What were the cars of East Germany and why did they disappear
Here they made cars from cotton production waste and dreamed of transferring from a German car to the Volga. Why they loved and why they scolded East German cars
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Exactly 33 years ago, on August 31, 1990, an agreement was signed between West and East Germany on the latter’s joining the former. The country called the GDR has disappeared. Almost immediately, the distinctive automotive industry of the East Germans disappeared. However, she did not completely disappear. And it’s not even about the remnants of cars that have survived so far, which are structurally incapable of rusting. And in premium cars, which are still produced in the eastern lands of the country.
German factories were taken to the USSR
In 2006, the Moscow plant “Moskvich” was declared bankrupt. The workshops at that time had been empty for a long time, the windows were broken, the doors were broken, and anyone could arrange a tour of the enterprise. Among other things, visitors were surprised by the abundance of pre-war German equipment used for the production of cars until the beginning of the 21st century.
There is no secret in this, and there is even some historical justice. Once Slavic tribes inhabited an area called Branibor, from where they were subsequently squeezed out by the Germans and pushed far to the east. Branibor became Brandenburg, so SlavicLipetsk turned into German Leipzig.
In 1945, the Slavs as part of the soldiers of the Soviet Red Army returned to their ancestral lands in east Germany and took with them from Brandenburg, from the Opel plant, equipment for the production of cars in Moscow, as well as GAS in present-day Nizhny Novgorod.
The remaining automobile plants remaining in the zone controlled by the USSR were partially destroyed by that time, partially transported to the USSR. This was the foundation for the formation of the automobile industry of the GDR, in which German engineering genius and accuracy were intertwined with the Soviet planned economy and systematic lack of resources.
Socialist car at the start of the Grand Prix
EMW R2, 1953 (Photo: autosportworld.info )
In 1953, when there was no Berlin Wall yet, and the Iron Curtain was only threatening to descend on Europe, racer Edgar Barth stood on the 24th place of the starting grid of the German Grand Prix, which was held at the Nurburgring circuit. It was both an F2 race, a stage of the German championship, and part of the World Championship, that is, in fact, Formula 1.
Bart successfully started, but never got to the finish line: after a solid 12 laps (the length of the lap in the Nurburgring exceeds 20 km), the piston burned out in his car, and the rider had to leave the race, and at the same time forever go down in history as the only pilot in the the history of Formula 2, which performed on a car completely made in the country of the socialist bloc.
Car model EMW R2 1953 (Photo: formula143.org)
Bart performed on an EMW R2 car with an inline gasoline six under the hood. If it seems to you that talking about a sports car with an inline six-cylinder engine named EMW, we made a mistake by one letter in its name, then you are not far from the truth. This was the name of the cars produced by the former BMW factory in Eisenach in post-war East Germany.
Even the emblems of the two brands looked identical. A blue and white cross in a circle on the hood of Bavarian cars is mistakenly called a propeller by many, recalling the aviation past of the brand, but in fact it is a fragment of the flag of Bavaria. Einsenach also has a flag, which already has a red and white knight’s cross on it. And until the mid-1950s, the GDR produced EMW 327 and EMW 340 cars with white and red crosses in a circle on the hood based on pre-war BMWs.
EMW 340, 1954 (Photo: autowp.ru)
And it is this brand that will put its own car at the start of the German Grand Prix. The plant’s management convinced the local communist authorities that if they could overtake the West German BMW in the race, it would be an excellent demonstration of the advantages of the socialist system. And you know what? Edgar Barth, of course, dropped out of the race. But in qualifying he was ahead of three of the four cars with BMW engines. And the victory in that race still remained for Ferrari.
Cars in which it was forbidden to brake the engine
EMW production in Einsenach came to naught by the end of the 1950s. The old cars were outdated, and besides, they were too expensive for ordinary residents of the GDR. And the uneasy citizens of a socialist country were quickly offered nomenclature cars of Soviet production — «Volga ».
That’s why the more democratic German pre-war brand Wartburg was revived at the former BMW factory. If you look at the photos of these cars, you will probably think about domestic “Lada”. So, structurally, cars from East Germany had nothing in common with Lada.
Wartburg 353, 1967 (Photo: autowp.ru)
Imagine that there was so little equipment left in the automobile factories in the GDR that they simply could not make volumetric motors there. But there was a wealth of experience in the production of engines for motorcycles. In those years, there was only one way to make a motor both powerful and compact, that is, suitable for a motorcycle. And this is a two-stroke working scheme instead of the usual four-stroke one in the automotive industry.
And Wartburg were equipped with two-stroke engines, and three-cylinder. And they were one of the first cars in the socialist camp with front-wheel drive!
In general, the entire Soviet motorcycle industry was somehow born in East Germany. So, the pre-war DKW motorcycle models became the basis for the Minsk, Voskhod and Izh models at once. And «Ural» and «Dnepr» turned out to be from pre-war BMWs hailing from Einsenach.
And it was the Urals with the Dnieper that were the only four-stroke motorcycles in the USSR. It is all the more surprising that two-stroke engines were chosen for Wartburg cars.
Wartburg 311, 1957 (Photo: autowp.ru)
It would seem, what’s the big deal? And the fact that the oil in the cylinders of such engines comes together with gasoline. And if you go downhill with the gear on, braking the engine and not pressing on the gas, then it does not lubricate and fails. Therefore, an overrunning clutch was installed on the Wartburg by default, as on a bicycle, which, when releasing the gas, disconnected the wheels from the motor. The coupling could be forcibly locked.
Now from the former BMW factory, where EMW and Wartburg were produced, only one workshop remains, converted into a museum. But the workers were not left idle. Already in the early 1990s, a new Opel company was erected nearby, which exists to this day and gladly hired hardworking East Germans.
In the USSR there was not only sex, but also road sports cars. Well, except, of course, “Zaporozhets” for a rear-engined sports coupe with an independent suspension in a circle.
There were no such cars in the countries of the socialist camp. Almost none. Because there was a Melkus RS 1000. Hans Melkus, a resident of Dresden, organized the production of such cars with doors that opened according to the “Seagull Wing” scheme, rear-wheel drive and rear-mounted powertrain.
Hans Melkus and the prototype of the Melkus RS 1000 car, 1969 (Photo: autowp.ru )
Sounds cool? All right. But there were, of course, problems. The main ones are connected with the component base, which in the GDR was, to put it mildly, limited. So, some of the suspension parts from the Melkus RS 1000 were borrowed from Trabant, and the engine was taken from Wartburg. Only one liter of working volume, but thanks to the two-stroke cycle, 68 hp was removed from it at that time, and such a car weighed 690 kg. 1 hp per 10 kg of curb weight was quite a decent indicator. The maximum speed of 165 km/h was also impressive.
For comparison, in those same years, Germany offered a Porsche 912 with a 91 hp engine, but weighing 968 kg.
Melkus RS 1000, 1970 (Photo: autowp.ru)
Alas, for the entire time of production, only 101 Melkus RS 1000 cars were made. And after the unification of Germany, Hans Melkus opened a BMW showroom in Dresden instead of resuming production.
The main car of the GDR
The Wartburg cars were interesting in technical terms, relatively spacious and comfortable, but still not as unusual as the next hero of this story. Yes, we are talking about the Trabant, the most popular, the most anecdotal and the most advanced car in East Germany.
Composite body. Front-wheel drive. Independent suspension of all wheels. And all this in the 1950s! It sounds great if cars with minor changes were not produced until the 1990s, becoming a symbol of the squalor and stagnation of the socialist type of economy.
Trabant P50, 1957 (Photo: autowp.ru )
Trabant became a kind of response of the USSR to the reproaches that equipment is only taken away from Germany, but not returned. A brand new factory in Zwickau was built for this model.
The first machines rolled off the assembly line in 1957, they were named Sputnik in honor of the first success of the Soviet space program. In German, the satellite is — Trabant.
This model, about which the Germans themselves said “a couple of spark plugs and a roof”, is commonly called a German “Zaporozhets”, but it differs from the Soviet car too seriously. Let’s start with the minuses, and among them the main one is again a two-stroke engine.
Under the hood of the Trabant 600, 1962 (Photo: autowp.ru)
Such engines lose to four-stroke engines in terms of durability, fuel consumption and environmental friendliness, and win only in terms of specific power. But in the GDR, the choice was simple — if you don’t want a Trabant, save up your whole life for a prestigious Soviet-made car inaccessible to ordinary Germans.
But even if you want to, you’ll have to stand in line for up to seven years. But there was an opportunity here to sell a brand-new car for two or even three government prices. There was demand.
What are the advantages? A unique body made of a steel frame and panels made of duroplast, a material obtained from the waste of Soviet cotton production in Uzbekistan and German resins that held it all together. It turned out to be durable, cheap and surprisingly durable. In East Germany, to this day, you can still find the remains of such “Trabants” who do not even think of rotting.
Trabant 601 Universal, 1965 (Photo: autowp.ru )
More than 3 million Trabant cars have been produced in the GDR for all time. Advanced in the 1950s and completely obsolete in the 1990s. Now graffiti with such a car punching through the Berlin Wall has become one of the attractions of the city.
Germans returned to Lipetsk
After August 31, 1990, the original East German automotive industry had no more than a year to live. But this does not mean that cars have stopped being produced on the territory of the GDR.
Now in the city of Leipzig, which in ancient times was called Lipetsk (historians and linguists argue Lipetsk or Lipsk, but this is exactly the Slavic name in honor of the linden tree), one of the most advanced BMW productions has been created.
A glass manufactory has been built in Dresden for a long time, where Volkswagen Phaeton executive sedans were once assembled, and Touareg SUVs have been made since then.
“Glass manufactory” in Dresden (Photo: Stephan Schulz/Global Look Press)
Automobile production in the lands of the former GDR has not stopped. But the era ended, which presented unusual cars with two-stroke engines and cars with bodies built from what is considered garbage in Uzbekistan.
Looking at modern BMW and Mercedes, you realize their absolute superiority over Wartburg and Trabant. However, the path of the German automotive industry to success was, to put it mildly, thorny. Suffice it to recall that it began with the refusal of the British to export Volkswagen equipment to themselves, since in their opinion the Beetle model was so poor that it did not fit the great British automobile industry in any way. However, as actor Leonid Kanevsky says, this is a completely different story.