Friday, May 09, 2003

Trabi blog.

This from a handy automotive Web site: “When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, most of the cars that poured westward out of East Germany were the plastic and fiberglass Trabants. The "Trabi" was a symbol of the exodus, but it quickly became an endangered species. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports on the Trabi's legacy in the town of Zwickau, where it used to be built.

“Zwickau, Germany; 9 November 1999 (RFE/RL) — The last Trabant rolled off the assembly line at the Sachsenring factory in Zwickau eight and a half years ago. The 1991 model differed relatively little from the first of the more than three million Trabants made since 1957. Made of a synthetic material called "Duroplast," it was flimsy, and it was loud.

“The Trabant had a top speed of 100 kilometers an hour, and its two-stroke, 13.2 kilowatt motor sounded like it belonged to an old motorcycle rather than a car. Attempts by the East Germans to build a more powerful motor were repeatedly quashed by the Soviet Union. Within the framework of Comecon cooperation, Moscow insisted on having a monopoly on strong motors.”

My recent musings about Yugos naturally led me to remember my experience with a Trabant. I can confirm that the things were loud. And not especially comfortable. But, I suspect, they probably lasted longer than any Yugo.

Yuriko and I visited Vietnam nine years ago, and at the end of our stay the taxi that came to take us to Tan Son Nhat (Saigon) International Airport had a familiar look to it. A smallish car… something like a Volkswagen, though without the distinctive hump. Then I realized, from pictures I’d seen, it was an East German Trabant. A Volkswagen’s doppelgänger; or, if you prefer, the Lore to VW’s Data.

So we got in, and went to the airport. I wonder if there are still any loose on the streets of Saigon, but no doubt the taxi owners of that city replaced them with second-hand Japanese and Korean cars, as soon as they could afford them, and as soon as the government would allow it.


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