November 07, 2005

Today in Automotive History

1957 East Germany Launches the Trabant Sputnik

Before World War II, Audi-founder August Horch cranked out his innovative Audis in the Zwickau Automobile Factory in the eastern German state of Sachsen. It was here that Audi manufactured the first automobiles with four-wheel hydraulic brakes and front wheel drive, decades before these innovations became standard throughout the automobile industry. After World War II, Germany was separated into Eastern and Western occupation zones, and Audi, like most other significant German corporations, fled to the capitalist West. Among the deserted factories the Soviet occupiers faced in postwar East Germany was the former Horch-Audi works in Zwickau. Under the authority of the Soviet administrators, and later under the East German Communist government, the Zwickau factory went back into service in the late 1940s, producing simple, pre-war German automobiles like the Das Klein Wonder F8, and the P70, a compact car with a Duroplast plastic body. In 1957, the East German government approved the updated P50 model to enter the market under a new company name--Trabant. On this day, the first Trabant, which translates to servant in English, was produced at the former Horch auto works in Zwickau. For the Trabant's first marque, the designers settled on "Sputnik," to commemorate the Soviet Union's launching of the first artificial Earth satellite the month before. The Trabant Sputnik was the first in the P50 series, featuring a tiny engine for its time--a two-cylinder 500 cc engine capable of reaching only 18bhp. In design, the Trabant Sputnik was the archetypal eastern European car: small, boxy, and fragile in appearance. Yet, despite the lack of style or power found in the Sputnik and its descendants, these automobiles were affordable, and provided the citizens of East Germany and other Soviet bloc countries with a capable means of getting from here to there.

Posted by Quality Weenie at November 7, 2005 08:13 AM | TrackBack