1980s / Driven daily / East German / Trabant

Driven daily: Trabant 601 Universal

Last fall, I took advantage of a work trip to Berlin, Germany, to go Trabant-spotting. It turns out there really aren’t a lot of them left, and most of the ones still clinging on to life belong to companies who rent them out to tourists. The Grey City offered me an AMC Pacer as a consolation prize, which I gladly accepted.

The story is different in Budapest. I wouldn’t go as far as saying the Trabant is a common sight on the streets of the Hungarian capital, but you’re guaranteed to see at least a couple of them a day if you spend enough time walking around. They’re owned by regular motorists, not by rental companies or collectors, and they’re still being used daily. Most of them are completely unrestored.

I photographed the Trabant 601 Universal pictured below in downtown Budapest, parked in the shade in a relatively quiet part of the city. The paint is faded and scratched, the bumpers are dented and bent, but it oozes character. The relatively new tires on both axles suggest the owner plans on keeping the wagon around in the foreseeable future.

The Trabant certainly isn’t the most collectible classic car out there; it hasn’t shot up in value like other so-called people’s cars such as the Citroën 2CV and the Fiat 500. So, it’s nice to see at least a few motorists think mixing gasoline and oil in the 21st century is a small price to pay to keep these Duroplast-bodied two-cylinder machines on the road.

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