VEB Sachsenring never made a right-hand drive Trabant 601, but then why would it? In the 30 years it was in production, it was only ever sold in Eastern Bloc countries and only ‘escaped’ into the west following the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The car was immediately thrust into the spotlight – a symbol for the west to associate with the fall of communism.
For those living in the former East Germany, the Trabant 601 was a means of escape. The mode of transport to take them to a new life in the west, where the Trabi would be cruelly discarded or sold for a few marks, often to western collectors or enthusiasts.
The Trabant 601 became a novelty act – a car hidden away for decades would naturally become interesting to curious westerners. Its celebrity status was confirmed in 1991 when a 601 featured on the cover of U2′s album, Achtung Baby, with Trabants also featuring on the stage of U2′s world tour. People became fascinated with the cute little East German saloon car.
Only its cute looks belied a rather sinister undertone. Its 600cc two-cylinder, two-stroke was the complete antithesis of today’s electric cars. In 2007 it was said to chuck out nine times the amount of hydrocarbons and five times the amount of carbon monoxide than that of a typical European family car. It wasn’t a car to get stuck behind when queuing on the Berlin bypass.
Its body was made from a substance affectionately known as ‘Trabiplast’ – a combination of phenol, aniline, formaldehyde and cotton waste. As such it was the world’s first mass-produced plastic car and, by using largely recycled materials, at least the body didn’t upset the environmentalists. Well, not too much anyway.
It’s a remarkable little car and one I’ve always been a fan of. In the early 1990s I collected model Trabants and encouraged my father to test drive an imported 601 in Dorset. I distinctly remember it being a terrible experience – noisy, cramped and uncomfortable, with fumes that made us feel quite nauseous. By all accounts it was an awful thing to drive too.
Naturally we spent the entire drive home hatching a plan to put it on our driveway. Ah, even 20 years ago, PetrolBlog logic was in full swing…
We didn’t buy it, but I kind of wish we had. Which is clearly why my attention was drawn to this Trabant caught in the classifieds. At first glance it looks just like any other Trabant, but then you realise it’s right-hand drive. Was the East German government planning on exporting the Trabant 601 to an unsuspecting UK market?
Well no, this is in actual fact a recent right-hand drive conversion, carried out by a specialist restoration and tuning company based 50 miles outside of Bucharest in Bulgaria. A right-hand drive Trabant – bet you never saw that coming? Unless you happened to notice the plumes of acrid smoke trailing behind it as it hurtled towards you.
Peter Yosifov, the chap behind the right-hand drive conversion told PetrolBlog the Trabant 601 featured in the advertisement was built to order for an English collector and has already been sold, but they are already working on a second conversion. The price for a right-hand drive Trabant? A mere £11,500 – just a little less than the price of two base-spec Dacia Sanderos…
Peter puts the high price down to the cost of the materials used during the conversion to right-hand drive, along with customising the Trabant to the buyer’s needs. Spend £11,500 and you can choose your own colour and interior trim – something not offered on the Dacia Sandero.
Where possible Peter uses original Trabant parts to maintain a degree of authenticity. Only occasionally does he have to use modified parts, like the new body for the steering rack or the new dashboard panel.
The Trabant 601′s spartan interior certainly makes life easier for Peter, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy conversion. Not only that, but it looks like the job has been done to a very high standard. Just look at the quality of the dashboard and engine bay. We could argue that it looks better than new or, to borrow a song title from Achtung Baby, even better than the real thing. Although in fear of receiving complaints that we’re being anti-communist, we won’t.
Do we like it? Like hell we do. For sure £11,500 is an awful lot of money to pay for a crude, 600cc, toxic fumes-emitting, plastic car, but the mere thought of having a product of communism built to order holds a certain amount of appeal. And good craftsmanship costs money – so Peter’s top notch restoration and conversion warrants a strong price.
Would PetrolBlog pay £11,500 for a right-hand drive Trabant 601? In all honesty – no, our money would be on an original left-hand drive car that has never left the former East Germany. We like our cars unrestored and with enough battle scars to prove the car has lived a rich and varied life.
Still, it doesn’t stop us wanting to jump on a plane to Bucharest to try out a right-hand drive Trabant 601 for ourselves. But then we do move in mysterious ways…
All images © Peter Yosifov expect museum pic © Ignis.