The arrow of the DDR
Behind the iron curtain life was different. Some might say it was slower, due to a lack of cars. But something was about to change that.
When Europe found itself divided after the unfortunate events of World War II, things were bleak. Especially in Germany, which is no surprise considering the fact that the country took it upon itself to start the whole thing.
After the dust had settled, the Third Reich was split into two being the only country that was effectively cut in half by the victorious allied forces.
In the west the German Federal Republic came into existence, while in the east the German Democratic Republic was birthed with considerable help of the Soviet Union. The two nations or rather the one nations' two halves, had a strained relationship. Both wanted to best the other or at least have something to show up for themselves. So when economy started to boom in the west, the comrades found themselves lagging behind. They needed something to show the world, that german engineering paired with russian guidance is the bee's knees (however unlikely that may sound now, but hindsight is.... you know zwanzig/двадцать).
A car for the people by the people ('s republic).
Sadly the german term for peoples car 'volkswagen' was already in use, and also in the hands of the much despised western imperialists. They worked around that and and came up with the ingenious name 'Trabant', which stand for.. um satellite. A rather ambitious christening for a car that was ~24,960 mph slower than the escape velocity.
Although it was slow that's not enough to ding our weird-o-meter, thankfully it featured some quite unusual designs.
Firstly it had a manual gear lever mounted next to the steering wheel like in the american petrol destroyers of the era. This meant the little Trabbi had a completely flat floor, which increased internal space tremendously. Not a bad thing considering that originally it was viewed as a motorcycle with a roof and four wheels (aren't all cars fit into this?). It also lacked a middle console, so instead of having a glove box it sported a glove shelf spanning from door to door! I'm not kidding look!
You see? Lots of space! Courtesy of motoryeti.
Not a bad thing eh? You could even store your spare clutches (the mechanical one not the handbag), which were essential for any trip longer than 50 miles.
Secondly the exterior was made out of a composite known as 'Duroplast'. It is a hard setting resin strengthened with cotton fibers, so basically a plastic. So ladies and gentleman, like some of the TVR models, the Trabbi was a plastic car. Other than the obvious low cost, it had another advantage, lightness. Something that was paramount if you only have a 500 cc two-stroke engine. Now you can see the motorbike heritage, can't you?
All in all it was quite successful with almost 4 million manufactured in 30 years. Sadly this number quickly got put into perspective when Germany was unified and the Trabant factory in Zwickau closed it's gates just a couple of years later (it was actually just one).
I wonder would something this radical could become a thing today?