It belched blue smoke. Its two-cylinder, two-stroke engine cranked out a paltry 26 hp. Its top speed was just 62 mph. It had a recycled plastic body. That's a pretty unlikely resume for a vehicle that would become an automotive icon and a symbol for an era.
But the Trabant, whose basic design didn't change for 30 years, became the most ubiquitous vehicle in communist East Germany and other Eastern Bloc countries during the Cold War era. Aficionados of the Trabbie, as it was nicknamed, mourned the passing last month of Werner Lang, the mechanical engineer from Zwickau who fathered the car and spent his life insuring its history would be preserved. The Trabant appeared in 1957, the same year as the Soviet Sputnik satellite. The name Trabant has Slavic origins and means a celestial body or satellite.
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, exposing Eastern Bloc consumers to the cars of Western Europe, the end was near for the dowdy Trabant. The car struggled on until 1991. When Lang died from a heart attack at 91, he had outlived his creation by 22 years.