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Cars of Eastern Europe - The Definitive History.

Haynes.

Andy Thompson.
ISBN 978 1 84425 991 5
Published February 2011. (Hardback, 416 pages).
Book on cars built in Eastern Europe

UK RRP 35

Buy this Book:
If, in quieter moments, your thoughts drift to the subject of old cars, and those produced by Wartburg, Skoda, and Tatra come to mind before the likes of Wolseley, Standard or Triumph, then this book should definitely be on your shopping list. For buried within the 416 pages of this book is, as the sub-title suggests, the definitive history of cars produced by the countries of Eastern Europe.
While Eastern Bloc cars have never featured on my own driveway, their relative obscurity to this British reader and, in many cases, their unusual designs, meant that perusing this book was a real pleasure. As a child, I remember a neighbour owning a curious-looking estate, although I don't recall whether it was a Moskvitch or a Wartburg. The chapters in this publication group the vehicles by country of origin, ie:
  • Bosnia, Serbia and Slovenia
  • Bulgaria
  • Czechoslovakia
  • East Germany
  • Hungary
  • Poland
  • Romania
The history of motor manufacturing in each country is discussed, with both modern colour, and period black and white, images appearing throughout the book to support the text. Sub-chapters then take a closer look at some of the cars produced within that country. Bulgaria, for example, put its name to many interesting motor-cars and commercial vehicles, with cars built by Balkan, Bulgaralpine (based on the Alpine A110), and Bulgarrenault to name just three receiving coverage.
Many cars featured were of local design, while others were continuations of long-since obsolete Western European cars. The Lada/FIAT links are well documented here and elsewhere, but there can be few books that take time out to discuss the Rodacar for example. This creation was basically an Austin Maestro, built up from kits shipped out to Bulgaria. For a number of reasons it wasn't a huge hit with Bulgarian motorists, and most of the kits remained in the UK before being bought, converted to RHD, and sold to UK buyers several years after the Maestro had disappeared from Austin-Rover showrooms.
Marques such as the aforementioned Wartburg, along with Moskvitch, Lada, Yugo, FSO and Trabant will be familiar to most British eyes, but the real treat for anyone who prefers automotive oddballs to mainstream cars are the many makes and models that never got near to British buyers during the Communist years. Small-car highlights for me included the Sachsenring P70 Coupe. Only 1,500 examples of this diminutive two-door coupe were produced between 1957 and 1959, and many were sold to East Germans looking to cut a dash in a cut-price, economical runabout.
Utility vehicles receive suitable coverage here too. The Tarpan 233 for example, available as a pickup and double-cab pickup, is a classic example of the cheap no-frills vehicles that dominated the roads of Eastern Europe, or specifically for the Tarpan Poland's roads, for so long.
Sportscars rarely figured in the realistic aspirations for most motorists in this corner of the world, but that didn't mean that there was no interest at all. One enthusiastic chap by the name of Melkus built a low-slung sportscar using parts scavenged from his local scrapyard. He clothed the chassis with a fibreglass coupe body featuring gullwing doors. Beneath the swoopy coachwork resided an engine not normally noted for its sporting pretensions - Wartburg's three-cylinder two-stroke unit, producing a reasonable (for the time) 75bhp. Thanks to the car's lightweight construction, it could reach 102 mph, while a tuned-up version could crack 130 mph. In all, 101 examples were produced, and one survivor appears on page 315.
I'd recommend this book to anyone with an interest in unusual cars. I'm still not sure whether my old neighbour's car was a Wartburg or a Moskvitch, but either way, flicking through this book certainly brought back some memories of the Ladas, Polski-Fiats, Yugos and rear-engined Skodas that sold in surprisingly large numbers throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the period I can recall seeing them most.
RJ
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