Debunking the most common old wives’ tales
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!