Monday, January 31, 2011

My Trabi Story.

It was in the last days of August 2010 that I noticed via email, that a fellow member of the
IFA uk club had posted on the club forum, he had a Trabant for sale.
Now, if you read my earlier  writings you'll know I had just gotten my Wartburg 353
Tourist up to scratch, with a number of jobs completed and I had started taking the car to
shows and to enjoy it.
But, I had always wanted a Trabi and bought the Wartburg as a second choice, as there
was little available in the Trabi market at the time.

The Trabant on sale was a 601 Universal or Kombi model as I prefer to call it and
although it needed a bit of welding, it had had a fair bit of recent work done to it and had
eight months mot and six months tax.Furthermore, it was a November 1989 model, which
of course was the same month and year that the Berlin Wall opened.
This also meant that the car was one of the last of the two stroke models to be made, before
they changed to the four stroke Volkswagen engine for the last year or so of production.
Furthermore, this car had the rear coil spring suspension, that was fitted to the last models
along with Electronic ignition as standard.
It was the model that ticked all the boxes for me. Electronic ignition is a huge advantage
to two strokes as I knew from my Wartburgs and being Nov '89 with the revised suspension,
there was no earlier model that could have appealed to me more.
( Well, ok, maybe I'd prefer a Kubel if the price was the same!)
I knew that from 1983, trabants had 12 volt electrics and from 1974, the petrol/fuel mix changed
from 33:1 to 50:1 which meant the later ones had a few changes that would make a big
difference. An added bonus was this car was the Kombi model which although not hugely
important, I preferred it to the saloon.

The car was owned by Richard Hemington ( now Club secretary), whom I didn't know and had
previously been owned by Professor Lew Schnurr, who had bought the car in the early nineties
in Berlin and brought it back to Britain, where he drove it daily for a number of years.
He is also the man who translated the 'Trabant Owners handbook' from German to English.
The car had been forward and back to Berlin a number of times and had also covered part
of Scandinavia and the Alps.
It had covered just over sixty thousand kilometres from new.

I was very interested and emailed the owner to find out more about the car and the extent of the
work it needed.
Not that much as it turned out.

There were two small holes in one of the inner wheel arches, near the battery tray which would
need fixing.
The worst problem was that the both door sills- the top part that you see when you
open a door were rusted through. But the good news here was that new sills were supplied
with the car, which made it a labour only job and a lot simpler.
Only other problem the car had was that water had leaked through the holes near the
battery tray onto the floor area in front of the front seats and although still solid, it needed
fixing and then painted.
I knew this last job was one that I could tackle myself and would enjoy seeing the end
result, so the work needing done didn't faze me.
He told me it was excellent mechanically and he wouldn't hesitate to drive it anywhere.

Richard sent me about fifty photographs in a large file, so I could see the car from
virtually every angle and gave me some more info.
The car had new brake cylinders and new brake shoes all round, new windscreen,
recent tyres, new bonnet frame and battery.
Problem was, he was in Colchester and I was in Ireland, so if I traveled to see it, I
really had to buy it, otherwise it would be a complete waste of time and money.
He was offering the car at a very reasonable price, considering it had a decent mot
and tax and was a good runner.
He also said there might be a possibility he could meet me at East Midlands airport
with the car if I bought it, which was probably what clinched the deal more than anything
else. I would have to drive the 175 miles to Holyhead from there to get the Ferry back
to Ireland, which was a whole lot more palatable than flying into London and driving from
Colchester to Holyhead!
Added to this, he said he had loads of spare parts and if I wanted to buy some with the
car he'd come back with prices. For some reason this never panned out, maybe he wanted
to keep his spares after thinking about it. Anyway, I wasn't too bothered about them.
I did think the car was being offered at a very low price and I wondered if it could be as
good as it sounded.
However, I place great faith in communication and the communication with Richard was
first class. He answered all my questions promptly and accurately and was upfront at all
The fact he was a club member, I also placed value upon as generally people who join
car clubs are enthusiasts and likely to have looked after their cars.
I did wonder would there be any rust in places where it couldn't be seen, like the
chassis for example, but he assured me there wasn't and it did of course have a long
Also, I knew that the two holes he told me about, couldn't be seen from under the
bonnet unless you removed the battery, so I guessed if he hadn't told me I wouldn't
have known about them until the next mot. The fact that he openly told me about them
I took as a good sign.

So I worked out the finances, including the cost of going to collect it and getting home
and decided to go for it.
Flights to East Midlands Airport can be very cheap from Ireland and I got two single
tickets for my son and I for twenty quid all in.
The ferry back to Ireland, from Holyhead was courtesy of Stena and cost just over
one hundred euros, which wasn't too bad. So we got over and back for about two hundred
quid, all in, with petrol and food included.
Best thing about Holyhead crossings to Ireland is that it only takes about three hours and
you're on the road again. Only other option is from Liverpool and that's an overnight boat.
The car drove brilliantly the whole way and we had no problems whatsoever on route.

I'd never driven a Trabant before and was surprised at how good they are to drive.
The gearchange does take a little time to adjust to, but it's plain sailing after that.
The Trabant has had much criticism over it's long  lifespan, from Western critics, but I can now
 say those critics have been wrong and their criticism unjustified.
The steering is tight, accurate,  responsive and the turning circle is fantastic.
My car had recent new brake shoes fitted all round and the car stops up pretty sharp
 and in a straight line.
What surprised me most was how good the little car handles as negative criticism seems
to attack that characteristic more than anything else. You can really chuck the little car
around and its tyres stick to the road admirably. I can now understand how the Trabant won
 so many rallies in the sixties and early seventies.

Most surprising thing is the fuel economy I got.
When I picked the car up, it had 22 litres of fuel in the tank.
I later topped it up with 12 litres, to fill it.     That's 34 litres.
I drove 438km(270 miles approx) when I got the car and it still had 11 litres of fuel in the tank.
So, the car did 270 miles on 23 litres of fuel, which roughly equates to 54 mpg.
I drove the car at 80-85 kmph according to the speedo on the motorway and obviously mixed
speeds on lesser roads. I would say that the motorway miles I covered would be no more than 180.

A week or so after I returned home, I started into doing the work on my Trabi.
I took out pretty much the whole interior, seats, carpeting and rubber matting.
I thorughly washed all and set it aside, ready to put back into the car.
Next, I used Deox C, a type of Rust neutraliser on the rusty floor area, which really did a great
job. I left his for a couple of days to thoroughly dry and gave the whole area two coats of
Lowe's Rust primer. Next day, I sprayed the floor with an aerosol can of 'Papyrus' that I
got from Trabiuk. The finish was better than I could have hoped for, really good.
I then put all the interior back into the car, after mopping and hoovering the
entire floor shell of the car.
I then delivered the car to a local panel beater, who I'd arranged to cut out the old
door sills and splice in the new ones.
I found this guy purely by chance after having had a couple of outright refusals to do
the job, from a couple of similar bodyshops.
Not only was he keen enough to get the job, he would do it for 100 euros which I
thought was great value.
I later found out from Richard, who sold me the car that he had been quoted
750 pounds for the same job in London, which explained the low asking price for
the car.
The door sills turned out very well and it was reassuring to fnd out that the bottom sills
underneath those being replaced were totally solid.
The panel beater left them primed and ready for painting, which I did myself with a
spray can in one hand and a hairdryer in the other!
Hard technique to recommend or explain, but they turned out well.

My brother asked me recently what driving a Trabant was like.
I thought about it and said, it's like driving a road legal bumper car.
He asked me to elaborate and I described it as similar to the sense of fun you
had as a boy at the fairground when you got a go on the bumper cars.
It puts a smile on your face.

I found it inevitable that I would compare the Trabi to the Wartburg and they are
both similar and different in many ways.
They use a lot of the same switchgear and the door handles are the same, on the
outside anyway.
Despite the Wartburg being watercooled, the two stroke technology is the same and
it feels like a bigger, more powerful version of the trabant engine.
In East Germany, the Wartburg typically sold for 2 to 3 times the price of a Trabant, so
naturally was considered to be better and the car many people aspired to.
It's really just a bit bigger and faster and they don't handle as well as the Trabant.
They are of course much heavier and possibly safer, although I'm not certain about that
one as the Trabant is a very strong car for its size and weight.
The Wartburg engine fitted to the Trabant as many have done would add a big power and
speed boost, but to the detriment of originality.
I much prefer the column gear change of the Trabant to the floor change of the Wartburgs
I had and the Trabant feels and looks more like a classic car than the 353.
If I had another Wartburg I'd like one of the column change models, preferably a 311 or
pre 1985 353.
The Wartburg has much more space and a bigger boot.
People regularly assume my trabant is 40-50 years old, so classic is its design and the style
of the Trabant definitely has more character than the Wartburg 353, which is the typical
Russian box style not unlike lada's. Although I do feel they're a much better car than
the Lada.
Both IFA cars  have their followers and I like them both.
I feel though that a new Wartburg that cost the price of 2 or 3 Trabants was over-valued
and on that reckoning made the Trabant seriously good value to East Germans, when new.

The car sometimes developed an air lock when sitting for a few hours and
the inline filter would drain itself of fuel. This necessitated fiddling with the fuel lines
until the filter filled up again and then the car would start.
This problem became worse in the days and weeks after I got home, until it got to
the point the car would stop every few hundred yards from what seemed like fuel starvation.

 I changed all the fuel hoses and shortened and tightened them as much as
possible to ensure the gravity flow was in the best possible position. I also
dispensed with the inline filter which I thought might be hindering progress.
Still I had problems and the car kept stopping.
To cut a long story short, it turned out the (T) joining piece that connects the two
fuel lines and the line for the air breather going to the top of the petrol tank was pinched
inwards severely and was causing the airlock which was the problem.
I got a copper T piece from a Plumbers merchants that is far better than the original
flimsy plastic bit that preceded it. Fitted it and problem solved.

The trabi continues to drive well and I make a point of taking it out at least once a week.
I've painted the bonnet which was a bit tatty and around the rear light cluster in black
which is a common area for paint to chip off. I also took the carburettor off, cleaned it thoroughly
and fitted a carb kit while I was at it.
I also T-cutted the whole car and gave it a coat of good wax afterwards.
So short of a respray I can do no more and the car looks and drives as a Trabi should.

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

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 CarrĂ© 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.

I certainly don't agree with a lot of what's said above and there's many inaccuracies present, but it's interesting nonetheless.

Friday, December 24, 2010

How it all started. Part two. The story of my Wartburg 353 Tourist.

Having bought the Wartburg on Ebay, I had the problem of getting it back from the Uk.
The car was in East Sussex, which is almost as difficult a place for me to get to, as could be.
Bringing a car back to Ireland, you have to use either Liverpool/Birkenhead or Holyhead.
There's also a crossing from Fleetwood, but it's not practical, for me anyway.
Plus, I'd have to fly into London, get a train to East Sussex, then drive back the way I'd
came past London again, and continue onto any of the above ports.
Nomatter which ferry port I'd have used, I'd have had a 400-500 mile drive to get there.
The vendor told me that the car had been used very little in the past eighteen months, so
I reckoned the only way for me to get the car home was to use a transporter.
Again, I'd bought a car unseen, but a condition of sale for the car, was that the seller would
put a fresh mot on it at his cost.
So I reckoned with this fresh mot and the fact that the car had had a paint job two years previous
and came with a spare engine, full exhaust system in packaging, new clutch and pressure plate,
used carburettor and a big box of other bits and bobs, it couldn't be too much of a risk.

I went onto a couple of websites for getting transport quotes.
There's a number of these and they let you put in your details and then the transporters
quote you and bid for your custom.
I ended up getting a quote of 350 quid sterling, which I thought was pretty good value.
That was right to my door, so I did pretty well on that one and also became friendly with
the transporter and developed a good contact for future use.
So, I got the car back about a week later and as far as initial impressions go, my heart sank!
For starters, it was absolutely filthy, with the type of ground in dirt that looked like it had been
lying up for a very long time. There were leaf imprints all over the bodywork.
I got it off the transporter and started it up. The engine sounded good, which was a minor respite
to how I was feeling.
The key in the ignition though, felt extremely tight, as if I turned it a fraction more than was necessary
to engage the starter, it would break.
My driveway is quite steep and I drove the car up to the top of it, but it seemed very underpowered
and I just about made it.
After a few minutes idling, the engine developed a bad miss and began running very roughly.
I turned it off for the moment, until I got the transporter sorted and away.
I checked the car over and realised that the ignition key was a copy and wasn't right for the car.
When you engaged the starter, it would often as not, fail to disengage after firing.
This was purely down to the key being wrong for the car and sticking.
On occasion, it was even possible to take the key out of the ignition, with the engine still
running and the starter staying stuck!
The wipers didn't work.
One of the headlamps was out.
The indicators didn't work.
The black wartburg insignia was missing on the car.
There was a cd player in the car, minus the detachable cover, which
was an eyesore and totally useless without the cover.
The speedo was either disconnected or broken.
Although the respray on the body had been well done, there was a couple of touch-ups
on the car that had been done with the wrong shade of green, on the tailgate and front
panel that houses the headlamps.
The spare engine and box of parts had been put in the boot
The engine was pushed so tight against the tailgate, that I had great difficulty getting it open.
How the engine didn't smash the rear windscreen on the journey to Ireland, I'll never understand.
Apart from the disappointment I felt, the thought uppermost in my mind  was, 'How did this car
pass an mot four days previously?'
Next day, I started the car and again it fired up with no problems and initially ran well.
Somewhat heartened by this, I took it out for a spin.
I got about a quarter of a mile, before the car started missing badly and making loud and
horrible cranking noises from under the bonnet.
The power also had decreased at the same time, to the point where the car would start but
would not drive.
I had to park the car up and come back later to tow it home.
All I could think of at this moment was, what a good job I didn't arrive in England to
drive the car back!

I'm no mechanic but will do a bit of servicing and basic repairs.
I realised that whatever was wrong with this car was beyond my capabilities and in the
frame of mind I was in, the car seemed to be nothing but a disaster.
I did feel that the loss of power was probably something to do with the fuel pump,
but it could have been anything. The miss in the engine was very worrying, as well
as the noises that accompanied it.
I thought there was a big possibility that the spare engine I'd got with the car, would
be called into use.
So, I towed the car to my mechanic, Noel  and hoped for the best.

The manual fuel pump in the car wasn't working, or would work a little with the choke out.
This explained why the car would drive a short distance, before losing power.
As soon as the choke was disengaged, the car was being completely starved of fuel.
He fitted a new electric fuel pump which worked a treat.
The miss in the car was due in part to the carburettor which ended up having to be rebuilt.
This wasn't as costly as it might have been, due to the fact that the car came with a spare carb.
 Noel used the best parts of both carburettors, to make one as good as possible.
Although greatly improved, the car would still run rough and seemed to only run on two cylinders
at times.
Noel tested the 3 coils individually and they were fine, but he did find a broken earth wire under
them  when he had them out of the car, which was significant.
The original carbon plug leads that were on the car were also faulty and once these were changed
the car ran as sweet as a Wartburg can. New Ngk plugs were also installed.

The speedo it turned out was merely disconnected.
The wipers and indicators are powered by the same fuse, which just needed changing.
A new fuse was needed for the lights as well.
I got a new ignition switch from German Ebay with 2 keys for 25 euro delivered.
I found a seller on Ebayuk who had original chrome 'Wartburg' insignia for sale and
bought a set for about 20 euros and put them on the car.
I got, also from German Ebay, a 'Konstant' radio from a Wartburg 311 and fitted it in place
of the 'half a cd player'.

Shortly after this work was done and the car had been used a few times, the alternator
started playing up. There was no current going to the battery.
I managed to find a brand new one ( old stock) on German ebay
There were both new front brake pads and rear brake shoes in the box of parts, so I fitted these
and changed the gear oil. The coolant system was then flushed and the coolant renewed, along
with a number of hoses that had probably never been changed since the car was new.
I'm not mad on the bright green colour, so I had the tailgate and the front panel that houses the
headlamps sprayed in Ivory white, which complements the green and also hides the touch-ups
that were done in the wrong shade of green.

I was far from happy with the people who sold me the car and told them as much.
To cut a long story short, they agreed to refund me part of the purchase price, which went
a little of the  way to sort the car out.
When you focus on the negative aspects of any car, you are blind to the positives.
The interior of the car is very good, seats and carpets came up great when thoroughly
cleaned. The bodywork is excellent and the underneath is as solid as could be.
The car has a massive history file and lots of receipts.
The car came with an original Ddr toolkit and first aid box which are very nice items.
Likewise, the spare wheel has an original 'Pneumant' winter tyre on it.
Now that the car has been sorted, it's an enjoyable drive and I'd take it anywhere
with confidence.
This car feels faster and fresher than the one I had before. It's also quieter.

The car stands me a good few quid, but I'm now happy with it and I know I'd go a long
ways now to find a better one.
For me, Classic car ownership is as much about keeping cars on the road for as
long as possible, as driving the cars themselves.
This car is as good as I can make it and should provide enjoyment for many years
to come.

I took my fourteen year old son, Iain, to Berlin last week of June this year and we saw some
nice IFA vehicles. I also saw a lovely Wartburg 311 driving along in the Mitte area.
We stayed in Frankfurter Allee and enjoyed the break.
Amongst other places, we visited Sachsenhausen concentration camp and explored
East Berlin quite a bit, including seeing other less known, remaining parts of the Berlin wall.
For those interested in Ddr history, there's a brilliant documentary made by independent
film maker, Ian Hawkins, titled ' My Ddr t-shirt'.
In the film, he speaks to many former Berliners about what life was like in East Germany,
and how their lives were affected in many ways, positively and negatively.
The film is extremely well balanced and speaks to people from East and West.
It's a very well made film with lots of interesting Ddr footage.
He also visits a field full of Trabants.
I've spoken to Ian Hawkins and he has agreed to give a discount on this film to IFA
club members.
It's normally £8, but if purchased through myself it's £7 including P&P

Info on the dvd 'My DDR T-SHIRT:    www.myddrtshirt.co.uk

How it all started

How it all started

my first wartburg
my second car and the best Wartburg type to have. 353 Tourist.
Author's note:
The following was written in late 2009 and subsequently appeared in Knightrider magazine, Winter 2010 edition, along with the next post.

My interest in cars, classic cars to be exact has always leaned towards the unusual, or even 
quirky. With curiosity and great interest I spotted a Wartburg 353 on the front cover of the 
'Classic Car Weekly' on 29th April 2009.
In the cloudy dusty shelves of my mind, I thought the name Wartburg sounded familiar, yet
I couldn't ever remember seeing one before this article.
I had seen the 'Trabant', or rather a field full of them on Tv a few years previous, 
when a local UK Council ordered the owner to move them, and remember hearing they had
a tiny two stroke engine. I thought little of it at the time, but this was the first introduction to
IFA vehicles for me and maybe subconsciously the start of an interest that would become a 

The CCW article was pretty positive reading for the most part and my curiosity was further piqued,
when the article stated that the car's owner had three Wartburgs and wanted to sell one!

My classic car ownership up to this point, had been exclusively French. I'd owned a Citroen
DS, 2 x CX's, a 2CV, Visa and a pretty rare Peugeot 405 4x4 ( with hydraulic rear suspension).
I will always have a soft spot for French cars and their idiosyncrasies, but problems with complex
hydraulics of the CX and particularly the DS, made me yearn for something simpler that I could work 
at myself , without having to consult expensive specialists.
One of the things I've always admired about French Classics is that they invariably have soft
suspensions that  mask bad road surfaces probably better than anything else.
So when Ian Seabrook who wrote the CCW article, commented on the fact that the Wartburg 
soaked up potholes and other road imperfections, better than the modern BMW he was driving,
I was very interested. 

When I first saw the picture of the Wartburg 353, I immediately thought it might be a Peugeot,
the styling clearly looked French to me.
The paper provided an email address only for the vendor, and I sent off an email declaring my interest.
It was about a week or so later that I got a reply. The vendor  had two
Wartburg 353 saloons, a red 1984 one with column change and the 1988 two tone grey and blue one that
was in the paper. The third car he had was a 1986, red 353 Tourist estate model.
He indicated that he might sell two out of the three cars.
Unfortunately I was told that someone had beaten me to it and had been given first refusal on
either the Grey/blue saloon or the Tourist, one of which he seemed certain of purchasing.
It turned out he bought neither and after some protracted emailing with the vendor, I did a deal
for the grey/blue saloon that I'd read about.
Now here's the thing, the vendor lived in Derbyshire and I live in Ireland, so couldn't just pop down the
motorway on spec for a viewing. I bought the car unseen, mainly based on the CCW feature.
I'd never bought a car this way before and almost backed out of it a couple of times, as I wasn't
entirely satisfied with the email correspondence. Whilst email is a great tool at times, written text
can be very ambiguous and one can easily get the wrong impression, or a different impression that
what is intended, which of course works both ways!
Anyway, I sent the vendor a holding deposit and my fears turned out to be unfounded as the car was
as good as I'd hoped it would be.
The vendor was decent enough to meet my thirteen year old son and I at East Midlands Airport and 
bring us back to his place in Loughborough, Derbyshire.

He picked us up in his 353 Tourist, which was a top of the range model with fitted sunroof and an 
olematic oil pump for automatic dispensing and mixing of petrol and two stroke oil.
The vendor explained that these oil pumps were only fitted to cars that were originally exported
to Belgium. The upholstery in this car was also of a higher quality that that of the standard models.
I was very impressed with the Tourist, particularly it's cavernous space, greater practicality, and
plusher interior. When I saw my saloon back at the Vendor's place, my initial feeling was that
I preferred the Tourist and might have plumped for it if the owner hadn't just transferred his personal
plates from the saloon I'd paid the deposit on, to the tourist ( and did not have the V5 back yet).
We had to drive to Liverpool for the boat to Dublin later that evening, so we took the saloon we'd
came for.
The vendor told me that the car was the best driver out of the three cars he owned, and I also
reckoned that he would surely have given Ian Seabrook the best car to test drive and to base
his report on.
The car had been driven to Germany and Belgium in recent years and I knew I was getting
a good car.
The car had been painted it's two tone colouring about six years previously, from it's original solid
grey colour and it still looked very smart.

You really get a sense of how dour and grim, life in the DDR could be when you see the bland
choice of original colours from the seventies onwards. This is in complete contast to the many
beautiful two tone schemes that prevailed in the fifties and sixties.
The car also had had it's original black bumpers changed for chrome ones, to give the car more
of a sixties look and had been very well maintained.
It had had all four wings replaced at some point and had a clutch replaced three years previously.
The three original coils had been replaced in favour of a single coil system and an electric fuel
pump had also been fitted.
The vendor recommended a fuel mixture of 50:1 petrol- 2 stroke oil, despite the fact it said
40:1 in the user manual provided. I certainly had no experience of two stroke cars before, but
had a bit of experience with two stroke bikes and chainsaws and always used a richer mix than
specified. I reckoned a little more oil was safer, as long as you didn't over do it.
So I ran the car on a mix of approximately 40:1, if not slightly richer and it always ran well
for me, free of excess belching or other over-oiling symptoms.
The car also came with a number of useful spares including front brake pads and a
timing belt.

The only thing I didn't like about the car, was that the original gear knob was missing
and had been replaced with an awful, shiny silver, plastic aftermarket one that I thought
was totally out of character with the car's interior.
Despite being a driver of considerable experience and a former taxi driver,
I'd never driven a Wartburg before and found it difficult at first, particularly the gearchange
when making clutchless changes. But these cars are hardy beasts and it forgave my crunching
changes with no ill effects.
After a while, I sussed out that you needed to listen for the engine revs to drop, before changing
up a gear, in order to effect a smooth change and maintain progress.
Once I'd mastered this, I started to enjoy the drive to Liverpool.
Wartburgs really offer a classic driving experience that harks back to a much earlier era
and give a lot of enjoyment. To get the most out of them, I think the best way to drive them is
similar to the way one would drive a diesel, accelerate  hard, drop off the throttle,
 change up and away again with a heavy right foot. These cars seem happier to
slog at low speeds in fourth, than changing down a gear as one would in a modern car.

We arrived safely in Liverpool, with a few hours to spare for our ferry crossing.
We were at a toll booth near Bootle, when the car behind me honked the horn.
I looked around and there was a Wartburg 1.3 saloon behind us.
The occupants, a couple in their late twenties I'd say, were smiling profusely and motioned us
to pull over, to see the car.
They were a very nice German couple, on a driving holiday across Europe and we chatted amiably
for a few minutes, whilst admiring each other's car's. I'd no camera but they took a picture of all
of us and the two cars together. It was a nice moment.
We arrived home the following morning, having driven over three hundred, trouble free miles
since picking the car up and only had a week before taking it to a classic car show
that I've been attending for years about an hour away from where we live.
I come from Belfast, originally, but moved to Eire some years ago.
The show is an outdoor affair and held in the grounds of Trim Castle, in County Meath, where
much of Mel Gibson's 'Braveheart' was filmed.
It really provides a gorgeous backdrop from which to display classic  cars and the show
usually has around seven hundred cars in attendance, displayed spaciously within the grassy
slopes of the Castle grounds.

So, with the help of my son, Iain, we washed and valeted the car thoroughly inside and out
and restuck some loose carpeting in the boot and she was ready for the show!
Our Wartburg was the only one present, indeed it was the only IFA vehicle in attendance
and it got a lot of attention, almost overwhelmingly positive.
Quite a few people from Eastern block countries, particularly Polish and Latvian people
stopped to talk about the car and said that they'd grown up with Wartburgs and Trabants
in their countries, owned by their parents and knew many people  who still drove them today.
They all spoke with great affection for the cars they'd known.
I met one elderly  man who had been a Saab mechanic and was familiar with the older
two stroke, 841cc engine fitted to the Saab 95 from the mid fifties to mid sixties
This engine was made by DKW and was also the technology used by the IFA of which a wide
range of vehicles were based (including my own), 
with many improvements and adjustments over the years.
Other people, who had never seen or heard of Wartburgs before, were simply amazed
that a two stroke car of such a size existed or was possible.
I really enjoyed the show and in particular having a car to show, of which there weren't dozens
of others in attendance, like the case of many other marques at the show.

In the weeks afterwards, I sought to make a few small improvements to what I now knew
was a very good and reliable car.
With the two-tone colour scheme and chrome hubcaps, I knew whitewall tyres would make
a fantastic addition to the car's overall appearance.
All four tyres were excellent, so I was able to purchase whitewall flaps that you simply
insert between tyre and rim and is a much cheaper way of attaining the same effect.
These, I picked up on ebay for about forty pounds.
I located a Wartburg parts specialist in Germany, with the hope of obtaining a genuine
replacement gear knob, but this proved to be unsuccessful.
I then trawled Ebay for the same and couldn't get one there either, so I searched through
dozens of web pages for a gear knob that would look authentic and importantly have the correct
gear ratio inscribed on it.
I ended up getting one made for a Volkswagen T25 transpoter van, that was the right colour, size and
ratio and wouldn't look out of place with the interior ambiance of the car.
It was brand new and a good choice and only cost a fiver.
Only downside was that the inner threading of the new one was much wider in diameter than
the gear stick.
I sorted this by managing to remove the inner threading core from the old aftermarket one and filing
it down sufficiently, until it fitted snugly into the new one.
It then screwed perfectly onto the gear stick, just like the aftermarket one had.
I changed the front brake pads and overhauled the rear drums, then had the whole underneath
of the car professionally sprayed with waxoyl.
Wartburgs are very easy to work on and some of this work wasn't necessary, but I enjoy
working at cars as a hobby and I like my cars to be as good as they can be.

For me, Classic car ownership is all about having something that is unusual and unique in some
way. Wartburgs, Trabants and all IFA vehicles possess these traits in spades.
In Particular, the two stroke engines are for me anyway, the best to buy as a two stroke car is
very different and the freewheel system is practical and a joy to use.
Sure, they're smoky and noisy, but that's part of the appeal and what makes them special.
One of the reasons that two stroke engines fell out of favour with other manufacturers, was their
inability to make two stroke engines that had the longevity and durability of four stroke units.
Perhaps the fact that the Communist regime doggedly resisted technological advances, this
enabled the East German's to perfect the two stroke engine to a new level, as they had no
other option.

I know from some research into Wartburgs that they wanted to abandon the two stroke
engine in 1978, in favour for a 1289cc four stroke Renault engine.
This car was the proposed Wartburg 1300, essentially the 353 with a new engine.
This venture was vetoed by the Government as were many progressive ideas proposed
by the IFA over many years, for many models.
Best fact about Wartburgs and Trabants ( from a classic car perspective) is that they used
old technology right up to 1989/1990, until four-stroke Volkswagen engines were used, so there
are still many good examples to be found and enjoyed.
Wartburgs and Trabants in the Uk are pretty thin on the ground of late and the best choice
of cars to buy, lies in Germany and other parts of East Europe.
In Particular, Poland has many IFA vehicles available at the moment at very low prices, 
but it's a long drive back to the Uk and Ireland.

The four-stroke cars will also appeal to many as they're that bit  more modern, but for me
they're more like an ordinary car (and part Volkswagen), without the appeal of the two stroke cars.

So you can buy a car only twenty or so years old that looks and drives like a classic
of a much older vintage. Isn't that pretty unique and worthwhile in itself?
Also, they're usually very reasonably priced (although prices are rising), compared
to other classics.

Modern cars are fine as everyday transport, but they all look the same nowadays and all
you see is masses of black plastic inside. Even French cars which used to be a little different
from the mainstream, have succumbed to banality and look and drive similar to the competition.

Unfortunately, the recession hit my business hard last year and I had to close it.
This prompted me to advertise my car for sale, which i did and it sold pretty quickly.
I believe it went to Switzerland.
I missed the car though and wished I hadn't sold it, but felt I had to at the time.
Owning the car, I developed an interest in East German history and was intrigued by the
Communist regime that existed there until the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

In January of this year, I visited Berlin for a few days, never having visited Germany before.
I did my research before I went and stayed in the Friedrichshain area, which appealed to 
me as it been one of the most 'Eastern' districts of the former East Berlin.
This area is today one of the poorer parts of the city, but it still has masses of character
and is very different in personality and architecture to Western suburbs such as
Charlottenburg and the new Mitte.
Friedrichshain had some lovely architecture and wide leafy boulevards everywhere you
looked. It was also practically free of western franchises, like McDonalds and their ilk
that are ubiquitous almost everywhere nowadays.
In contrast, most of the restaurants in Friedrichshain were family owned, low key affairs
with great food and service, at low prices.
Whilst here, I tried 'Currywurst' for the first time and found it delicious.
It's basically a grilled Bratwurst sausage with the delicious sauce made from a 
mixture of curry powder and ketchup. Very tasty and handy as a snack or impromptu
lunch as there are Currywurst stands and kiosks everywhere in Berlin, especially in
the train stations etc. At around 1.60 euro a pop, with a bread roll included, it's good value.

The traditionally Eastern parts of Berlin is much better value than the new western parts and
potential tourist traps like the 'new' Mitte, for everything, food & drink, accomodation and 
In one of the streets, adjacent to Frankfurter allee, had a shop dedicated to the
fast growing 'Ostalgie' trend which basically sells products and collectibles from the
former East Germany. The shop called 'Mondo's Arts' sold everything from nostalic t-shirts to
model Trabants, food items and mock telephones of vintage design.
Visible in all areas of East Berlin is the quaint and distinctive 'Ampelmanchenn' green and
red man symbols at pedestrian crossings.
Berlin is a huge city and the transport system there is vast and absolutely brilliant,
with typical German efficiency prevalent everywhere.
There's overland and underground trains, buses and a great Tram system, all of which
traverse the city. No matter what hour of the day or night, you will get to where you need to go
quickly and with no fuss.
You can get a day pass which gives you unlimited travel on all transport services, for only
6.50 euro which is great value for seeing the city.
The city in January was wrapped in a blanket of snow and whilst bitterly cold, gave the city
a magical air.
Despite the snow, footpath's and roads were always clear and life went on with no hiccups.
A day's snow in Ireland and the country is in turmoil!

In Friedrichshain, lies the East Side Gallery which has the best and longest stretch left
of the Berlin Wall. Many artists of international repute have painted some fantastic murals on
what's left of the wall. It was within walking distance to where I was staying and it was very
enjoyable walk which is adjacent to the Spree river.

Whilst there, I visited the former 'Stasi Prison' Hohenschoenhausen and got the guided tour
which was  fascinating.
The Stasi secret Police, whose motto was 'To know everything' were probably worse than
the Gestapo that preceded them, in cruelty and their penchant for ruining people's lives.
In Communist times, this prison was largely a secret and the people who lived in the area
were almost exclusively Stasi employees. The prison and its surrounding streets did not
feature on any map and great lengths were taken to ensure it's secrecy.
There was no visitation here and prisoners would be moved to another prison to visit their
When sentenced by a court, prisoners could be driven for hours around in circles, before
making the short distance to the Prison, so they thought they were being driven great
The prisoner transport vans were Barkas 1000 models and were disguised as delivery vans
to all outward appearances and of course the detainees were kept in darkness.
The prison had one of these vans exhibited in stunning condition, which had six individual
holding cells inside.
The Lichtenberg area where this prison is situated is probably the most Eastern part of the city, where
Soviet style concrete tower blocks of Flats are everywhere. This area today is one of
high unemployment and low rents.
This, like many other parts of East Berlin had graffiti everywhere you looked.
The film 'The lives of Others' released in 2007 and set in 1984 Berlin, shows many
scenes set in Hohenschonhausen Prison and is a great film which shows how the
Stasi operated and also has many IFA vehicles on show. These include Wartburg 353's
,Trabants, Barkas Vans and a Robur split screen truck.
HMV were selling this dvd recently for three pounds, worth buying if you haven't already
seen it.

I just finished reading a book, 'Alone in Berlin' by Hans Fallada, which tells  story
set in the war years 1940-1945. The Berlin depicted under Hitler's dictatorship mirrors
very closely, that of East Berlin in the DDR, where suspicion and informants were
everywhere. The similarities really are striking and profound.

I also visited the ' Stasi' Museum which isn't that far away from the Prison, but it was
disappointing by comparison. All the exhibits are in German, but you can buy or rent
an English translation booklet, but it's pretty poor and I was disappointed in it.

I visited the excellent DDR museum, which is a short walk from Alexanderplatz train
station and whilst small in size, it's very enjoyable.
It's an interactive museum where you can see many aspects of how life was in the
former DDR. In this museum, they have a cracking Trabant 601 Deluxe on show, with
very good leather effect seats. You can sit in the car and turning the key starts a 
simulated drive through a typical DDR town, complete with all the sights and sounds
created by a projector.

You can see the 'Lipsi' dance in operation which was designed to be an alternative
for the DDR's youth, to the capitalist evil which was Rock & Roll!
When you see it in operation, it's no wonder the youth of the day wanted Western
You can watch the football match where East Germany beat West Germany 1-0 and
find out about how nudist beaches were very popular in the DDR!
There is also some interesting ex-Stasi surveillance equipment on display, which looks
very crude and clunky compared to todays modern world of electronics.
This museum publishes an excellent English book, GDR-Guide which deals with all
aspects of how life was in Communist times.
The book tells the whole history and more interestingly, how life really was for East Germans
in an interesting and easy to read style.

The book provides a chapter on the Trabant and in this reveals some interesting statistics
for 1988.
In this year, there were 1.9 million Trabants on  East German roads, 600,000 Wartburgs, approx
300,000 Lada's and the same number of Skoda's.
For most East German's, the Trabant was the only car that they could afford, which perhaps
explains the iconic status that the humble Trabi has in Germany today.
The waiting list for a new Trabant could be as much as sixteen years, so when people
attained one they invariably looked after it, which goes some distance in explaining how
the average lifespan of the Trabi at one time was twenty eight years.
If you could afford it, you drove a Wartburg or a car from another 'Socialist' Country.
The Volvo was seen by many East German's as the ultimate Western car to aspire to.
I find it ironic that Communist Countries always refer to themselves as Socialists, in spite of
their restrictive and stifling regimes with which they governed their own people.

So I've happily switched from French classics to East German ones.
They're cheaper to buy, easier to work on, just as much fun and even more unusual.
These cars have given my son and I something to look after together and enjoy taking to
shows for a day out. That's what Classic cars are all about.


The 'Ampelmanchen' symbols on Pedestrian crossings, that you will only find in the Eastern parts of Berlin.
Apparently, some time after the wall came down, plans were afoot to get rid of these and replace them with the ones used in West Berlin. There was a public outcry and they've remained ever since.

So Popular are these 'green and red men', there are shops in Berlin that sell all kinds of merchandise, with their logos on them. From handbags, t-shirts, keyrings etc, you name it and you'll probably be able to get it!

More pictures from Berlin. June 28-July 02-2010

Here's some pictures taken on the strip of wall that's known as the East side Gallery, Friedrichshain, Berlin.

The trabant I'm leaning against is one that's parked here daily, as an advert for trabisafari tours, where you can drive a trabant through various designated driving tours around Berlin.

Pictures from Berlin, June 28th-July02 2010

Here's some nice Simson's seen near Frankfurter Allee and the East Side Gallery.
It's great to see old bikes like these, still being used every day.
 These are powered by a 50cc, 2 stroke engine.