While learning all about the subculture of Soviet car fans back in May, I was reminded of my own personal favourite totalitarian bucket of bolts, the Trabant. I first encountered the Trabant (or, affectionately, the “Trabi”) on a trip to Germany, where I turned down an Ostalgie -soaked tour of the former East Berlin via the iconic — and I use the term loosely — “car.” (I now deeply regret this.) The Trabi was ubiquitous in East Germany; it was produced by VEB Sachsenring, with little to no variation, from 1957 to 1990. It was notoriously, Communistically, awful: it had no fuel gauge, no signal lights, and its two-stroke engine topped out at barely 100 KPH. But, like the folks who homebrew Lada and Volga mods, the Trabi has a surprising number of modern fans.
“Ronny Heim, 44, got his first Trabi in 1996 in exchange for a box of beer. ‘Trabis weren’t worth anything [after the Wall fell],’ he says. ‘[Because] everyone wanted a “Western car.”’ That same year he served in the Bundeswehr, or unified armed forces of Germany, and brought his Trabi with him to the country’s northwest. ‘Half the team wanted to take the Trabi for a round in the barracks,’ he says, ‘They’d never experienced anything like it before.’
[…] Another thing Trabi collectors can’t get enough of: the strong community that’s devoted to the cars. In May 2019, the International Trabant Meeting celebrated its 25th anniversary […] They swapped stories, sipped beers, and participated in Trabi-related events like seeing who can toss a Trabi engine the furthest. Today there are Trabi clubs throughout Germany, greater Europe, and even in the United States.”
Zaniness aside, there’s a lesson in here — about pursuing what you love, even if (or perhaps because) it’s otherwise “obsolete.” I admire certainty of taste: in business, as well as in the hobby world, conforming for the sake of it while denying the lessons of the past is no way to operate. The far-reaching fandom for a fondly remembered, albeit cruddy, car shows this in the real world!