Meet the Wartburg

Ever heard of this thing? We reckon this two-stroke mid 80s brick is the retro king of cool. Here's why...

3y ago

So this thing is called a Wartburg 353W. Its most bonkers statistic? You would have to go on a 5 year long waiting list to buy one. Some sources put that number as high as 15 years. Why anyone would bother waiting that long for a car these days I do not know, but back then - in East Germany, things were different. Anyway, why are we showing you this thing? Because it’s a lesson in how a car doesn’t have to ‘be cool’ to ‘be cool’.

Seeing a car this modest and looking this good, well you kind of win the game.

Tell me you haven’t looked at a 70’s Fiesta or a VW Rabbit at a meet or cruising around and haven’t muttered under your breath ‘that looks pretty neat actually’. You can’t. These cars look good, but not because a Mk1 Polo thing or a ‘79 Fiesta were cool cars. They look good because they exude confidence in their own skin, often crucially because someone has taken good care of them. A lot of your ‘traditional’ classic cars actually look a bit silly in showroom condition - mirror finish paint and gleaming chrome doesn’t actually do most of these cars any favours. They need to look their age.

However, the humble econo-hatch sings when wearing good paint and nice wheels. The Wartburg? It’s the king of the economy cars - it doesn’t even have 4 cylinders. Seeing a car this modest and looking this good, well you kind of win the game. It owns it too, it’s powered by a buzzy is-that-a-Kawasaki-I’m-hearing 993 two stroke, famed for only having 7 moving parts. The coupling to the rear wheels is a freewheel. Don’t know what a freewheel is? Well, you know when you stop pedalling on a bike, it makes a ratchety clicking noise? That noise is being made by the freewheel… and this car has one…

it’s a lesson in how to be cool in your own skin

The trouble is that it’s too easy for me to see this car in great evening light, fresh after a polish and coo on about how great it looks - it’s a lesson in how to be cool in your own skin. But I didn’t figure that out for myself. You need the right person to see the potential in cars like the Wartburg before the rest of us mere mortals can really appreciate what’s going on. Mark, quite simply, is the best man for the job.

Mark is an ECU development engineer - he’s worked everything, from Fords to Bentleys, but these days he’s not quite convinced with the proposition of the modern car, he craves something more interesting. For him, that’s where the Wartburg and his 2CV come in. His small collection of interesting and quirky cars remind himself and the world about what can be done with a car when you’re entirely committed to a single design purpose.

These days Mark is exploiting his work on MG Rover’s K series engine (he was responsible for tuning every car built with a K series) offering a tuning service through KMaps, extracting every ounce of potential out of the engine for race teams and people who want every last bit out of their MG lump. Check out this bonkers K series Metro that kicks out 276bhp with a 12 second run at Santa Pod! Also give Mark's business a look -

What other bizarrely cool cars can you think of that go under the radar?

#thetoms #classiccars #vintagecars #theclassiclife #article #photography #retro

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Comments (8)

  • I've always thought commie cars have a basic appeal to them. Some are even cute.

      3 years ago
  • Love the Wartburg but not sure about the eBay-special, plastic moon discs.

      1 year ago
  • I prefer the Wartburg 311 but those are nice , like the older models with chrome

      3 years ago
  • Well, while you’re at it, why not praise the Trabant?

      3 years ago
  • Well photographed!

      3 years ago