Home » Wartburg Surprise: Cold Start

Wartburg Surprise: Cold Start

Cs Wartburg353
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Late the other night, Autopian contributor Emily Velasco messaged me via Telex: “CHECK WIREPHOTO MACHINE,” the Telex read. I unhooked myself from the sleep-restraint harness and slid down the pole into the main communications sphere. The wirephoto machine was clicking and whirring with the intense business of a trouserful of bees. Eventually, the machine ejected the photo you see above. To explain the image, Emily sent a Fidonet message explaining that her friend John spotted this Wartburg 353 driving around the suburbs of Denver. A Wartburg 353 in America? Holy crap.

This is a wildly, deeply unlikely car to see in America, or, really, anywhere outside of a few locations in Europe. Hell, I even made the Wartburg 353 the subject of a Cold Start a number of months ago, where I marveled at the car’s almost complete absence from America:

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

You know what car is strangely interesting and pretty much completely absent from America? The Wartburg 353. Yes, the mighty East-German car that was the Lincoln Continental to the Trabant’s Pinto, this boxy, two-stroke, big-ish fella was actually exported to a lot of places, like the UK, where it was dirt cheap and called the Wartburg Knight. There was a nice roomy wagon version, a car that seemed to be the answer to those buyers who wanted the dynamic, shoebox-like look of a Volvo 240 but without all that tedious performance and much, much more smoke. Also, the chassis is just weird-looking.

And now one pops up in Denver of all places? A three-cylinder, two-stroke wagon with the all sleekness of a copy machine and almost the performance? It’s incredible! Who is this absolute champion who is tooling around the Mile High City in a car once nicknamed “Farty Hans?” I’m so very impressed.

Cs Wartburg Tourist1

The wagon versions of these were called the Tourist models, and were nearly Volvo-like in their unashamed utilitarian boxiness. In the UK these were sold under the model name Knight, because I suppose that just feels more British, somehow?

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Cs Wartburg Tourist 2a

Honestly, I think this is a fantastic classic car choice: roomy and practical, bafflingly unusual, crammed full of old Eastern Bloc anti-charm and extremely unlikely to get you in trouble for speeding. Plus, so much two-stroke exhaust!

Should we watch that Serbian punk band’s Wartburg song again? Probably!

Yeah, that was the right call.

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Oh, I’m not going to be around much today, because I have to shoot some videos of driving some cars you helped me pick out! So be good for everyone!

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FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
11 months ago

A Wartburg in Denver? Judge Phil (Murilee Martin) has to know this person.

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
11 months ago

What is the deal with the scissors/goose logo on the ad?

Goblin
Goblin
11 months ago

This thing looks like a pre-1982 one, judging by the bumper and wheel covers. The mirrors are either not stock (coming from a later version), either the car was an export (although these were not exported to too many places).
We used to have one, sedan, in the 80’s. We ended up driving it in Algeria, of all places, and discovered its secret.

Outside of the DDR (GDR), Wartburgs were a bit of a poor brother, second choice for whoever did not make it to a Lada. Ladas were supposed to be the good stuff. The 2-stroke engine was the subject of numerous jokes, such as “The Wartburg is the longest vehicle in the world“, because of its smoke tail.

The secret turned out to be that this car just wanted to be revved, as most two-strokes do. Algeria had two good things going for it: no police radars (back then), and excellent quality 2-stroke oil (and cheap gas).
Something we couldn’t enjoy in the Eastern Bloc.

So my dad let the engine rip any chance it got. And the thing never smoked, got us through four years in Algeria, several trips in the Sahara desert (on asphalt roads only, it is true), one family friend’s humiliated Lada 1600 (it was marginally faster in top speed, but could not maintain it 100% of the time, as apposed to our 353 which was a few mph slower, but kept them everywhere), one serious sandstorm (a separate story on its own), and several trips through Europe.

In 90000km we had one dead Bendix drive on the starter, and one reverse gear light switch (the switch from a 1980 Brasil-made VW Passate turned out to be a mirror twin and a perfect fit).

This was very, very reliable by our standards

One other thing – Wartburgs were the only Eastern European brand who were actually constantly evolving their cars with little changes. I had a list of the changes since the 353 was released, and it was huge. This was unusual, as these brands would usually release something and build it till the manufacturing machinery wears out, and then some.

While its little brother, the Trabant, really was a joke (it became famous, was cute, but was a dangerous POS with its fuel tank in the engine bay), this one was a (relatively) serious family sedan. The wagon was even better.

All this, of course, comparing it to the rest of the sad bunch it had to be compared with – Ladas, Skodas, Moskviches (barf), etc.

Last edited 11 months ago by Goblin
Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
11 months ago

I have to name this band the Serbian Monkees. The beat and videos remind me of the Monkeys. The lyrics? I don’t know how about close caption?

SparkySparkington
SparkySparkington
11 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

I got you with the lyrics (excuse the clunky translation here and there; I’m no poet):

A year ago we had a car
But it got half-eaten by pigs*
Because we love ludicrous speed
We got ourselves a Wartburg sedan**

A Wartburg sedan has five gears
It makes a lot of smoke and has one loose wheel
And where there’s smoke, there’s fire
Holy fuck, that’s the engine burning

Sure, the engine’s on fire, but it goes like hell
So every driver out there is proud of his Wartburg
The chassis is rigid, two inches thick
The suspension is stiff, so now I’ve got a bad back

Chorus:
Wartburg sedan is the longest machine
Four meters of sheet metal and five meters of smoke (x2)

A Wartburg sedan is a comfortable machine
Made by ol’ Pete from the former DDR
And boy oh boy did he make it
It’s always leaking some kind of grease out the exhaust

The bumpers are made of concrete, you could kill an elephant
The seats are as soft as some guys’ dicks
Make all checks payable to my son’s grandfather
You can’t drive the car if you don’t pay the bribe

(Chorus)

The Wartburg sedan is in the garage
The garage is by the pigpen, so I’m keeping watch
So the pigs don’t devour my car again
Like they ate half of my Trabant

So I go to take a break and have a couple of beers
And as luck would have it, the pigs are out looking for food
But a Wartburg isn’t as lame as a Trabant
Because of the Wartburg, the pigs are now toothless

(Chorus)

*The story of this car is covered in the first song in the trilogy, Blue Trabant (yes, there is a third song too and it’s a sequel to this one)
**This is rendered in the original Serbian as “limuzina”, which is used to mean both “limousine” and “sedan”

Goblin
Goblin
11 months ago

Incidentally, the pigs eating a Trabant reference is from a series of cult (just a few seconds long) moments from Emir Kosturica’s “Black cat, White cat“.

https://youtu.be/Ps6yap7Du-k

While this movie no longer counted as Yougoslavian anymore (most of his post 80’s stuff was made with Euro budgets), they were still cultish there.

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
11 months ago

My wife speaks Serbo-Croatian. I will have to send this to her. I am subjected to a lot of Croatian pop music in her car. It is amazing how damn near every song can incorporate an accordian…

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