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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Trabant Clunks Back to Life

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- When East Germany died in 1990 it was not long before its trademark Trabant car followed. But now, thousands of kilometers and a post-communist world away, the tiny box on wheels may be coming back to life.


"We have both the money and potential to reach a production level of 30,000 to 40,000 Trabants a year within six months," said Vyacheslav Shin, deputy head of U.S.-Uzbek joint venture Olimp, which plans to build the car in Uzbekistan's capital, Tashkent.


Its enthusiastic backers readily dismiss the sarcasm which East Europeans now heap on the lowly Trabant -- which has a sewing machine-style engine concealed inside an angular body with the aerodynamics of a brick.


"This car is not ultra-modern," Shin said. "But it is cheap and simple.Residents of Uzbekistan and neighboring states are showing great interest in it."


The venture has been set up with initial capital of around $1 million and boasts a team prepared to lavish just as much affection on the car as a whole generation of East Germans did before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.


Uzbek government hard currency restrictions have delayed the start of production, and it is unclear when the Trabants will start to roll. But roll they will, according to Shin.


Last year, when presenting the first, light-green sample of the 26-horsepower Trabant -- assembled at an experimental plant in Tashkent -- Shin jumped on its roof to show reporters and onlookers how solid it was.


With a nod to the specific character of the Uzbek economy, Olimp plans to produce Trabant bodies not from Duroplast -- old East Germany's answer to fiberglass -- but from pressed waste from the Central Asian republic's cotton output.


Uzbek Trabants would retail in Uzbekistan at $1,800 to $3,000, depending on modifications, Shin said.


Salaries in Uzbekistan, a largely desert state with a population of 23 million, average just $20 a month. But Shin said Trabants would find buyers even in this impoverished republic.


According to Shin, countries of the former Soviet Union could buy at least 10,000 cars a year, and there were already orders from Bulgaria, Romania and China.


Trabants are still seen spluttering round the streets of eastern Germany, and have acquired something of a cult "retro" status. But many have been scrapped in favor of more environmentally-friendly Western cars.


However, despite present-day troubles, Trabant enthusiasts keep the faith with a car that has quite a history.


"This odd-looking car has a future," said a car fitter working near a garage. Inside sat Uzbekistan's sole example so far of a home-produced Trabant.