Trabant P601

A Trabant P601 is on display at our local mall. The car was manufactured in East Germany and apparently was the East German equivalent to the VW Beetle… Interestingly it came with a 2 cycle engine (well into the 80s). In my 45+ years of driving I don’t remember seeing one on our American roads. In fact I don’t remember ever seeing one anywhere. Were they well hidden behind the Iron Curtain? I’m guessing that American cars at one time came with 2 cycle engines. Anyone know the model and year of the last American 2 cycle engine vehicle?

Here’s a pic

Here’s the specs

Trabants were unable to pass both US emissions regulations and US safety regulations, so even if a few folks in the US might have been tempted to buy a bare-bones car from a Communist bloc country, they would not have been able to buy it. And, there was never any attempt by the East Germans to export the car.

As to 2 cycle engines in US-made cars, as far as I know there were none after the very early days of the motorcar, or in other words, by the 1910s there were likely none of them on the market.

The Trabant or “Trabi” as it was affctionately known, was unsuited to Western European standards as well, and after the wall fell, East Germans lined up to buy used West German economy cars which were better than new Trabants. There is now a Trabant Owners Club to keep these polluting dinasaurs on the road. The only durable thing on the Trabant was the plastic body made from vegetable oil. Henry Ford tried this in the 40s with bodies made from soybean oil.

Like the Wartburg, another East Bloc loser, it quickly left the market. VW built plants in East Germany to make stripper Golfs and bought the Chech Skoda works as well, where rebadged Volkswagens are built.

The only 2 cycle cars to be seen on US roads were the early 2 cycle Saabs from Sweden. Again, emission standards basically legislated 2 cylce cars off the road, as it did to 2 cycle lawnmowers, like the Lawnboy.

GM 2 cycle diesels powered trucks and busses for a very long time, but they are fading out as well… Our city has all their new busses powered by Cummins 4 cycle diesels

Those Trabis were considered to be 100% crap by those fortunate enough to be able to drive one.

Believe it or not, there was a long waiting list to even get one

And you weren’t even guaranteed a new vehicle

When I was working in Germany, some years after reunification, one of my colleagues was originally from the east. He said when he finally got his Trabi, it was even older than he was.

There are some people actually collecting and restoring those vehicles in Germany

But they tend to be the younger crowd, not the poor souls who had to drive them in their heyday

They were called Leukoplastbombe . . . Leukoplast was apparently the plastic used in the body

I see them on the road here occasionally, more like rarely, and on weekend in one town in the area there’s one parked in front a restaurant there for public display with the owner nearby to answer questions. I stopped by one time, long enough ago I can’t remember the details, but what the owner had to say about his car was pretty interesting.

Beyond long waiting lists in communist countries, people in many of the countries have to get government approval to buy a car. They then save for years while waiting for the approval.

George, I’m curious, where do you live that you actually see Trebbies on the road?

I’ve seen pictures of the Trabant and that’s all. In some ways…I feel very fortunate by never having seen one on our roads here in the good old USA.

Yeah, a Trabant on US roads would be like a less reliable Yugo spewing 10x the pollution. Thank goodness.

The last 2-stroke car I ever saw was a Saab owned by a friend in the late 70’s. I think it was a Saab 96.

A co-worker has one of the old two stroke Saab Wagons, a 96 probably. The previous owner was my parents old college buddy who used to have a fleet of them sprinkled around town (you knew you were getting close to his house once you saw the saab’s on the street)

The info flyer on the car said it was ordered new in 1968 and delivered in 1986…the average wait time was 18 years!

A Trabant in the US would be a rolling deathtrap which couldn’t keep up with the flow of traffic

A Trabant in the US would be a rolling deathtrap which couldn’t keep up with the flow of traffic.”

But, at least you would be able to see it at a distance, as a result of the plumes of smoke coming from its tail pipe. That is probably the most important safety feature of the Trabant!

A dissenting opinion on the Trabbi…

E. Germany was in a situation where the Soviets were siphoning off anything truly good for themselves. Knowing that, the design beaureu had to design a rugged, easy-to-repair car using only the most pedestrian engine the Soviets would pass over. It needed to last an owner a lifetime, employ no strategic materials, and (due to zero factory support) be field-rebuildable using the same basic tools workers used on their tractors.

Given those constraints, air-cooled, valveless engine, gravity-feed fueling, leaf springs and plastic body panels make a lot of sense.

As an ultimate bare-boness car, it was WAY better than a Crosley…good luck fixing that brazed-together engine all by yourself!

(The moral being, communist Germans did a better job than Americans at designing enforced austerity vehicles…most likely due to having more experience!)

P.S. You can pretty much import any car >25 y.o.–might not be able to register it, though!

Pretty sure I saw one at the checkpoint Charlie museum in berlin. It was modified to smuggle people to the west.


" . . . the Soviets were siphoning off anything truly good for themselves."

Really? AFAIK, the Soviets didn’t even have any decent cars themselves

Everything’s relative…

@db4690 Russian economy cars were even worse than East German ones. The Moskvitch was a small conventional sedan which was so unreliable it became the butt of nightclub jokes. And Russians had to get on a waiting list of several years to get one.

The big breakthough came when they built the Lada factory in Togliattigrad (Togliatti was head of the Italian Communist party) to make a Russian version of an unrelaible Fiat. Yes, the Lada was a very good car compared to what Russia had produced up to that time for the masses.

Some months ago I saw a book on the news stand entitled : The Worst Cars Ever Made. The Moskvitch, the Wartburg and the Trabant figure prominently, along with the losers from Western countries.

@Docnick–Was that book by any chance, The World’s Worst Cars?

I ask because I bought that book a couple of years ago, for a relatively cheap price, at Barnes & Noble. It is entertaining, mostly because it lists many models that were never sold in The US, and–although I pride myself on being more knowledgeable than the average person about the history of the automobile–I did learn about models I had not previously been aware of.

After all, most of us in THE US never saw (or heard) of a Dacia Denem, or a Citroen Bijou, or a Perodua Nippa. That is the good thing about the book. The bad thing is that it was poorly researched, and it contains lines that seem to indicate that the author, Craig Cheetham, is not much of a car guy.

Among the things indicating poor research are the following:

“…the special edition Edsel Bermuda, which came with a canvas canopy instead of a roof for use in Caribbean markets.” (Nope, that model never existed, and–in fact, “Bermuda” was just the name for the deluxe 4-door version of the Edsel wagon)

re: The Chevy Caprice, circa 1976-1990:…“sent reverberations from every bump or pothole to your clenched-in-anticipation buttocks”. (Actually, these cars had an incredibly smooth, posh ride. Yes, there were other problems, but a bone-jarring ride was not among them.)

re: The Chevy Citation: “Brake failure was rife. The hoses were fitted too tightly and the amount of flexing in the hydraulic system caused them to work loose, dramatically reducing stopping power.” (Yes, this car had many faults, but to the best of my knowledge, the statement about the hydraulic lines being fitted too tightly is bogus, and Citations were no more prone to brake failure than any other model.)

In regard to the 2-cycle models that he lists, he says things like, “the engine belched smoke and drank oil”. (Ummmm…that is exactly what a 2-cycle engine normally does, yet he seems to think that this was a unique defect of these models.)

You can probably find this book for less than $15 at this point, and it is entertaining. Just be prepared to pull your hair out when you read some of his less-insightful comments.

Edited to add:
I see that Amazon has the book available for $9.99 (+ shipping), and I think it is interesting to note that almost all of the customer reviews that they posted about this book are of the same opinion as me, namely that they author seems to rely on rumors rather than actual facts, and that he apparently doesn’t really know very much about cars.

The book might be at the public library, too.

@VDCdriver It could be that title. I did not buy it, but bought a coffee in the bookshop and read it through quiclkly and put it back on the shelf. I do recall many inaccuracies.

A completely hilarious book called “You Are What You Drive” is a great social commentary. It came out about 20 years ago; I regret giving it away.

The typical Volvo couple are both PhDs and the only child is a prodigy. They wear natural fibres and were members of peace groups on campus. Husband avoided being drafted due to his great academic standing. He is a texbook publisher and likes classical music, I believe. Wife wears “sensible” shoes and avoids flashy hairdos.

Their biggest secret is that they were not members of Hasty Pudding while in college.

Their biggest fear is a busy signal on the LL Bean hotline!

The book has similar descriptions of Impla owners, Porsche drivers, guys with jacked up trucks, etc.