Home » When The Walls Come Tumblin’ Down: 1972 BMW 2002 vs 1987 Trabant 601

When The Walls Come Tumblin’ Down: 1972 BMW 2002 vs 1987 Trabant 601

Sbsd 11 9 2023
ADVERTISEMENT

Good morning! Today’s Shitbox Showdown includes a history lesson. Thirty-four years ago today, November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall was opened up, and cars like the two shown here were able to share the road after decades of separation. Since both are icons in their own right, I decided to pit them against each other, and find out which side’s car you all prefer. We’ll be spending more imaginary internet money than usual today, because one of these cars is a bit hard to find for sale, and the other one is increasing in value seemingly by the hour.

But before go off to meet Linda Fiorentino at the Cafe Friedrichstrasse, we should finish up with yesterday’s cheapies. When it comes to dirt-cheap cars, condition is everything. How well a car was built matters less than how it has been treated since then, and while we’re all largely in agreement that the Ford Escort was probably the better car when new, when it comes to this Escort versus this Cavalier, the Cavalier comes across as the better deal.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Many of you seem to share, if not my enthusiasm for the J cars, at least a grudging respect. Shoddy construction and cheap materials were the hallmarks of GM’s bottom-tier US-built models, but that loose sloppiness somehow translated to a cockroach-like longevity. Chevy Cavaliers and their siblings just run and run and run, held together with baling wire and hope. In a way, they’re a bit like the American Lada, or for that matter, Trabant.

Screen Shot 2023 11 08 At 5.37.43 Pm

Which brings us to today’s matchup. For an entire generation, a 100-mile-long border wall split a city in two. This monument to fear and folly created two cultures within one country, and more importantly for our purposes, two car cultures. West Germany produced world-class performance cars; East Germany… didn’t. And yet, after the wall came down, a funny thing happened: one horrid little East German car became a cultural icon, and we all found out that, on the other side of the wall, it had been all along. Let’s see how it measures up against one of the cars that propelled West Germany’s rise to automotive fame.

ADVERTISEMENT

1972 BMW 2002 – $11,900

01616 9iptcs27eot 12w0mo 1200x900

Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter overhead cam inline 4, four-speed manual, RWD

Location: San Leandro, CA

Odometer reading: 120,000 miles

Runs/drives? Runs great, but needs a little reassembly to be driven

ADVERTISEMENT

BMW today is known for high-performance, high-technology cars (and increasingly, SUVs) built to a high standard, but plagued by complexity and fussy styling. But once upon a time, not too long ago, its cars were pure, focused machines that placed driving feel and roadholding above all else. The technology was a means to that end, not an end itself. One could say that BMW has lost its way, and one could make one’s case by pointing to this car, the 2002.

00x0x 2ksltqsyt2h 12w0mo 1200x900

In sharp contrast to the massively powerful BMWs of today, the 2002 makes do with a two-liter M10 four-cylinder that only makes about a hundred horsepower. It sends that power to the rear wheels – suspended independently on semi-trailing arms, one of the keys to the 02’s lively handling – through a four-speed stick. This one recently had its engine and transmission replaced, and it runs great, but the original engine and transmission are included. It also includes three sets of wheels and tires, and a whole bunch of other parts. The interior is disassembled, and a new carpet kit is half-installed, but it sounds like if you bolted the driver’s seat back in, you could drive it home.

00c0c 9uiixi04suv 12w0mo 1200x900

Surprisingly for a 2002, the seller claims this car is rust-free. Normally, the shock towers and floors on these are pretty crusty, but this one is solid through and through. It’s painted matte black on the outside, with BMW tri-color stripes. It looks sharp, but personally I’m not a fan of the whole matte-black thing. I’d rather see a car shiny, or with natural patina.

ADVERTISEMENT

01212 Indgxiewozz 12w0mo 1200x900

As a 1972 model, this one still has reasonably-sized bumpers, and the iconic 2002 round taillights. Perhaps as importantly, it’s now free from any sort of emissions testing, so it can be modified and upgraded to your heart’s content. And since it’s already not terrribly original, no one is going to complain too much about “ruining” it – as long as you don’t do anything stupid.

1987 Trabant 601S wagon – $13,950

Screen Shot 2023 11 08 At 6.07.26 Pm

Engine/drivetrain: 594cc two-stroke inline 2, four-speed manual, FWD

Location: Staunton, IL

ADVERTISEMENT

Odometer reading: 12,000 kilometers

Runs/drives? Yep!

Two cylinders. Twenty-something horsepower. A recycled plastic body [Editor’s Note: Technically, Duroplast, a Bakelite/fiberglass-like material made from resins and old Soviet underpants. – JT] that became a favorite snack of Eastern European goats. And buckets of character. There isn’t much that I can say about the Trabant that hasn’t been said before. Simultaneously the butt of jokes and and an object of immense admiration, the Trabant came to symbolize everything that had gone wrong in East Germany. It’s objectively horrible: small, slow, and poorly-made, yet somehow charming. It’s also a symbol of just how much the freedom an automobile provides means to people: There was a waiting list as long as thirteen years for these things. Terrible as they were, they were what was available, and that made them special.

Screen Shot 2023 11 08 At 6.06.29 Pm

Two-stroke car engines are almost unheard of these days; they’re dirty, noisy, and require oil mixed in with the fuel, all of which are at odds with modern emissions requirements and driver expectations. But for a cheap car in an impoverished nation, they make sense. If I’m counting right, a two-cylinder two-stroke engine has only five moving parts: one crankshaft, two connecting rods, and two pistons. This engine doesn’t even have a fuel pump; the fuel/oil mixture is gravity-fed to the carburetor. It’s air-cooled, so there’s no radiator to worry about. Automobile engines literally don’t get any simpler than this.

ADVERTISEMENT

Screen Shot 2023 11 08 At 6.07.02 Pm

This Trabi runs and drives, the seller says, but that’s all the information we get. I get the feeling they don’t know much about this car, but in fairness, southern Illinois is an unlikely place for a Trabant to end up. Its odometer shows only 12,000 kilometers, about 7,500 miles, but we have no way of knowing whether that’s accurate. I’m not sure it matters; if you want a Trabant, there aren’t many in America to cross-shop.

Screen Shot 2023 11 08 At 6.07.43 Pm

Even better, this one’s a wagon. Trabant sedans are dowdy, but the wagons are kinda cool in a VW Squareback sort of way. It looks clean and shiny, even the wheels. The trailer hitch strikes me as optimistic, but it’s a nice touch – you can imagine some East German family hooking up an equally flimsy and ramshackle caravan and heading off for a weekend at some state-run campground.

If you’ve never been to Berlin and seen the East Side Gallery – the remaining section of the Berlin Wall still standing, covered in murals and graffiti – I can’t recommend it highly enough. I was there in 2000, and the stories told by the murals painted on that crumbling concrete are powerful. More than one features a Trabant, the little car that meant so much to a nation deprived of so many things. It’s a bona-fide classic these days, but is it more desirable than a famous West German sports sedan? You decide.

ADVERTISEMENT

(Image credits: BMW – Craigslist seller; Trabant – Autotrader seller)

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
80 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
3 months ago

LOL that Trabant price is fucking crackhead. Not worth 5 digits. Maybe $3000 at the most.

Even a car as simple as the Trabant STILL had amber turn signals in the back! Most American cars have tail lights and turn signals inferior to a fucking Trabant.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
3 months ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

That thing is at a classic car dealer I’ve driven by a bunch of times, but never stopped at. I figured it was all over priced.

Usernametaken
Usernametaken
3 months ago

In Cyrillic languages during the Iron Curtain, for cars such as the GAZ Volga, the transmission was labeled (in Russian):
Зх: Reverse (задний ход)
Н: neutral (нейтральная)
Д: Drive (движение)
П: Low (пониженная)

If I’m spending phony baloney internet money, I’m going to put it in H

Last edited 3 months ago by Usernametaken
Atszekelyhidi
Atszekelyhidi
3 months ago
Reply to  Usernametaken

Yeah, but German is not Cyrillic (nor most ex-Commie languages) and the Trabant did not have any label on the tranny, so this is mute here

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
3 months ago
Reply to  Atszekelyhidi

Moot*

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
3 months ago

I have a bizarre fascination with Eastern Bloc cars so I’ll go with the Trabant. I would love to buy one of these as well as a Lada Niva and a Yugo. I have no idea why I want these cars, but I do.

I really like the 2002, though. This one seems a bit pricey given it needs work to be roadworthy, but it looks like it would be a very nice vehicle with a little effort.

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
3 months ago

Yes, it’s a fun novelty car to own, the Trabant, for people like Robert Dunn of Aging Wheels, but for the rest of us it really is a shitbox. So BMW all the way!

Bob Boxbody
Bob Boxbody
3 months ago

I love the 2002, but I have to admit I’d dig having that Trabant. Not for that price though, I guess.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
3 months ago

Thirteen year waiting list to get a Trabant? Ford Maverick: hold my beer.

Boulevard_Yachtsman
Boulevard_Yachtsman
3 months ago

I know this is just internet thought-experiment money, but good grief these things are expensive for what a person gets. I think it would be fun to have that Trabant, but only if the decimal point was moved a digit to the left. I voted for the 2002 simply because it was the lesser of two evil prices.

JerryLH3
JerryLH3
3 months ago

The Trabant is certainly more unique, but also more expensive. I love the Trabant as a conversation piece, but damn, getting it to Cars and Coffee may be the most unenjoyable thing ever. I would enjoy the 2002 more, but looks more expensive than it should be for its condition. There seem to be several on BaT that have gone for a little more, but look a lot better.

I guess I am going Trabant.

Chronometric
Chronometric
3 months ago

As a 2002 owner, no way I am paying that for someone’s half-assed project, even if the sum of the parts might be worth it. And I’m not paying Fiat 500 money for a 2-stroke Trabant, no matter how charming. Sorry, this is DCP – double crack pipe.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
3 months ago
Reply to  Chronometric

As a former 2002 owner, agree 100%. Both of these are crack pipe AF. That looks like a 6-7k project 2002 that will require at least 15k of paint/body/labor to bring back to respectable condition.

Goof
Goof
3 months ago
Reply to  Chronometric

Agreed. Honestly the biggest problem with the 2002 is the E30 is an infinitely better car in almost every way. Needs paint work (matte is a way to cheap out) and a lot of interior work, but here’s the key item:

“engine and transmission recently replaced”

Great, with what? Considering how utterly “meh” the current state is, I can’t assume that the replacements are all that great. They might be just be yet more things to be addressed down the road. It’s a dice roll.

This is a great example of why, “project car” has such a huge stigma, because a lot of people not only bite off more than they can afford (and people always woefully underestimate costs), but when they realize that they cut corners everywhere until you get stuff like this that gets dumped out there because they and/or their spouse is goddamn sick of it.

Last edited 3 months ago by Goof
Chronometric
Chronometric
3 months ago
Reply to  Goof

Yes an E30 is an objectively better car but the 2002 is an incredibly good car, for its era. It does everything well – fast enough, great handling, comfortable, room for 4, huge trunk, and classic European styling. And the 2002 is rare and old enough that you are judged as an eccentric old car driver rather than a jerky BMW driver.

Goof
Goof
3 months ago
Reply to  Chronometric

Yet there’s a reason why E30 values are what they are, despite 02s being older and rarer. It’s the same reason why cars from typically from 1985-onwards do a lot better in the marketplace than cars prior — they’re a lot easier to live with. In general, and across virtually all marques.

Yes, cars can be, “good for their time” but there’s a reason pre-85 stuff aren’t popular. They were comparatively more popular 20-30 years ago because there were a lot more of them around and they were comparatively cheaper then. They’re less popular now because most 80s cars are just infinitely easier to deal with than older cars on an everyday basis.

Yes, this 02 is a 72, but it’s still a car that debuted in model year 1966 and would’ve been developed probably primarily around the 1963-1965 timeframe. I’ve driven far too many cars from the 1945 to 1980 area, and the number of them I would actually own and deal with are vanishingly small, and that’s doubly so for anything developed before 1970. And I’m an absolute nutso, hardcore enthusiast who only does things truly right and won’t ever cheap out. The average person isn’t me, has a much higher standard of comfort and convenience, and just doesn’t want to deal with a mid-1960s platform with 1970s engine technology. The E30 is a massive upgrade for someone wanting an older car experience in every single way, as it’s a comparatively painless and effortless experience relative to the 02. It’s why E30s command a far higher price, and why so many more were saved than 02s were.

E30s are simply much, much easier to enjoy than 02s. 02s are rarer not just because of lower production numbers, but they weren’t anywhere as good enough relative to an E30 to be considered worth saving by owners.

Last edited 3 months ago by Goof
Goof
Goof
3 months ago
Reply to  Goof

Oh, and let me head this off about the E30 right now. I’m not talking about the M3. In fact, if I’m going to recommend an E30, I’d recommend an M3 the least of them all, because if you’re using it as a car, most enthusiasts are going to be much happier with a 325i. Not just from a maintenance perspective, but in usability.

I’ve genuinely lost count of how many people asked me if they should get an E30 M3 for me to the respond, “Have you considered getting a 325i?” … to then get an M3 and less than two years later sell it and get a 325i.

Chronometric
Chronometric
3 months ago
Reply to  Goof

A co-worker in the 80s bought a E30 M3 with a big commission check. He was afraid to rev it above 4000 RPM so it was considerably slower than a straight 6 E30.

Goof
Goof
3 months ago
Reply to  Chronometric

Yep, E30 M3s are great weekend b-road cars and fun at the track. But you need to be willing to constantly rev the balls off of them to understand and enjoy what they’re all about.

It’s why people looking for a daily ‘classic’ I point to the 325i over the M3 every time. E30 M3s just don’t make great dailies.

Chronometric
Chronometric
3 months ago
Reply to  Goof

Because they were ahead of their time, a tastefully upgraded 2002 can drive much more modern than other ’60s/70s cars. Sure it is easy (and cheaper and safer) to push the 325 button but sometimes the path less traveled is more scenic.

My 2002 has a 5 speed, working R134 A/C, a built M10 engine with a Weber 38/38 downdraft, Recaro seats, lowered but still compliant suspension, larger wheels with Michelins, and even working cupholders. It will cruise easily at 80mph and I daily drive it. Because I can. https://photos.app.goo.gl/49gYRDD6eMSxqT2o6

Last edited 3 months ago by Chronometric
Goof
Goof
3 months ago
Reply to  Chronometric

Woah now, I never said 0’s were bad. For what they are, they’re fine. You’re talking to someone who actually likes 2CVs for a specific kind of drive.

However if you look at what people actually buy and drive, there’s real reasons why they aren’t anywhere near as popular as E30s. The first is low-pressure fuel systems. I’ve dealt with plenty of carbureted cars, but people vastly prefer fuel injection because tuning carbs (even Webers) is much more effort, especially if you’re like me and live in a place where it’ll go from -10F to 100F across the year. An 02 is fine if you don’t mind wringing it out (same with E30 M3s), but a lot of people don’t, which is why then end up with an E30 325i, which also handles better, is a lot more comfortable, and needs less attention.

That was my beef with an 02 that needs too much work, and also now potentially has the question of the history of the engine and transmission. Juice wasn’t worth the squeeze. You can get a similarly questionable E30 for the same money and be better off.

Nycbjr
Nycbjr
3 months ago

Decent price for the 2002, my dad’s BFF used to restore these, price is decent for its condition, I voted for it, but dang doesn’t that little commy car look adorable!

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
3 months ago

“If I’m counting right, a two-cylinder two-stroke engine has only five moving parts: one crankshaft, two connecting rods, and two pistons.”

Sure just five moving parts (plus the piston pins, piston pin roller bearing assemblies, four piston pin circlips, six piston rings, crank ball bearing assemblies and a TV damper/fan pulley) but two of those five parts are service items. When did you last do a routine piston service on a 4-stroke? Never, that’s when.

I’ll take a well designed 4-stroke every time.

EmotionalSupportBMW
EmotionalSupportBMW
3 months ago

Guten morgen, comrade! Make the ultimate statement against the Capitalist Devil by spending 14k on the cleanest worst car in America. Communism might not have had a lot of social mobility, but nonexistent god damn did it have style. For being a car literally made out of various five year plan waste, it looks fantastic. Just does enough to not join the gulag of all the other shapeless Commie Fiats. Yeah, this thing would lose the 5k running event in the 1984 Los Angeles games. But you would like cooler than a Kino album cover cruising along. Plus you never have to worry about being banned from the Greater Houston area Cars&Coffee.

JDE
JDE
3 months ago

Both of these are way overpriced for my tastes, but the Trabbi is actually museum quality, which does not necessarily mean it runs, but at least I imagine all the bits are there if you want to try to revive it enough to really piss off the Teslarati crowd…you know going super slow in front of them while spewing tons of unburnt oil and gas into the fresh air intake of their car.

in truth, I have never been a huge fan of the 2002 either, but if I had to buy one of these, I would still probably go BMW if I intended to maybe drive it much. It will still be slow and ugly, but at least it might get me to work sort of regularly.

I would actually rather have a clapped out but working Trabbi, and then try some 670 lawn mower engine swaps. or even better, see what the EV West Electric set up would di one of them.

DialMforMiata
DialMforMiata
3 months ago

I reread the article twice looking for any red flags on the BMW. Looks like a fun weekend toy/driver/easy project as is or a great starting point for a deeper restoration or (sigh) restomod.
The Trabi might be the nicest example of the most desirable body style but it is what it is… basically a (barely) mobile Superfund site. BMW all the way.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
3 months ago
Reply to  DialMforMiata

No red flags? I’ve painted three cars with matte black paint, and in each case it was hiding horrible things.

Tbird
Tbird
3 months ago
Reply to  DialMforMiata

I have to agree with you, drive as is and slowly fix it up, starting with the interior. Probably not a full restore but fix it up or modify to suit your tastes.

Sid Bridge
Sid Bridge
3 months ago

$14,000 is a lot of money for a car, that while it’s an incredible conversation piece and a classic, isn’t doing much else for you and requires a lot of handling/explanation if you want to drive it anywhere… slowly. I feel like you get just as much cred/interest/usability if you bought a Trabant that was a total basket case.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
3 months ago

$14K for a conversation piece? I’ll pass. The Trabbi seems like one of those cars that one 30 min drive around the block is plenty to get familiar with enough of it’s idiosyncrasies to know that you really don’t want to try driving it for 3hrs to the local car show 20 miles away.

I’ll save $2K, repaint the 2002 in a decent traditional color, finish the carpet install, reassemble the interior, and sell it for a tidy profit.

S13 Sedan
S13 Sedan
3 months ago

Trabants are cool but I don’t think they’re $14k cool. The BMW is the obvious winner here

Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
3 months ago

Gimme the Bimmer. The 2002 is a classic.

And I can’t really buy a car where “Put it in H!” is reality and not a Simpsons reference.

https://youtu.be/1HPVQ4FpVlY?si=knyfPke7lU8UhROP

Toecutter
Toecutter
3 months ago

I’d take the Trabant, just to paint it red with a yellow star, sickle and hammer, and wreath on the hood, then convert it into a 9-second electric hot rod with a roll cage and tubbed out rear-end just to troll those all-American V8s with at the drag strip with it.

JDE
JDE
3 months ago
Reply to  Toecutter

Except don’t make it too obvious, Maybe Garage 54 the rear to have double the tires, but place them more inboard so it is not as obvious that it really works.

Aaron Slater
Aaron Slater
3 months ago

Anybody can go to the corner bodega and pick up a used 2002 in the States… The Trabant is the real winner here.

Clark B
Clark B
3 months ago

I have always had a soft spot for the Trabant, but at almost $14k that’s a no from me. Since they’re uncommon in America that could be the going rate…but still no. I’ll take the BMW, as it’s my favorite type of vintage car: imperfect enough to enjoy driving it places and not worry if it gets a rock chip or gets dirty, etc.

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
3 months ago

Since I’m not driving around in a post apocolyptic wasteland sim (anybody else every play “the long drive”?), the Trabant really isn’t much of a choice for me in this one. A serviceable, somewhat survivor-ish 2002 is just shy of a grail for most. I’m not a huge BMW fan, but even I can see the possibilities here.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
3 months ago

The Trabi is cute, but the snow on the ground in the photos — in an area of south-central Illinois that doesn’t get a ton of snow — suggests it’s been an extended-stay guest. That does not bode well.

Anyway, I’ll bolt in a seat and drive the BMW home.

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
3 months ago

You can wax lyrical about the car that made the Ultimate Driving Machine legend vs the rolling symbol of Brezhnevian stagnation all you want, but original baby-blue paint on a wagon that runs and drives beats a matte-black notchback with Some Assembly Required in my book every time.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
3 months ago

Zero.

Zero people have, so far, voted Trabant.

I’m a little surprised, but only a little.

Last edited 3 months ago by StillNotATony
1 2 3
80
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x