sachsenring and Trabant" signs on my car, similar to the ones I got for my Wartburg, which you may have seen in the pictures.
Next job is to take the old lettering off, fit the new chrome ones and spray the bonnet and the area around the rear light clusters( common area on trabis where paint comes off).
Then a good wash and polish and that's as much as I'm doing for the next season, unless something crops up.
Pictures and content to follow when the above jobs are completed.

My son and I are heading to Germany next February. We're flying into Schonefeld airport, from Dublin and picking up a rental car, which we'll drive to Eisenach and then onto Zwickau, before making our way back to Berlin. We're going to see the two Car museums, namely homes of the Wartburg and Trabant and all the other cars that came before them. Can't wait.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wartburg left last Sunday

Well, kinda sad to see it go when the time came, but the car has gone now and to a nice fella as well.
I had the car washed and spotless, which was a bit pointless really as it got plastered in dirt, snow and ice on the journey from me to South Wales, where it will be staying now.
I really couldn't afford to keep the two cars and the trabi still needs a bit of work doing so, the Wartburg was the one to go.
Wartburg 353 tourist's ( at least good ones) are pretty thin on the ground lately and will be hard to get, I feel, in the not too distant future.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The hinges are fitted and my Wartburg is going to a new home.

Got the new hinges fitted to the Trabi. Not as easy a job as I thought it would be.
Original IFA hinges are no longer available, only after market ones can be bought nowadays and they're not the highest quality. The fit is also different and if you're not extremely careful, the alignment of the door will be affected and the tail gate will not close or lock properly.
I managed it anyway, in the end and put the shock arms back in place, after giving them a spray of lubrication fluid. Mind you, the air was pretty blue for a while and it wasn't from the two stroke engine!

Next job is to respray the bonnet, which was the most tatty area of the paintwork.
After that, just a couple of touch-ups here and there and that's as much as I'm doing.
I like the idea of having a Trabi that's very original, but looks smart as well.
I had toyed with the idea of a respray but decided against it.

My Wartburg 353 Tourist has been sold and is going shortly to it's new owner in Wales.
I couldn't keep two cars and the Trabi still needs work, so one had to go.
I'm happy it's gone to a good home and will be enjoyed and looked after.
It's due to go this weekend, but the weather will probably have the final say.