Communist cars now rare treasures for nostalgics

Fri Nov 20, 2009 11:06am EST
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By Marton Dunai

BUDAPEST (Reuters Life!) - Their spluttering engines, bone-rattling suspensions and outdated designs once ruled the streets behind the Iron Curtain. But now the Trabant and its communist cousins have become rare cars for collectors. Soviet-made Ladas, the classic rear-engine Czech Skodas, Romanian Dacias, Polish Fiats, or the most famous of them all, East German Trabants are now few and far between. "Production stopped almost immediately once the Wall fell," said Gabor Muczan, president of the Trabant Club in Hungary. "That means the newest of these cars are 20 years old, a venerable age even for a good quality Western model."

"There are no real, simple users left. Collectors snap up the few usable vehicles for astonishing amounts of money. I just heard of a mint-condition Trabant that was sold for 1.5 million forints ($8,340)." The last new Trabants sold in 1991 for 100,000 forints.

He said even his club's members own few communist-era cars, whose annual maintenance can cost more than the purchase price.

Nostalgia has many car professionals and enthusiasts talk up the models of yore, even though most produced little more than 70 horsepower, broke down frequently and afforded few luxuries.

"They were not bad, those cars," said Jeno Boros, editor of a recently published book on old eastern European cars. "They were adapted to local conditions."

With a few exceptions, the vehicles were licensed versions of Western brands such as Fiats, Fords, and Renault models.

Fiat, especially, was popular.

"The best, the worst and the best-selling cars were all Fiats," Boros said. "The Zastava, made in Yugoslavia, was a modified Fiat 128, probably the best all-around model."   Continued...

<p>A statue of Lenin is reflected in the side mirror of a Soviet-made Pobeda as the driver sits by the bumper during a photo call in Budapest's Memorial Park November 17, 2009. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh</p>