Monday, April 25, 2011

New windscreen

About six months ago I bought a repro windshield from Draganfly. I was surprised to find that not one of the fixing holes in the windshield actually aligned to the bolts in the front shield so I abandoned the idea, at least temporarily. Over Easter I pulled the windshield out again and recut all the holes. Once recut the windshield slipped in quite easily. I couldn't get the upper fixing bolts secured however and had to make do with a temporary fix.

The bike had a come with a small, custom windshield. It vibrated alot when riding and didn't really serve much of a purpose. I didn't really expect too much of the new windshield either, except for appearances sake. In fact, the first thing I found when I took the bike out was that the windshield is really quite restrictive on the bike's turning circle, especially when turning right. There is very little clearance between clutch lever and the windshield. It has already cut into the perspex. But despite this inconvenience I was surprised to find that the windshield actually works. It creates a slipstream that sweeps up over the windscreen over the rider. I found that I could actually ride without my helmet visor down and not be blown away.

And here are a couple of shots of a nice BSA that I found while riding around. This bike was clearly being ridden as a daily rider. It wasn't fancy or over restored. The paint job was by hand. It's good to see an old machine ridden as the maker intended.

Monday, April 11, 2011

VEB Sachsenring - East Germany's People's Cars

The Allies had no grand plan to permanently divide Germany after the Second World War, but as relations between the Allies degenerated through 1946-47, the de-facto occupation zones began to take on the shape of separate regimes. By the fortune of war Auto-Union found itself in the Soviet occupation zone. Having been given over to war production, some of their factories had been severely damaged during the war. Those that weren't destroyed were stripped by the Soviets for war reparations. What was left to Auto-Union after the war wasn't much to speak of and it certainly didn't bode well for the future.

The Soviets had initially shown little interest in the general welfare of the German people, but once it became clear that the division of Germany was going to become permanent, the Soviets were forced to revise their attitude. To avoid capitalist subversion they needed to address the East Germans' political and economic needs, so in 1948 the Soviets handed over control of all commandeered industrial facilities over to the East German government.

By order to the Soviet Occupying authority, Auto-Union was formally de-registered in October 1945 after its assets had been stripped. A successor company was then founded in its place, which in February 1948 petitioned the East German government for recovery of its seized property. In July the East German confirmed the legality of the seizure and deregistration, and moved to formalize nationalization of the remnants of the company. The old Auto-Union was no more.

The East Germans faced the same challenges as their West German counterparts - the need to people to work and rebuild the shattered nation. The difference was that the recovery would be centrally directed. Apart from the Auto-Union group, East Germany was not blessed with a large auto industry. An overarching authority for the motor industry was established called VEB (Volkseigener Betrieb), under which all the companies would operate. Auto-Union became VEB-IFA. While Auto-Union in the west had to start largely from scratch, IFA was at least able recover many plans, tooling and parts from Auto-Union's archives and stocks of spare parts.

The restoration of cash-flow was the new company's immediate and understandable priority. In cash strapped GDR, it may seem unlikely that Auto-Union's luxury car brand, Horch, would have any place, but strangely that would not be the case.

VEB Horch

A Horch KFZ15. Horch built several truck models for the Wehrmacht.

Before the war Horch had specialized in luxuriously appointed limousines. They were the favorite car of Nazi Reichmarshal, Herman Goering, who delighted in their ostentatious extravagance. During the war, Horch was given over to manufacturing heavy duty military trucks. After the war the Soviets seized the designs and stripped the machinery from the factory and set up production in the USSR.

The Horch plant was left with little to work with apart from some 910 and 930 limousine chassis, engines and fittings. After clearing the damaged factory, the workers began building Horch limousine's to order. Between 1950 and 1953 approximately six spectacular Horch 930S' were built for Communist Party officials. This led on to a contract to build a luxury sedan for official use. The resulting Horch P240 was a long way from Horch's luxury car heritage, but was quite an extravagant vehicle for these straitened times. The car was powered by a 2.4 litre Horch six cylinder engine of pre-war provenance. The car was in production for a short time from 1956 and 1959.

A Soviet general approaches his Horch limousine. VEB Horch produced these cars specifically for Communist party officials, but they were a far cry from the pre-war Horch products. The Horch was eventually retired in favour of the Czech Tarta 603 and the Russian Zil.

The DKW brand was renamed IFA (Industrieverband Fahrzeugbau, or the Industrial Association for Vehicle Construction) in 1949. Like their western counterpart in Ingolstadt, IFA had a stock of prewar F8 chassis, engines to call upon, so their first car, the IFA F8, was identical to its prewar predecessor. The first cars even had a green and white IFA badge based on the old DKW badge. It would be redesigned after complaints from the West German Auto-Union in 1950.

The F8 was exported across Europe and even as far afield as South America.

A luxury export model was also produced with bodywork based on the Baur bodied DKW F10.

The F8 was only a stop gap however and in 1950 IFA unveiled the new F9. The IFA F9 was the realization of DKW's pre-war F9, powered by the 3=6 900cc two stroke. It would be 1953 before DKW in the west finally got the 3=6 into their version. The F9 was every bit the success in the east as it was in the west. It was produced in two door and four door versions, hard and soft top.

Contemporary advertising for the F9. Life in the GDR is often portrayed as a life without choices but that isn't entirely the case. In the 1950s GDR consumers had almost as many choices of vehicle as their cousins in the west and they were just as expensive and unaffordable for the majority.

The new car was still described as the IFA-DKW. Legal problems with Auto-Union DKW led the company to drop the DKW reference.

The IFA F9 was a virtual replica of DKW's 1939 F9 prototype, but some changes were required. Although superficially similar in appearance, the IFA 3=6 engine was in fact a new design reverse engineered from a single example recovered in Leipzig. IFA abandoned the rear-mounted fuel tank in favour of an under bonnet tank as in the F8. This meant that the car did not need a fuel pump and simplified construction somewhat. Production was very slow and only 1880 cars were built between 1950 and 1953.

IFA moves on

By the the 1950s it was apparent to the East German government that a comprehensive industrial re-organisation was required. This wasn't simply an exercise in socialist political re-engineering; the random smattering of industries the East Germans inherited just wasn't equipped to meet the country's needs and production needed to be closely managed in order to marshal the countries meagre resources. All the auto companies were organized into a new conglomerate called VEB (Volkseigener Betrieb = National Corporation) and give a specific market and resource allocation. IFA was ordered to cease manufacturing cars and began manufacturing heavy trucks based on Horch designs. IFA's sturdy trucks went on to be became a major export earner for East Germany.

Introducing the Wartburg

IFA's move into truck manufacturing did not spell the end of the F9. Production of the F9 was transferred to the former BMW works in Eisenach. This factory, in the shadow of the medieval Wartburg castle, had begun building Austin 7s under the Dixi brand name in the 1920s. BMW took over the plant in the 1930s, developing a pleasant line of sporty roadsters. After the war, the plant recommenced manufacturing BMW roadsters and a large 6 cylinder four-stroke tourer called the BMW 340. All the cars built up to this point were designated BMW, but with the nationalization of the factory in 1952 BMW was forced to relocate its operations to Munich. BMW sued VEB over use of the BMW name and logo which resulted in the Eisenach company changing its name to VEB EMW (Eisenach Motorwerkes).

This Swedish advert names the car an EMW while still noting it as a BMW. EMW's products were too expensive for the domestic market and were primarily shipped for exported. Sweden and Finland received large shipments of IFA vehicles.

EMW's large and expensive vehicles found no market in East Germany so the factory was under utilized, nevertheless, when the employees discovered they were going to be building the budget F9, they were less than impressed. As far as they were concerned, the F9 was a low quality, budget machine that was well beneath them. VEB however, wasn't concerned with their opinion  and the F9 began to roll off Eisenach's production line from late 1952. The EMW team quickly revised and updated the car, with a wrap around windscreen and large rear window, steering column gear shift, and better quality fittings. The fuel tank was returned to the boot and a petrol pump was installed.

In 1956 the Eisenach plant stopped production of the F9 models in favour of a completely redesigned car, the Wartburg 311. Underneath the car's completely redesigned and modernised body was the F9s slightly modernised 3=6 two-stroke engine and chassis. The new car came in sedan, cabriolet, wagon, campervan and roadster models.

Contemporary advertising for the Wartburg 311, the most popular Wartburg model.

The Wartburg was a well appointed and good performing car and between 1956 and 1966 almost 300,000 cars ran off the production line. Many were exported both east and west. In 1966 the Wartburg was modernised and the engine upgraded to 992cc. The new model, the 353's square and boxy contemporary styling left a lot to be desired in the appearance stakes but it was a success domestically and abroad, selling over 1.4 million cars.

The Trabant - the Peoples Car

The Wartburg was a luxury vehicle and largely out of the price range of most East Germans. For the majority of people they had to make do with MZ motorcycles, IWL scooters or Simson mopeds to get around. VEB Sachsenring were tasked to build a cheap, people's car that did not consume too much of East Germany's scarce strategic raw materials. Sachsenring drew on its DKW patrimony to create a new, modernised budget vehicle, the AWZ P-70.

AWZ P-70 Kombi.

The P-70 looked like a new car but underneath was an F8 chassis with its two-cylinder 700cc engine. The body however was entirely new and modern, built out of a new synthetic product called Duroplast (see below), which was mounted to a wooden frame. The car came in a variety of styles; two door sedan, three door/hatch estate wagon and a neat little sports model. The P-70 was only in production for three years (1955-59) during which time approximately 36,000 of all models were made.

DKW had experimented with synthetic materials in their cars in the 1930s. One of those products was a resin impregnated wood pulp called Duroplast. The great advantage of Duroplast was that it involved no strategic materials, was cheap to make, and once set was extremely robust. It would never rust and could easily be patched if damaged. Unlike fibreglass, which was just coming into use vehicles in the west, Duroplast was easy to manufacture and and could be pressed into shape in a similar way to steel panels.

Duroplast in its various states. On the right hand side are the raw cotton fibres, these were loosely woven into a sheet and then compressed into a pattern and impregnated with resin. The resin itself was a recycled byproduct of the chemical dye industry. Once pressed and cured, Duroplast was extremely strong and long lasting. Far from being the 'primitive' product it is often claimed to be, it actually pointed the way towards the lightweight carbon fibre paneling used on our modern cars and aircraft.

Das Trabbie!

The classic P-50. The 50 designation refer to the engine ccs.

In 1959 the AWZ P-70 was replaced by the P-50; the first 'true' Trabant. The P-50 saw cost saving and austerity take precedence over 'performance.' The 700cc water cooled F8 engine was replaced by a smaller 488cc air-cooled two-stroke engine that had been developed for a prewar Framo light truck. Air cooling make the engine simpler and was something of a step backwards. Performance was ultimately reduced, but this was felt to be a fair exchange for a budget car and helped reduce both weight and cost. Styling was reminiscent of the P-70 but the Duraplast bodywork was now mounted on a steel monocoque frame.

The distinctive front of the Trabant 601.The petrol tank was in the engine bay like on pre-war DKWs.

In 1962 the P-50 received an upgraded 600cc engine and became known as the Trabant 600. The Trabant 601 was released in 1964 and would remain in production without major changes until 1991. The Trabants' long production life meant that spare parts were always available to the home mechanic. Improved engines and synchromesh gearboxes from later models could be purchased and retrofitted into even the earliest P-70s. For all of their complaints and jokes about the Trabbi, East German owners tended to take extremely good care of their cars.

A contemporary advertisement for the Wartburg 1000 and then a film of Trabants being manufactured.

Unfortunately for the staff at Sachsenring-AWZ, their numerous proposals for improvements to the Trabant came to nothing. From the central government's perspective, the brief had been delivered. The Trabant was a success and almost four million of the cars were manufactured by the time production shut down. It is true that production was extremely slow and East German customers had to wait up to 15 years to get their hands on one, but this wasn't just due to shortages of resources and poor production processes. The Trabant was popular all across the Communist east and the cash strapped East German government prioritised foreign export over domestic distribution.

By the 1980s however, the pollution generated by the Trabant's two-stroke engine was beginning to impact on its export prospects. This was slightly unfair as the problem wasn't so much the two-stroke engine as with the poor quality of the petrol and oil being used in the east. VEB also recommended owners over-oil their engines under the false reasoning that more oil would reduce engine-wear. In fact it only caused more pollution and reduced engine performance. Nevertheless, over time the Trabant failed to find a market in the west, while the four-stroke engined products of the Czech Skoda company did. Having shut down all four stroke engine development in the 1950s, VEB were finally forced to source engines from Volkswagen, but it did not greatly help its export sales. After the fall of Communism, Volkswagen bought out AWZ and stopped production.

The history of the Trabant -


Another sidebar to the convoluted DKW-IFA-VEB story is the Framo company. Framo originally manufactured fittings for DKW, however, in the 1920s they began building a small three wheeled commercial vehicle powered by a DKW engine. The Framo-laster (German for lorry) was a very basic affair with an exposed engine driving a single front wheel (see my post on Chinese three wheeled trucks - Founder of DKW, Jorgen Rasmussen, saw an opportunity and he bought Framo but kept it separate from Auto Union.

Throughout the 1930s Framo manufactured a range of three wheeled commercials and some interesting microcar pet projects of Rasmussen's. All were invariably powered by DKW two strokes. During the Second World War Framo built four wheeled trucks powered by two-stroke engines. After the war the Soviets dismantled the factory and shipped it to Russia, but in 1951 the company was resurrected under VEB auspices. The new Framo V901 was a very conventional lorry powered by the now ubiquitous 3=6 engine.

History of Framo -

The Framo remained in production until 1960 when it was replaced by the Barkas B1000. The B1000 was powered by the new 'big' 996cc 3=6. The Barkas was an extremely versatile vehicle, coming in all manner of body styles and configurations. It was pretty much the only light commercial van in the DDR and over 175,000 were built. They still enjoy a good reputation today.

The GDR's Volkswagen T2 - the Barkas. This one is parked outside the DDR Motorrad Museum in Berlin. The museum has a great collection of Simson, IWL, EMW, MZ and IFA motorcycles and scooters as well as a display of Trabants. and

For the story of DKW in the west