MYTH BUSTER

De­bunk­ing the most com­mon old wives’ tales

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - This Week - Giles Chap­man

A sym­bol of the fall of the Ber­lin Wall in 1989, it was mis­un­der­stood by Western­ers

1 IT’S MADE FROM CARD­BOARD

This ur­ban myth al­ludes to the widely re­peated un­truth that the body­work is made from ei­ther pa­pier maché or card­board. The 1963-1991 Trabant P601 ac­tu­ally has a steel mono­coque in­ner struc­ture, but the outer pan­els were made from a plas­tic ma­te­rial called Duro­plast.

The bulk in­gre­di­ent was mostly cot­ton and wool waste, and the gelling agent that gave the ma­te­rial its strength was phe­nol resin, de­rived from coal tar or petrol, and a by-prod­uct of the dye­ing in­dus­try. The ad­van­tage the ma­te­rial had over glass­fi­bre was that the pan­els could be formed in presses, like steel.

2 IT WAS BANNED FROM EUROPE

From a crash­wor­thi­ness view­point, the Duro­plast body meant it wasn’t a stel­lar per­former when driven into the leg­isla­tive con­crete block. Its strength-to-light­ness ra­tio was im­pres­sive, though, which meant that in late 1.1-litre form, it was scar­ily quick. Sales ended when the com­pany was taken over by Volk­swa­gen... not be­cause it couldn’t pass emis­sions or safety tests.

3 IT’S BAD FOR THE EN­VI­RON­MENT

OK, so the two-stroke was dirty, but it does have the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the first car body made en­tirely from re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als. Long af­ter the Trabant stopped, the same fac­tory that made its bod­ies worked out a way to re­cy­cle old ones – they’re shred­ded, and the re­sult is an ag­gre­gate in slabs. A few items are still made from Duro­plast, in­clud­ing elec­tri­cal in­su­lat­ing com­po­nents…and toi­let seats!

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