Posting vignettes based on great postcards found in my mail box and elsewhere.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Trabants Still Rolling

Cut away view of the Trabant
a car produced in the former German Democratic Republic
Here again I'm writing about cars.
This postcard was sent via Postcrossing Project  by Laura from Germany. She affectionately called the Trabant a "Trabi." These much-loved cars were the "cars of the masses" in The German Democratic Republic (Soviet controlled East Germany) from 1957-1991, and remains the car of choice for many Europeans.
I road in one while in Bulgaria years ago. Peter, the driver we hired swore by them. He drove it on the streets and country roads like a racer in the final laps of a Formula One race.
I found the tiny car interesting and could imagine that, like England's Mini Cooper, it had advantages. For it's time, the Trabant's 1043 cc engine was easy on the gas, 34 mpg. Like the MG Midget I once owned, it was very quick off the line and very nimble to steer -- an advantage in congested cities.
I suppose the car is remembered fondly by some because it represents a bygone era. It offered simple, bare-bones economy. If you can change a spark plug and air filter you can maintain this little car.
Despite its ultra compact size our Trabi in Bulgaria held three suit cases in the trunk along with the spare. Perhaps its greatest selling point is that following the reunification of the two Germanys you could buy one for next to nothing.
Peter also told me he liked the Trabant because it sported a paper body and he said these were flexible and held up better in light collisions. The car wasn't exactly made of paper. The body was made of recycled cotton and sometimes paper wastes with a phenol resin. The resulting product was a plastic called Duroplast. The body consisted of Duroplast panels overlaid on a steel frame. The Trabi does have the distinction of being the first car body made from recycled material.
On the down side, the beloved Trabi being a two-stroke without an oil injection system required adding oil to the gas at each fuel stop. Refueling consisted of opening the hood to a small tank located  over the engine. The location was necessitated because the car lacked a fuel pump so the fuel system was gravity fed. Another drawback was the two-stroke smoked considerably and produced noxious exhaust. There are some later model Trabis made with a four-stroke engines that run considerably cleaner.
Today the Trabi still has a loyal following. You can still buy them from Trabi dealers here in the US, Europe, England and Canada. (Scroll down the Canada link and click on the picture of the motor to hear the engine.) If you're in Krakow, Poland you may want to hire Crazy Guides tour company. They will show you the city in a brightly painted Trabant.
In 2009, an updated Trabant nT model was shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show. This model sported an environmentally friendly  45kW synchronous motor with a range of 100 miles. Price tag is projected at $29,000 US. This model isn't in production yet, so if you're interested in a Trabi you can still pick up a used one dirt cheap.

Let me know if you've spotted a Trabant lately?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The MG Midget: Small, Sporty and Nimble

My friend Rick recently sent me several advertising postcards like this one of various MG automobiles. He remembered that I owned one once and of the cards he sent this one most closely resembled the car I drove in the mid 1970's. Mine was orange and was a great car because at the time it got an unheard of fuel economy. I loved my MG despite the fact it was continually going out of tune. It handled corners like a pouncing cat. I liked that it was so different than any car on the road and that people at stop lights would look down from their enormous American made autos -- in what I call the Big Steel Era -- and point and laugh. Many times in the summer with their windows rolled down I would hear, "Is that a real car?" I had a number of pat answers ready. One was, "Why no, it's a toy but I couldn't part with it since childhood." Another was, "Absolutely, it's the car of the future." I like to think I was ahead of my time driving my MG Midget. Though the cars were taken out of  production in 1979, they did point to an era of smaller and more economical cars that many of us Americans began to buy in the latter half of the 20th-century.