I know that in most of the automotive world, the East German Trabant is considered something of a joke. The smoky little two-stroke scheiße-box made from old Soviet underpants and resin hardly enjoys the best reputation, even if I personally happen to believe it’s a remarkable triumph, when you consider the circumstances it was forced to exist in. Of course, I also fully understand why people also think of it as a joke, and videos like this one certainly make that very easy. Very, very easy. Mostly because of all the hammering and kicking.
I saw this video retweeted by our pal Bozi, from the Classic Car Curation Twitter account. It appears to be a clip of a larger video about Trabant building, I’m guessing shot sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Here, just watch, because it’s amazing:
Wow, right? So much hammering! And kicking! And, shoving and grabbing and yanking. People pay a lot of money for hand-built cars, right? Well, these are plenty hands-on. And feet-on, even. I also especially like this:
It’s already got a brake or taillight out, right there on the assembly line. Why waste time?
They really muscled these things together, it seems. It’s like the assembly line just stuck everything roughly together, then the caring touch of human hands, hammers, and shoes lovingly hugs and slaps the whole thing right. It’s a very personal way to build cars.
This video led me to find more Trabant manufacturing videos, which led me to this one:
This one is interesting because of the detail it shows about how the Trabant’s fibreglass-like Duraplast body panels were made with “low-quality cotton” and phenolic resin derived from coal tar. Discarded Soviet undershirts and coal tar resin! Nothing but the best for Trabis!
Still, that stuff actually worked to make body panels out of, and we’re told that “up to 12 layers of fleece give the fabric skin the required strength,” so it’s not like this is just some two-ply toilet paper we’re dealing with, here.
It’s fun to laugh at all this, but it’s also important to remember that these kicked-together cotton-bodied smokehouses actually got people to and from work and to the country and up and down city streets day after day, for decades.
They did their job, just like these factory workers did theirs: the best they could.