Thursday, January 7, 2016

Trabant: Theoretical Ideal Car?

There was a ideological mindset amongst architects satirized by Tom Wolfe in his book "From Our House to Bauhaus."  It was an amalgam of Louis Sullivan's "Form Follows Function" prescription and socialist-inspired deification of the "Masses."  These notions were in place to some degree the year I took a class in architectural design, and still persist in some architectural and industrial design circles.

From that point of view it follows that the East German Trabant, produced 1957-1991, theoretically had the makings of an outstanding automobile design.  After all, it was a basic, function-focused "people's car" served up by a communistic state.

Many theories have a kind of beauty and perfection -- until they are tested by reality.  The reality for the Trabant was that it was inadequate compared to most other cars of its era.  Trabants I saw in Hungary in the late 1990s seemed pathetic when compared to that other "people's car" the Volkswagen in its late-1950s guise.

Let's take a look.  The images below show the Trabant 601, produced 1963-1991.


Trabants had a cage frame to which panels made from a kind of plastic were attached.  This was not the best surface for paint, so most Trabants had a dull appearance, painted in light colors that tended to disguise highlights that normally flatter a car's shape if the shape is a good one.

Combined front and rear views.  High-style features include headlights with slightly "frenched" bezels and fin-like rear fender extensions that in combination give the a car a bit more physical and visual length.

Two publicity photos.  This Trabant has chromed hubcaps and a chromed rain gutter strip above the windows.  Note the dull finish.  Wheels are small, but this is common to many small cars, even though it gives such cars a toy-like appearance.  The Volkswagen Beetle, on the other hand, had more normal wheels, giving it a purposeful look.

So much for Trabant's proletarian roots.

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