Tales of my Trabi #4

Four posts into the build thread for my 1990 Trabant 601 and the real work is about to begin. After learning of the origin of this vehicle last week, it was finally time to re-haul the brakes, which were quite frankly as broken as the communist regime.

My consideration for a suitable mechanic had to factor in many things. Firstly, cost. The job could not break the bank, especially as I was studying at a Post Graduate level at the time. Secondly, proximity. The added kerfuffle of travelling long distances to receive news that this little communist had defected to the other side was hardly desirable or practical. Lastly, specialism. I would have preferred not to have taken my newly acquired project to the monkeys at the likes of certain chain garages that often fit quickly or howl at fords.

No worries though, as I had chanced upon a small garage in a nearby trading estate. My reasoning was that a garage staffed by an older gentleman who had a collection of Minis would be the ideal location for such a repair.

Indeed it was, the small staff roster worked hard to complete the job, which took a whole day (no thanks to two siezed rear drums). While the cost made my rear end sore, the quality of workmanship was excellent. The owner even went upon himself to fit new fuel lines and tinker with the carburetor.

Whilst the brakes were soundly replaced, the carburetor clearly needed more attention. A small service pack from Dave (Formerly Trabi UK) could not provide the hidden ingredient to this two-stroke garnished soup. A small test drive on the private forecourt proved just that.

A small test drive of which made a defining moment in the project so far. For one Armstrong of another generation, his small step for man was the first step upon the rocky surface of the moon. This Armstrong’s small step for man was the first actual drive in his dilapidated Trabant.

Certainly it was a giant step for me as well, the first time I had the thing mobile I could finally figure out the functionality (or lack of) of the gear change. Linked to the gearbox is a column mounted lever, coupled with a conventional clutch pedal. To travel forwards in first, I had to move the lever down. Funnily enough, this was also how you would engage reverse, albeit by slightly pushing in the lever. The look of hilarity on the mechanics’ faces when I kept reversing instead of moving onward was too much to handle. With each tap of the throttle, I was slowly creeping into the perimeter fence.

Luck would have it that I would eventually find first gear, and with a press onto the hilariously offset throttle, I was off. Literally, I was one attempt away at searching for it behind the sofa. Second gear was easier to find, with a movement upwards. Brilliant, I was finally making progress I thought. That was until suddenly the chugging two-stroke motor decided that it harboured nostalgic feelings of its 12 year hibernation.

All in all, this experience left me with vastly improved brakes (with master cylinder) and a fully-functioning handbrake, which was the desired outcome originally. However this further fuelled my suspicion that my carburetor was how the German would call gefickt.


Find out if I managed to fuel progress next week.


by Mike Armstrong


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