Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Trabant 601 Road Test from 1966.

Statue in the grounds of the Trabant factory ruins on same site as Horch Museum.

Road Test: Trabant 601          

Extract from a 1966 edition of the West German magazine “Hobby”
(translated).

In your opinion, what is the cheapest: the Goggomobil 250 or the Fiat 500?
Neither – the Trabant 601 from Saxony is even cheaper: a proper family car
with a 600cc engine! So what’s its secret? As we’re technicians not
journalists, we are only going to study the car and what it has to offer the
buyer.

For someone buying a small car, the biggest attraction is low maintence costs
(especially when it comes to the body). With this in mind, the Trabant’s unitary
construction Duroplast body is ideal. We still don’t know if this material is as strong as glass reinforced plastic.
Nevertheless, replacement panels are certainly well priced: a front wing costs DM36.75, a rear wing DM39.75, a door
panel DM37.95, a bonnet DM72.00 and a roof panel DM98.40. (Prices from the importer in Hamburg). The body as a
whole is very stable and rigid. To test this we drove over some roads that haven’t been repaired since Roman times
(sic). Uneven surfaces were easily detectable through the stiff suspension, but nf a Renault 4. The French offering is more precise – it is immediately apparent where
each gear is to be found. In the Trabant, we had to retake our acceleration measurements several times because we
found the gearchange difficult to work. Fortunately, there is a version fitted with an automatic clutch system called
“Hycomat” that we cannot recommend enough, even though we were convinced that you could get used to the manual
gearchange. The synchromesh on all four gears works well, while the fourth gear incorporates a free-wheel system that
cannot be switched off.

According to the manufacturer’s data, the Trabant can accelerate from 0 to 80km/h in 20.7 seconds. With a brand new
car and difficulties with the gear change, the best we could measure was 3 seconds over this time, but we would like to
belive that Zwickau’s figures are as accurate as their speedometer. We achieved an acceleration from 0 to 60km/h in

12.9 se conds using only the first three gears – you don’t need to change up to second until 45km/h and similarly third
isn’t needed until 70km/h. We did not wish to risk overloading the new engine, and in addition the test car was for
publicity and not a factory model.
Roadholding and tyres

the 1,000,000th Trabant in 1973
Front-wheel drive and floating rear axle: what could happen? We had a hard job to keep the car under control when the
rear end slid out on a paved roundabout – and that was only at a speed of 40km/h! We initially thought that the tyres
were causing the problem; the factory-fitted rubber could not even pretend to be up to modern standards. In addition,
the weight distribution over the axles is designed for a fully loaded car: 450kg on the front axle and 550kg on the rear.
With only two passengers in the front the handling is very different.

Fortunately, the rack and pinion steering is quite direct (but on the other hand quite heavy), allowing any “wandering” to
be quickly corrected. The turning circle (9.5m) is particularly good for a front-wheel drive car.
The suspension is hard. The transverse front leaf springs transmit every bump and rumble into the cabin, especially
my own 1989 601 Kombi
when there are only two people in the car. It is for this reason that, on the Lloyd, leaf springs were replaced with coils
(like on the new Wartburg from Eisenach). The floating rear axle was perfect for the heavy AU 100, but for the Trabant it
is too firm.

Our verdict on the Trabant

Someone who buys a car in this price category does so for a reason, usually for economy. You need a robust car that
you can maintain and, if needs arise, repair by yourself. The Trabant certainly meets these requirements! We’ve
researched the prices of spare parts and can conclude that they are as well priced as the car itself. There is nothing
complicated about this car, and it is with this that we can see a big opportunity for the Trabant which, naturally, is not
supported by a wide-reaching dealer network. It is a family vehicle in which you head off on holiday in without sacrificing
on camping gear. The loading capacity of 385kg does not slow the car down, in fact it improves handling. The governed
two stroke engine is economical, with a fuel consumption of 7 to 9 liters/100km, reflecting the economy of the rest of the
car. The final case for the Trabant is its pleasant profile that departs from the typical small-car look. The engine and
chassis may not be the most up-to-date, but for this amount of money, you can’t have it all.




Forlorn Trabant factory Feb 2011

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