- Credit: NajboljiAuto.com

Cars of GDR part 2: Wartburg

33w ago


In the previous part of Cars of GDR, I was trying to show that Trabant was a true icon of automotive industry. Now, I'll try to show the great Wartburg in all of its glory, and hopefully convince you that the GDR cars were not as crap as people think. (Also, let me know if you like the idea of making some stories in parts, or should I just stick to one-piece articles).

Today, many people would say that Wartburg was almost the same as Trabant, but it wasn't. Trabant was a small, slow, and ugly car. But, despite being worlds apart, both of these cars earned their status of icons. So, how was good of a car was Wartburg when compared to the little "plastic-fantastic"?


The name Wartburg comes from the Wartburg Castle, which overlooks the city of Eisenach, where the cars were made. The name was used for the first time in 1898, when the company Automobilwerk Eisenach (or AWE for short) made a car called Wartburgwagen. The name stuck until 1904, when BMW took over the factory.

But, that didn't last long either, because the factory was almost completely destroyed in the Second World War. And, since Soviets took over that part of Germany later, they thought it would be great to rebuild the factory.

The Automobilwerk Eisenach factory. Credit: Kolumbus.fi

With persistence and hard work (which was typical for the locals), the company was born again, and the cars made in would carry the name Wartburg.


The first Wartburg 311 rolled off the production line on 2nd January 1956, only a year before the first Trabant. But, as you can see, there were significant differences between the two cars. For example, Wartburg was actually beautiful, well-designed, but also very expensive.

Wartburg 311. Credit: 100Auto.blog.hu

It was very light (only 1.300 kg) and it had a 0.9-litre three-cylinder two-stroke engine which only had 7 major moving parts. The engine was sending power to the front wheels through a 3-speed manual gearbox, but in 1958, it received a 4-speed gear gearbox.

This car was all about the looks and comfort (something that Trabant didn't have), and even though its 37 HP engine was only capable of reaching 115 km/h, it was enough to be used as a casual daily driver.

The styling was heavily inspired by old American cars, and that can clearly be seen in the amount of chrome used on it. But, on the inside, it was still another Communist car that had a very minimalistic interior.

Wartburg 311 interior. Credit: Flickrover.com user. URL: http://www.flickriver.com/photos/transaxle/6254023441/

When it was first presented, it was already outdated, with its pre-WWII chassis and a two-stroke engine. But, that didn't stop people from buying it. They were actually happy to get one, because it was easy to maintain.

In 1962, it received a more powerful 45 HP engine, and in the last year of its life, 1965, it gained a new independent suspension and spiral springs. This wasn't just an update of an old model; it was a hint of a new model that would be presented a year later.

Credit: Blitz.bg

There were 12 versions of the 311, and all of them were basically the same (kinda like the Porsche 911, right?). Apart from GDR, they were really popular in the former Yugoslavia, and were also exported to the UK, US, and West Germany. In total, 288.535 units were made, and it is believed that there are over 80.000 of them on the streets even today.


Even though the 311 was very beautiful, it wasn't as popular as its successor-the 353. Presented on the 1st June 1966, the Wartburg 353 came with a new and more modern body. It had a 1.0-litre three-cylinder two-stroke engine with 50 HP. The company also decided to lower the price for the new model, so that more people could afford it. But still, if you ordered one, you had to wait 10-15 years to get it delivered, which was normal in the days of Communism.

Wartburg 353. Credit: B92.net

With a top speed of 155 km/h, it wasn't really fast, but it was a perfect car for long trips. The seats were big and really comfortable, and the back seat was basically just a huge couch which was perfect for longer journeys. At the time, it was much better than any other Soviet car in terms of speed, fuel consumption, handling...

But, there were some drawbacks especially with the cabin, which was not soundproofed. Apparently, the echo inside the cabin was so loud that many people didn't even bother to order a stereo system.

Credit: Motor1.com

In the back, it had a lot of space for luggage, especially the estate version in which you could completely fold the back seats for more space. There were many versions of it, and it was even used by the GDR police. Just like its predecessor, the 353 was very easy to maintain. I guess that's why many people were saying "Wartburg owners drive a car, but maintain a motorcycle". And due to its reliability, and being almost indestructible, it received a nickname "Trustworthy Hans".

Credit: Racem.org

During its life, the design barely changed. In 1985, the headlight became square and the car got a name 353W.


The real change happened at the end of in 1988, when the 353 was replaced by the model 1.3. It was basically the same car, but with a new front grille, new headlights with indicators incorporated in them, and a new engine. This time the engine came from VW, and the new 1.3-litre heart was producing 64 HP.

Wartburg 1.3. Credit: BestCarMag.com

Sadly, it didn't live for long, and on 10th April 1991 the last Wartburg rolled off the production line. In total, 1.377.965 units were made (152.775 of them were the 1.3 models), which makes the 353 series the most successful Wartburg ever.

Wartburg is also "immortalized" by a Serbian punk band Atheist Rap in a song "Wartburg Limuzina", in which they glorify this machine. The song starts with the band gathering at a funeral of their beloved Trabant, and then going home in a Wartburg. You can check the video for the song below:

Play video

Credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uzUnCIw_8A