Monday, January 4, 2010


The Trabant, or “Trabi”, was the most common vehicle in East Germany. Its main selling point was that it had room for four adults, plus luggage, in a compact shell. More than 3 million cars were produced over almost 30 years and without any significant changes.

The usual waiting time for a Trabant was 15 years and it cost about a year’s salary. The average lifespan was 28 years and used Trabis would often fetch a higher price than new ones because a new one took so long to get.

The Trabant was made of Duroplast - plasticized cotton waste treated with resin. This didn’t really provide much in the way of crash protection but at least the government didn’t have to import expensive steel. So this was the first car with a body made out of recycled material, and then mounted on a metal frame. So no rust…just look after the chassis.

Here's an old East German commercial for the Trabi.

Some of the car’s challenges…
The two-cylinder engine ran on a mixture of oil and gas. To refuel you had to lift the hood, fill the tank with a maximum 24 liters (6 gallons), add two-stroke oil and shake it back and forth to mix.
There was no fuel gauge. But when the light went on for the reserve tank you had better get to a gas station quickly.
There were four speeds but it took a little while to get used to the column mounted gear change.

No brake lights or turn signals.

Not many driving comforts…the rear windows were glued shut, no carpeting, no glove box. But there was a heater…a fan would blow hot engine air into the interior, along with exhaust fumes.
There is even a Brno Trabi Car Club.


  1. What an interesting post!
    Thanks Chris. Were they loved or hated? How about now?

  2. A cheerful, but inaccurate post. There WERE brake lights and turn indicators, they are visible (albeit unlit) on the photo. On the other hand, there was no light for the fuel tap, only the sputtering motor was indicating the need to turn to reserve. Fuel gauge was certainly not fitted, but a black plastic ruler was supplied to stick in the tank and thus check the level - seriously.

    While one could mix the oil manually if needed, in most communist countries those days oil-petrol premix was sold at petrol stations.

  3. I have a trabant in Bulgaria but can't get a diagram of the gear change for it do you know ? just simple