But not any more... Peter Frost introduces his Iron Curtain classics
Peter Frost’s fabulous collection of Eastern Bloc cars.
It all began years ago, muses Peter Frost. ‘I was very poor and it was all could afford.’ Mr Frost is naturally referring to his ongoing interest in machinery from the former Soviet Bloc, which started when ‘I began to ride motorcycles from East Germany, Czechoslovakia and the USSR in the late Seventies when most people were opting for Japanese marques. I used these to commute to work’.
By 1986, despite (or maybe because of) Peter noting ‘a certain amount of prejudice towards East European cars’, he bought a Skoda Estelle 130GL and a Lada Riva Estate. The latter ‘was a good workhorse for commuting 100 miles per day. I clocked 40,000 miles in 18 months. The only real problems were the poor standard of servicing – the mechanics working on them weren’t the best quality – and you could lacerate your hands on the body’s sharp edges’. The absolute star of Peter’s collection is a 1963 Wartburg 311 Luxus-limousine, complete with wooden door cappings and a full-length sunroof denoting its status as a de luxe model. ‘I’ve owned it for 24 years,’ he says. ‘Originally it was chauffeur-driven transport for a Polish factory boss and after he retired the driver carried on using it.’ The Wartburg was produced between 1956 and 1965 and it was offered in right-hand drive form in the UK, but a chap like Peter naturally
requires a car with a much more interesting history – ie one that was ‘smuggled out of the country, as this one was!’
Peter bought the 311 in 1992, when it was in a very tired condition. ‘The previous owner in Poland had used it to commute in. Of course, finding parts is a challenge at times, but principally I first had to cure some more fundamental problems, such as worn out brakes.’ And there were further challenges. ‘All of the trim was missing from one side – I managed to obtain the two flashes, but the rest I had to make,’ explains Peter. In all, it took ‘three to four months to make the Wartburg roadworthy, but three to four years to obtain the right parts and to generally clean it up.’
From the sinister to the plain silly
The 311 Luxus-limousine looks rather jaunty, albeit in a Party Official kind of a way, but the same cannot really be said of his 1990 Tatra T613. It’s sober, indeed menacing, appearance is wholly appropriate for its original workplace. ‘It came from North Korea, where Tatras were used by the police,’ says Peter. ‘Compared to other 613s, you notice the raised front seats, as it was going to be used by short drivers, and a lack of air conditioning, electric windows or central locking. It is also rumoured to have a high-compression engine, and perhaps it does feel a tad more pokey than other Tatras.’
The Tatra was found in the in the UK in 1996. ‘It was in a neglected condition and had been unused for three years. It needed a lot of refurbishing and fettling,’ reflects Peter. In terms of parts: ‘everything was difficult!’ One particular challenge was that car had very few elements in common with other Tatra models. ‘Apart from odd things such as bearings or brake pads most of the car is unique,’ he declares. Today, the car is a vivid reminder of the sort of vehicle favoured by the Ministry of People’s Security during the Nineties – a vehicle that you would not wish to encounter under almost any circumstances.
The next member of the collection is a vehicle that became a cliché in the early Nineties – the Trabant 601. ‘It was made in November 1989 and it was first sold in East Germany. I bought it circa 1996,’ says Peter. How he acquired the Trabant is a story that commences in the finest tradition of a Le Carré novel. ‘One evening, I received a mysterious ‘phone call,’ he reveals. However, instead of George Smiley suggesting a clandestine meeting with a KGB contact somewhere in Bayswater, it was someone offering him a Trabant for £50! ‘At that time, I had no means of collecting it, so they came around that night and after monies were exchanged they left the car on my driveway’.
Meanwhile, lurking in the corner of the shed is a diminutive car that makes the Trabant seem positively luxurious – a 1967 Velorex 16/350. ‘In Czechoslovakia these were allocated to the poor or the disabled,’ confirms Peter – a reasonably alarming idea, given that the coachwork is essentially vinyl fabric over a tubular steel frame like a pram hood. Power is from a Jawa twin-cylinder
350cc motorcycle engine that was modified for car use and the transmission features Dynastart. ‘It means four speeds forwards and four speeds backwards,’ explains Peter. ‘I’ve owned it since 1993 but I have not yet driven it on the roads. So far I have done very little to it, as I’ve been gradually gathering parts, but I now have virtually everything I need. I’ll be getting it Mot’d soon and I’m looking forward to driving it to all sorts of places.’
Some more usual suspects
Somewhat more familiar to British motorists is the green 1980 Skoda 110R Coupe. ‘This is one of the last ones made; I came by her around 2009/2010,’ says Peter. Another car that was not uncommon in the UK during its prime is his 1986 Wartburg 353 Tourist, which was originally exported to Belgium where it was bought be a British driver. It joined the Frost collection in 2010: ‘I bought it in the UK and it needed a fair amount of work. I fitted a new cylinderhead and I also had to re-plumb the cooling system.’ At the moment it is pending some more mechanical work. ‘The seats also need some refurbishing because the front ones are made of odd parts, but I do have a set of brand new factory covers.
Naturally, a collector of Peter’s calibre has more intriguing cars tucked away in the corners of his outbuildings – and who could fail to be impressed by his 1971 Zaporozhets 968, the archetype Soviet ‘people’s car’ of the Seventies.
Peter’s collection does not just encompass Soviet Bloc vehicles, though – he has been a microcar enthusiast for many years. ‘I bought this 1960 Berkeley T60 around 1980. She was then in a bad way; one of the front wheels had been
torn right off and the suspension needed extensive repairs,’ says Mr Frost. So he embarked on his first ever restoration, carried out, in his words: ‘with more enthusiasm than talent’. He used the Berkeley for a few years and for while it was his only car. ‘I even went to work in it and I carried a passenger much of the time! It was technically a hardtop, but that is removed and the ‘heater’ is a roll-neck sweater and a woolly hat. It was delightful to drive, but I am biased as I like two-strokes’.
The Berkeley was taken off the road in 1990 and Peter has started its second restoration. ‘Luckily I had almost another car’s worth of mechanical parts,’ he says. Circumstances conspired to delay the work, but it’s next on his ‘to do list’. When it’s restored, it will join another three-wheeler in Peter’s rolling roster – a 1971 AF Spider. Creator Alexander ‘Sandy’ Fraser wanted to replicate the pre-war Morgan formula for motorists of the Sixties and Seventies, although only seven Spiders were made from 1969-80. Peter’s bought his example as a wreck in 1982, and out of all of his cars it attracts the most attention. ‘The old boys think it is a Morgan and some people think it is amphibious because it is wooden!’ he chuckles.
Road-going cars on a rota
‘Everything gets rotated so that I don’t forget to use one!’ says Peter when asked about his cars’ exercise regime. ‘That way they all get used. The local Eastern European community recognises the Wartburgs and Trabant and I received a round of applause from the guys at the car wash! Over the past 20 years, there has been a change in attitudes to such cars.
The Frost menagerie also encompasses a Syrena and a Mikrus from Poland, along with a Wartburg 313 Sports and a Melkus RS 1000. A Volga M21 is on his shopping list and he’s never owned a Moskvich.
But back to the existing fleet, and it is time to impress the denizens of Uxbridge with a Wartburg 311 Luxus-limousine in full spate. We travel cloaked in a blue cloud of two-stroke exhaust fumes and mystery, with people literally stopping and staring. In a world where ‘individuality’ is frequently seen as a marketing concept and ‘post-modern irony’ still stalks the streets, the Peter Frost Collection stands proud. Or, as Mr Frost himself puts it: ‘As a boy I read
The Observer’s Book of Automobiles – and that book is responsible for my tastes in cars!’
BELOW The 311 is a top of the range model; this one was smuggled out of Poland.
BELOW The level of luxury a chauffeur for a Sixties Polish captain of industry could expect.
RIGHT What powers a Sixties Polish limo? A 992cc two-stroke three-cylinder!
The 311 was built in the Eisnach plant in the former East Germany, formerly run by BMW. And the quality shows.
BELOW You want individuality? This has go to be hard to beat.
LEFT After much work on Peter’s part, the Wartburg has proven to be a reliable beast.