Monday, April 11, 2011

VEB Sachsenring - East Germany's People's Cars


The Allies had no grand plan to divide Germany after the Second World War, but as relations between the Allies degenerated through 1946-47, the defacto occupation zones began to take on the shape of separate regimes, sponsored according to the wishes of the respective occupiers. By the fortune of war the Saxon auto conglomerate, Auto-Union, found itself in the Soviet occupation zone. Having been given over to war production, primarily aircraft engines and military vehicles, their factories had been severely bombed during the war. On top of that, the Soviets had repaid the destruction the Nazis had wrought on the Soviet Union in kind as Soviet engineering corps stripped the country for any salvageable industrial assets. What was left to the company after the war wasn't much to speak of and it certainly didn't bode well for the future.

The Soviets occupied Auto-Union's the Zwickau, Zschopau and Chemnitz factories until 1949, stripping them of whatever machinery was worth salvaging. At this stage the Soviets had little interest or concern for the welfare of the German people or any claims of the company owners, but once it became clear that the division of Germany was going to become permanent, the Soviets were forced to change their attitude. To avoid capitalist subversion of their regime they needed to address the East Germans political and economic needs, in so far as the Soviet system would allow. Therefore, in 1949 the Soviets handed over control of all commandeered industrial facilities over to the East German government.

The East Germans faced the same problems as their counterparts in the west; unemployment, shattered infrastructure, lack of transport, and the need to revive industry, but with one additional hurdle. Once the Soviets had relaxed their grip, original owners began presenting claims to the German government for the recovery of their assets. It took several years of negotiations before the all claims were settled, but the end result was that Germany's surviving auto factories were nationalised.

The next challenge was a critical shortage of raw materials, especially steel. In the west, the Marshall Plan had helped facilitate the import of steel and other materials, but in the east, the Soviets were little concerned with easing the East German's supply problems and more interested in extracting reparations.

Despite these hurdles, the newly resurrected Auto-Union, now renamed VEB-IFA, had one advantage over its western counterparts - direct access to Auto-Union's archives, patents, plans and, in some instances, the original tooling and machinery. They even had one complete F9 prototype with its 3=6 engine, which had escaped destruction during the war. Restoration of cash-flow was the company's immediate and understandable priority. In the cash strapped DDR, as in the west, there was no need of Audi or Wanderer's products and the companies were deregistered. The luxury car brand, Horch, however was a special case.

Horch

A Horch KFZ15. Horch built several truck models for the Wehrmacht.

Before the war Horch had specialized in enormous, luxuriously appointed limousines. They were the favorite car of Nazi Reichmarshall and head of the Luftwaffe, Herman Goering, who delighted in their ostentatious extravagance. During the war, Horch was given over to manufacturing heavy duty military trucks. The Soviets seized the designs and stripped the machinery from the factory and set up production in the USSR.

After the Soviets had left with the Horch plant, the company had little left to work with apart from some 910 and 930 limousine chassis,engines and spares. After clearing the damaged factory, the workers began building Horch limousine's to order. Between 1950 and 1953 approximately six spectacular Horch 930S' were built for Communist Party officials, which led to a contract to Horch to build a luxury vehicle for officials. This became the Sachsenring P240, which was built as a competitor to the Czech Tatra and Russian Volga. The P240 was a long way from Horch's luxury car heritage, but was quite an extravagant vehicle for East Germany. The car was not available to the general public was but was official use only. The car was powered by a 2.4 litre Horch six cylinder engine of pre-war provenance. The car was in production for a short time from 1956 and 1959.

A Soviet general approaches his Horch limousine. VEB Horch produced these cars specifically for Communist party officials, but they were a far cry from the pre-war Horch products. The Horch was eventually retired in favour of the Czech Tarta 603 and the Russian Zil.

IFA-DKW
DKW was renamed IFA (Industrieverband Fahrzeugbau, or the Industrial Association for Vehicle Construction) in 1949. Like their western counterpart in Ingolstadt, IFA had a stock of pre-war F8 chassis, engines and stock to call upon, so their first car, the IFA F8, was identical to its prewar predecessor. The first cars even had a green and white IFA badge based on the old DKW badge. It would have to be redesigned after complaints from DKW.

An early model F8. It was effectively identical to the pre-war DKW F8 but carries the new diamond shaped IFA logo.

A late model F8 'luxus' roadster built at Eisenach around 1954. The body style has been revamped and modernised, partly merging the style and streamlining of EMW's own 325 roadster (see below).

The F8 was only planned as a stop gap and in 1950 IFA unveiled the new F9. The IFA F9 was the realisation of DKW's pre-war F9, powered by the 3=6 900cc two stroke. It would be 1953 before DKW in the west finally got the 3=6 into their version. The F9 was every bit the success in the east as it was in the west. It was produced in two door and four door versions, hard and soft top.

Contemporary advertising for the F9. Life in the DDR is often portrayed as a life without choices but that isn't entirely the case. In the 1950s DDR consumers had almost as many choices of vehicle as their cousins in the west and they were just as expensive and unaffordable for the majority.

The new car was still described as the IFA-DKW. Legal problems with Auto-Union DKW led the company to drop the DKW reference.

The IFA F9 was a virtual replica of DKW's 1939 F9 prototype, but some substantial changes were required. Although superficially similar, the IFA 3=6 engine was a new design. IFA abandoned the rear-mounted fuel tank in favour of an under bonnet tank as in the F8. This meant that the car did not need a fuel pump and simplified construction somewhat. Production was very slow and only 1880 cars were built between 1950 and 1953.


IFA moves on

By the the 1950s it was apparent to the East German government that a comprehensive industrial re-organisation was required. This wasn't simply an exercise in socialist political re-engineering; the random smattering of industries the East Germans inherited just wasn't equipped to meet the country's needs and production needed to be closely managed in order to marshal the countries meagre resources. All the auto companies were organised into a new conglomerate called VEB (Volkseigener Betrieb = National Corporation) and give a specific market and resource allocation. IFA was ordered to cease manufacturing motorcycles and cars and began manufacturing heavy trucks based on wartime Horch designs. IFA's sturdy trucks went on to be became a major export earner for East Germany.

Introducing the Wartburg

IFA's move into truck manufacturing did not spell the end of the F9. Production of the F9 was transferred to the former BMW works in Eisenach. This factory, in the shadow of the medieval Wartburg castle, had begun building Austin 7s under the Dixi brand name in the 1920s. BMW took over the plant in the 1930s, developing a pleasant line of sporty roadsters. After the war, the plant recommenced manufacturing BMW roadsters and a large 6 cylinder four-stroke tourer called the BMW 340. All the cars built up to this point were designated BMW, but with the nationalisation of the factory in 1952 BMW was forced to relocate its operations to Munich. BMW sued VEB over use of the BMW name and logo which resulted in the Eisenach company changing its name to VEB EMW (Eisenach Motorwerkes).

This Swedish advert names the car an EMW while still noting it as a BMW. EMW's products were too expensive for the domestic market and were primarily shipped for exported. Sweden and Finland received large shipments of IFA vehicles.
http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.au/2013/07/wartburg-in-eisenach-75-year-anniversary.html
A gorgeously restored EMW 340-2 with an EMW 321 following. Compare the 321 styling with the Eisenach F9 above. For more info about EMW cars including this one, http://www.emw-auto.com/My%20EMW%20340.htm

EMW's large and expensive vehicles struggled to find a market in East Germany so the factory was particularly under utilised, nevertheless, when the employees discovered they were to build the budget F9, they were less than impressed. The Zwickau F9s continued archaic features such as the front mounted petrol tank, dash mounted gear shift and split front and rear windows. Build quality of the Zwickau cars was also generally poor. The EMW team quickly revised and updated the car, with a wrap around windscreen and large rear window, steering column gear shift, and better quality fittings. The fuel tank was returned to the boot and a petrol pump was installed.


In 1956 the Eisenach plant stopped production of the F9 models in favour of a completely redesigned car, the Wartburg 311. Underneath the car's completely redesigned and modernised body was the F9s slightly modernised 3=6 two-stroke engine and chassis. The new car came in sedan, cabriolet, wagon, campervan and roadster models.

Contemporary advertising for the Wartburg 311, the most popular Wartburg model. http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.au/2013/07/1959-wartburg-prospect.html

The Wartburg was a well appointed and good performing car and between 1956 and 1966 almost 300,000 cars ran off the production line. Many were exported both east and west. In 1966 the 311 was modernised and the engine upgraded to 992cc. Its square and boxy contemporary styling left a lot to be desired in the appearance stakes but it was a success domestically and abroad, selling over 1.4 million cars.

Nostalgia at Eisenbach. The three main models lined up at the old Eisenbach Motorwerkes. From right to left - the EMW 340-2, the Wartburg 311, and the late model Wartburg 353. http://www.team.net/www/ktud/wartburg.html
 

The Trabant - the Peoples Car

The Wartburg was a luxury vehicle and largely out of the price range of most East Germans. For the majority of people they had to make do with MZ motorcycles, IWL scooters or Simson mopeds to get around. Second hand vehicles were almost as rare as new vehicles and could still fetch high prices. VEB Sachsenring were therefore tasked to build a cheap, people's car that did not consume too much of East Germany's scarce strategic raw materials. Sachsenring drew on its DKW patrimony to create a new, modernised budget vehicle, the AWZ P-70.
AWZ P-70 - the name means Auto Werke Zwickau.

The P-70 looked like a new car but underneath was an F8 chassis with its two-cylinder 700cc engine. The body however was entirely new and modern, built out of a new synthetic product called Duroplast (see below), which was mounted to a wooden frame. The car came in a variety of styles; two door sedan, three door/hatch estate wagon and a neat little sports model. The P-70 was only in production for three years (1955-59) during which time approximately 36,000 of all models were made.

DKW had experimented with synthetic materials in their cars in the 1930s. One of those products was a resin impregnated wood pulp called Duroplast. The great advantage of Duroplast was that it involved no strategic materials, was cheap to make, and once set was extremely robust. It would never rust and could easily be patched if damaged. Unlike fibreglass, which was just coming into use vehicles in the west, Duroplast was easy to manufacture and and could be pressed into shape in a similar way to steel panels.

Duroplast in its various states. On the right hand side are the raw cotton fibres, these were loosely woven into a sheet and then compressed into a pattern and impregnated with resin. The resin itself was a recycled byproduct of the chemical dye industry. Once pressed and cured, Duroplast was extremely strong and long lasting. Far from being the 'primitive' product it is often claimed to be, it actually pointed the way towards the lightweight carbon fibre paneling used on our modern cars and aircraft.

Das Trabbie!

The classic P-50. The 50 designation refer to the engine ccs.

In 1959 the AWZ P-70 was replaced by the P-50; the first 'true' Trabant. The P-50 saw cost saving and austerity take precedence over 'performance.' The 700cc water cooled F8 engine was replaced by a smaller 488cc air-cooled two-stroke engine that had been developed for a pre-war Framo light truck. Air cooling make the engine simpler and was something of a step backwards. Performance was ultimately reduced, but this was felt to be a fair exchange for a budget car and helped reduce both weight and cost. Styling was reminiscent of the P-70 but the Duraplast bodywork was now mounted on a steel monocoque frame.

The distinctive front of the Trabant 601.The petrol tank was in the engine bay like on pre-war DKWs.

In 1962 the P-50 received an upgraded 600cc engine and became known as the Trabant 600. The Trabant 601 was released in 1964 and would remain in production without major changes until 1991. The Trabants' long production life meant that spare parts were always available to the home mechanic. Improved engines and synchromesh gearboxes from later models could be purchased and retrofitted into even the earliest P-70s. For all of their complaints and jokes about the Trabbi, East German owners tended to take extremely good care of their cars.


A contemporary advertisement for the Wartburg 1000 and then a film of Trabants being manufactured.

Unfortunately for the staff at Sachsenring-AWZ, their numerous proposals for improvements to the Trabant came to nothing. From the central government's perspective, the brief had been delivered. The Trabant was a success and almost four million of the cars were manufactured by the time production shut down. It is true that production was extremely slow and East German customers had to wait up to 15 years to get their hands on one, but this wasn't just due to shortages of resources and poor production processes. The Trabant was popular all across the Communist east and the cash strapped East German government prioritised foreign export over domestic distribution.

By the 1980s however, the pollution generated by the Trabant's two-stroke engine was beginning to impact on its export prospects. This was slightly unfair as the problem wasn't so much the two-stroke engine as with the poor quality of the petrol and oil being used in the east. VEB also recommended owners over-oil their engines under the false reasoning that more oil would reduce engine-wear. In fact it only caused more pollution and reduced engine performance. Nevertheless, over time the Trabant failed to find a market in the west, while the four-stroke engined products of the Czech Skoda company did. Having shut down all four stroke engine development in the 1950s, VEB were finally forced to source engines from Volkswagen, but it did not greatly help its export sales. After the fall of Communism, Volkswagen bought out AWZ and stopped production. http://home.clara.net/peterfrost/trabant.html

The history of the Trabant - http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.au/2014/01/trabant-east-german-peoples-car.html

Framo-Barkas

Another sidebar to the convoluted DKW-IFA-VEB story is the Framo company. Framo originally manufactured fittings for DKW, however, in the 1920s they began building a small three wheeled commercial vehicle powered by a DKW engine. The Framo-laster (German for lorry) was a very basic affair with an exposed engine driving a single front wheel (see my post on Chinese three wheeled trucks - http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com/2010/11/chinese-three-wheeled-trucks-and.html). Founder of DKW, Jorgen Rasmussen, saw an opportunity and he bought Framo but kept it separate from Auto Union.

Throughout the 1930s Framo manufactured a range of three wheeled commercials and some interesting microcar pet projects of Rasmussen's. All were invariably powered by DKW two strokes. During the Second World War Framo built four wheeled trucks powered by two-stroke engines. After the war the Soviets dismantled the factory and shipped it to Russia, but in 1951 the company was resurrected under VEB auspices. The new Framo V901 was a very conventional lorry powered by the now ubiquitous 3=6 engine.

http://www.f-r-a-m-o.de/

History of Framo - http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.au/2013/12/framo.html

The Framo remained in production until 1960 when it was replaced by the Barkas B1000. The B1000 was powered by the new 'big' 996cc 3=6. The Barkas was an extremely versatile vehicle, coming in all manner of body styles and configurations. It was pretty much the only light commercial van in the DDR and over 175,000 were built. They still enjoy a good reputation today.

The DDR's Volkswagen T2 - the Barkas. This one is parked outside the DDR Motorrad Museum in Berlin. The museum has a great collection of Simson, IWL, EMW, MZ and IFA motorcycles and scooters as well as a display of Trabants. http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com/2009/10/east-german-motorcycle-museum.html and
http://www.heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.au/2013/07/barkas-prospect.html

For the story of DKW in the west http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com/2011/01/dkw-germanys-post-war-wonder-car.html

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