Trabant 601 (1964 – 1991) Review

Trabant 601 (1964 – 1991) At A Glance


+Anti-establishment image

-Everything else

Known almost universally simply by its marque name in the UK, the Trabant was briefly Europe's most symbolic car in the aftermath of the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989-1990. Its time in the spotlight didn't last long - the novelty wore off for Westerners once the horrible truth emerged about how bad it was to drive. The Eastern Europeans shunned it once they had the opportunity to lay their hands on secondhand Golfs, and Duraplast-bodied Trabbies soon ended up littering scrapyards across the continent. An enthusiastic following has subsequently emerged, mainly as an anti-establishment statement or through nostalia for Communist times gone by.

It's hard to believe that these were descendents of some of Europe's most forward-looking cars - the Trabant 601's roots lay in IFA, the East German association of carmakers – Audi, DKW, Framo and Phänomen – nationalised by the new East German government. But the Trabant didn't move on - and the 601 was effectively a pre-war DKW in a newer suit. Developed from the 600, the 601 entered production in 1964 with almost no development over its predecessor. Various 601s bodystyles were on offer, the most popular being the saloon, known as the Limousine. Alternatively there was the option of a military version, an estate (the Universal) or a cabriolet, constructed by Osnabruck-based coachbuilder Osterman.

During 26 years of production there was little development. From 1965, an automatic gearbox was offered as an option and in 1969 an extra 3bhp was added to the engine. 12-volt electrics arrived in 1983 and from May 1990 a 1.1-litre VW Polo engine was used. With the new power unit on board, acceleration in this lightweight saloon was almost indecently quick. But the Trabant's strongest point was its reliability, based on its simplicity – important when its customers had little money to fix it when it went wrong. These models are proving to be some of Germany's least likely Q-cars – when upgraded to supercharged G40 spec.