Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Wartburg 353 - A Whole Lot Cooler Than A Trabant

A little Wartburg trivia: From 1956 through 1966, there were Wartburg dealers in the US. Yep, Wartburg tried selling cars in the US. It wasn't this car, it was its predecessor, the Wartburg 1000 (aka 311). It didn't sell well - which is not a real surprise, given that those years were the height of the Cold War - but you have to give the East German company credit for trying. (Maybe they were just naive or maybe they were just ballsy. I have no idea what they were thinking.)

This car never officially made it to the US. The 353 was introduced in 1966. It had a very simple 3 cylinder, 2 stroke engine of 1000ccs with only seven moving parts (three pistons, three connecting rods and one crankshaft). The body was made of steel and when compared to the other East German car, the Trabant, it was downright luxurious. (The 353S - De Luxe - model came with things such as an electronic ignition, 5 speed transmission, front and rear fog lights, an alarm system and a central door locking system.)

In many parts of the world the Wartburg was dismissed because it, like the awful Trabant, was a 2 stroke car from East Germany. (Awful by association, I guess.) In reality, the Wartburg 353 wasn't all that bad. Think of it as an Eastern European version of a Saab 93. Like the Saab, it is FWD and the engine has a freewheeling device. In the areas of Europe where the 353 sold well it is known as a simple car that runs forever (as long as you remember to mix the proper ratio of oil and gasoline). It still has a large following and is often seen in small European racing / rallye events.

This Wartburg 353 is listed as a 1977 model year car. The seller believes that it is actually a 1985 or 1986 (It was imported prior to it being 25 years old, which most likely explains the 1977 title.) The engine is brand new as the previous owner ran the car with an improper gas / oil mixture and seized the original engine. The seller is including the original, seized engine in the sale. (I have no idea why - A seized 2 stroke is pretty much useless.)

This car looks to be in really nice condition. The body and interior look to be original.(The bumper has some rust bubbles and the seller says there's a small rip in one of the seat bolsters, but that's to be expected in a car this old.)

This is a really interesting looking car. The hood and trunk have a BMW Neue Klasse (1600, 2002, etc.) style to them. The roof and doors would look at home on an old Fiat sedan. The only styling letdown is the front end, which is pretty generic and unimaginative. Still, put a set of period correct aftermarket wheels on this and it would actually look pretty cool. The stock engine is not powerful and the car is slow (80-85 MPH, tops), but according to a few websites, the engine can be modified to a point where it will hit 110 - 120 MPH.

In my "fantasy garage" are a few Eastern European cars. This one is now parked there, too.

Located in Camp Hill, PA, click here to see the eBay listing.

A little more Wartburg trivia... The Melkus RS 1000 sports car was based on the Wartburg 353.


m4ff3w said...

Did you notice the neighbor has a Trabant?

Just A Car Geek said...

Wow. I didn't notice that. Maybe that neighborhood is the East German section of Camp Hill, PA. ;)


Quantum Joe said...

That is one funky car! You're right. It's way cooler than a Trabant. I'd like to own it.

m4ff3w said...

This car is now in San Antonio!

I bought a W201 2.6 from the owner.

I couldn't believe my eyes when I walked into his garage.

muska said...

there is a wartburg 353 turist 1977, with about 150000km, for sale, my dad owns it and would like to sell it. he has it for about 30 years now,it's been garaged ever since he bought it. if anyone interested ...???