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E. German Trabant Car Endures

November 7, 1997

ZWICKAU, Germany (AP) _ The Berlin Wall is gone, but another symbol of the former East Germany is still around: Boxy, slow and still on the road, the socialist-model Trabant car turned 40 on Friday.

The Trabant, no longer made today, debuted on Nov. 7, 1957. Sputnik, the first Soviet satellite, was circling the earth, and the Soviet Union was marking the 40th anniversary of the October Revolution that overthrew the czar.

For East Germany, ``Trabies″ quickly came to represent progress and mass production.

Admirers called it a ``legend on wheels.″ Detractors deemed it ``the little stinker from Zwickau,″ after its smoky, two-stroke engine and the city in Saxony state where it was built.

The cars were made entirely from plastic.

``At that time, no quality steel was allowed to be imported into East Germany,″ said Franz Meissner, 70, who was head of research and development for Trabant-manufacturer Sachsenring-Werk from 1962-69.

With Germany’s unification in 1990, the little Trabant just couldn’t compete with faster, better-made Western car models. When the factories closed in April 1991, exactly 3,096,099 Trabies had rolled off the assembly lines.

The final vehicle, a pink, two-door station wagon, was not very different from Trabi No. 1: The car’s engineers stopped coming up with new designs in 1964.

Today, the cars still dot Germany’s roads _ and roadsides.

An enterprising Trabi owner in Berlin filled his with dirt and turned it into an outside planter.

Fans can join Trabi clubs, which hold a Trabi-lovers convention every year in Zwickau. This year’s meeting, on Saturday, will be a birthday party.

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