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Trabant History


The Trabant name was first used in 1957 with the Sachsenring Trabant P50 built at the old Auto Union Plant in Zwickau, East Germany. In 1964 the first P601 was built.

The Trabants were not the first cars built in Zwickau, however. August Horch built the first car here in 1904 under the Horch nameplate. He later founded Audi here. Audi and Horch later merged with DKW and Wanderer to form the infamous Auto Union of the 1930s.

After world war two, Zwickau was in the Soviet sector and became part of East Germany. IFA, the government automotive bureau took over the Sachsenring factory from Audi.

The Trabant era Sachsenring factory today

The Sachsenring factory built several cars before the Trabant. From 1955 until 1959, they built the S240 sedan.

The Trabant P50 was the first car to use the Trabant name and be built of Duroplast, a form of fiberglass.  The P50 was built from 1957 until 1964 and used a 500cc engine that was very similar to that of the P601.

Various Trabant P50s from the Audi collection at the Horch Museum un Zwikau, Germany

Next came the P601 with it's larger 600cc engine. This is the car we know today simply as the Trabant.

Trabants on a film set in Berlin 2004

Despite the fact that the P601 remained almost unchanged for close to 30 years, the Sachsenring factory remained busy building prototypes. From 1963 through 1968 eight prototypes for the P603 were built. Unfortunately, none of these prototypes remain. From 1968 until 1979 twenty prototypes were built with the P610 name. Several of these prototypes still exist and can be found in the August Horch museum in Zwickau.

Trabant Prototypes and specials.

It's even rumored that one of these designs was sold to Volkswagen and was the basis of the original VW Golf (the Rabbit in the United States.)

In the final year of production, Sachsenring built the Trabant 1.1, a model with water-cooled VW Polo 1.1 liter engine. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late for the aging Trabant and the 1.1  proved to be the final model available.

Various Trabant 1.1 models. Notice the different grill for the radiator, not found on earlier air-cooled models

Sachsenring also sold a model based on an earlier military model called the Tramp. The Tramp was a soft top model similar to an old Jeep, but with no four wheel drive.

So what about Sachsenring today? Sachsenring has a new, modern factory in Zwickau that builds parts for Volkswagen. The original factory still exists and is used as warehouse and manufacturing space for several smaller companies.

The new Audi Museum has recently opened next door to the original factory and houses many of the cars in these pictures.


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