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Ever hear of a Wartburg car? East German 3 cyl before reunification

I had never heard of one before but the book I was reading had the guy driving one in the East German republic while under communist rule, so I looked it up. It had a two stroke 3 cylinder engine in it with only 7 moving parts. Had to make sure you didn’t free wheel it down hills or the engine would sieze up for lack of lubrication. There are a few youtubes on their manufacture. Anyway thought it was interesting.

Did it look like this?

I remember those . . . East German POS automobile

I don’t think anybody fondly remembers those

Heard of it?
Of course!
In fact, there was a very brief attempt to market them in The US.

But, in order to understand the existence of the Wartburg automobile, you first have to realize that when the war ended, two of Germany’s major auto manufacturing companies were “trapped” in Communist-controlled East Germany, where their prospects would be poor.

Auto Union (makers of Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer) and BMW found new life–with new factories–in West Germany, but of course their old, now-abandoned factories remained in the East. Even if the Commies weren’t inventive, they were at least resourceful, and they re-started production in those old factories. They began manufacturing EMW sedans, which were essentially identical to the pre-war BMWs that had originally been built there. Even the logo was identical to the old BMW badge, albeit with one different letter on it, and with red enamel, rather than blue on the badge.

If you parked an EMW next to a pre-war BMW, you would have been hard-pressed to be able to tell them apart–until you looked at the badges.

In the old Audi factory, the Commies built the IFA, which was identical to the 1939 DKW, including its somewhat unique 3-cylinder, 2-cycle engine. Later (circa 1960), the IFA was given updated bodywork, and was renamed as the Wartburg. Interestingly, the Wartburg name had been used early in the 20th century by a car company that later evolved into BMW.

If you think that only the Commies continued building old pre-war 2-cycle cars, an interesting bit of trivia is that production of the old-design DKW was resumed in West Germany in 1960, and it was built by Mercedes-Benz! If you parked one of the Mercedes-made DKWs next to one of the communist-made IFAs, you would likely not have been able to tell them apart unless you looked closely at the badges.

And, related to all of this is the creation of Sweden’s Saab automobile. The original Saab had an engine that was essentially copied from that of the old pre-war DKW, so I think it would be fair to say that even though we now view that 2-cycle design as primitive, it actually had a fairly long production run, albeit under several brand names!

In 1957, the commies restarted production in the old Horch factory, but because Horch was a super-luxury brand (and was actually the preferred parade car of the Nazis, rather than the Mercedes), Horch had no place in “the people’s paradise”. So, the car manufactured in the old Horch factory was the P50, later renamed as the Trabant (which means “satellite”). Under the paper/plastic skin, the mechanics of the Trabant were very similar to pre-war DKW designs.

Aren’t you sorry that you asked?


Both the Trabant and the Wartburg, along with the Russian Moskvitch, are among the all time worst cars ever built.

Trabants a (“Trabbies”) are now collector’s items but the wartburg is still beneath contempt.

I remember them. I mostly forgot about them though when I saw a picture of one many years ago.

Thanks for the history lession VDC. None of that was in Wiki.

You’re welcome, Bing!
As I like to say, just because I am no longer in the classroom, it doesn’t mean that I can’t still teach a few history lessons now and then.
(My undergraduate major was history)

I’m guessing that the brand name Wartburg is related to a German city . Hamburg being the most well known “burg”. Can you imagine McDonalds trying to market Wartburgers!

@VDCdriver, when you get bored and restless you should consider adding your info to the wikipedia entry.

Bored & restless?
That’s the problem…I am always so busy that I am never bored.
In fact, when I think back on my working years, I don’t know how I got everything done!

The Great American Novel that I have been composing in my head for a few decades is undoubtedly never going to get written!

The Wartburg’s Trivia Badge of Honor was that it was one of the few cars whose engine could run upside down, although it didn’t do this without a great deal of pollution and inefficiency.
Owning this car was not a trivial task for an East German worker, though. As I remember, waiting lines were long and you needed a good record from the Party before your name could go on the list. The barter economy was very strong in Eastern Europe, and once you owned a car you could trade transportation for commodities like garden-grown vegetables or professional services. We had relatives in Czechoslovakia who told us how the system “worked.”