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Help a Hoon- Warts and All

Robert Emslie September 24, 2013 Featured, Friends of Hooniverse 16 Comments


Can you imagine why a car company named Wartburg might not have found favor in the brand-conscious American market? I guess a more important question is, have you ever even heard of the Wartburg, and if so, have you ever seen one in the metal? That’s a question that a Wartburg owner would like to know too, so follow me after the jump, and let’s see if we can help an orphan East German find its family.



I came across this sky blue 1959 Wartburg 311 convertible, and its owner, Victor, at a recent street show and was immediate smitten by its cheeky nature. For those of you history buffs, Wartburg was an East German auto maker from the town of Eisenach, where in 1898 Automobilwerk Eisenach produced the Wartburgwagon. That name was taken from the Wartburg Castle which overlooks the town of Eisenach, a stylized version of which adorns the 311’s trunk badge.

wartburg castcle

Over the years the Wartburg name came and went, but was revived in 1956 by VEB Automobilwerk Eisenach, and two years later a full line of the three-cylinder two-stoke powered Wartburgs were being exported to West Germany and elsewhere. Wait a minute, three cylinder, two stroke? That’s right, the Wartburg 311 has a 37-bhp, 900-cc two stroke triple, and if you are familiar with the contemporary DKW or early Saab models then the under hood presentation of the Wartburg will seem comfortingly familiar.


There you’ll find the tidy triple topped with a belt-driven shaft that turns a fan fronting the rear-mounted radiator. Just like in the DKW and Saabs that radiator does double duty, serving as the cabin heater as well as its engine cooling function. The transmission is a four-speed with column shift, driving the front wheels and featuring a free-wheeling feature that may alarm the unaware the first time they drive one. Suspension is independent all around, by transverse leaf springs.

The convertible body is quite handsome, exhibiting hints of both American influence as well as that of the West-side’s Mercedes Benz, especially from the back. The top piles high on the rear scuttle impeding vision a bit, but seems to help visually balance the long-nose short deck lines of the body.

wartburg rear

Inside there’s room for four, or five if you’re all comfortable rubbing shoulders and hips. The seats in this one are leather, and the driver’s wide bucket faces a pair of round hooded dials set in the dash behind a nicely styled two-spoke wheel with a natty double horn ring. If you want to play a cool trivia game, tell us who that is represented in the steering wheel center.



With so cool a car, and in such nice shape you might ask yourself, what is it that we can do for Victor, the Wartburg’s lucky owner? Well, you see, the Wartburg for all its impressive history and awesome desirability was never a particularly prodigious worldwide, and here in the cold war anti-communist America of the fifties and sixties, they might as well have been radioactive. 


What we want to do is spread the word – both about how cool a car the Wartburg is, but also to see if anyone out in Hoonland has a lead on Wartburg parts. The last Wartburg I had seen before this one was in a junkyard about two decades back, and of course you can’t bop down to your local Pep Boys to find consumables, much less proprietary parts for so rare a beast.

So should you happen to know of a secret stash of NOS Wartburg parts, or complete cars here in the U.S., let me know and I’ll put you in touch with Victor. If you want to learn even more about these cool old cars, you can visit his site at wartburgusa.

Images: ©2013 Hooniverse/Robert Emslie, All Rights Reserved

  • "If you want to play a cool trivia game, tell us who that is represented in the steering wheel center."

    <img src="http://www.ngw.nl/heraldrywiki/images/5/54/Eisenach.jpg"&gt;

    St. George, patron saint of Eisenach.


    Not much help with parts availability, I'm afraid.

    • dukeisduke

      Ironic, seeing as how it was from Communist East Germany.

    • He slew the dragon.

  • Van_Sarockin

    The auto industry was a great boon to Wartburg, coming as demand for their export mainstay, warts, had declined precipitously.

    • I swear to God, I've never been to Wartburg but I may be walking suburb. Damn aging.

  • Sjalabais

    It should be possible to import parts from Germany, there is a wealth of companies catering to Wartburg, Barkas, IFA and the like. But that's not what you're asking for, is it?

    • ˏ♂ˊ mzs zsm msz esq

      I'd try German ebay too.

  • Automobiles were actually the company's second venture, after their first failed. Seems nobody wanted to patronize a quick serve restaurant that offered "Wartburgers".

  • dukeisduke

    If we're looking for its parents, maybe we should look in the Stasi's archives.

  • Jay_Ramey

    Hah, I just happen to have three Wartburg diecast cars on my desk for the past few months: a 353 wagon, 353 pickup, and a 311 sedan. Still in their boxes. Need to open them up sometime : )

    • Sjalabais

      Be very careful taking it out of the box. Check for oil leaks, rust and missing parts.

  • Sid Troon

    At least one Wartburg shows up every year at the Carlisle Import and Kit Car show every year. They are usually parked with the DKW's and other German two-strokes. The owners are always very open and willing to talk. This probably won't help Victor in California as far as attending, but I think Carlisle Events might be able to put him in touch with someone.

  • Slow_Joe_Crow

    There is also a BMW connection. The Eisenach factory was bought out by BMW in 1928 and made cars and motorcycles through the 30s and 40s. Then in the mid 50s they made BMW 327 cars under the EMW nameplate. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automobilwerk_Eisena
    Pop culture side note: In the Martin Beck detective stories set in Sweden in the 60s and 70s, the wealthy eccentric detective Gunvald Larsson drove an EMW.

  • Dean Bigglesworth

    I remember seeing a few 353 as a kid; back then Ladas were also a very common sight. There was also a 311 or 312 rotting beside a mossy Range Rover at our old office a few years ago..

  • Peter Hollinshead

    The late, great and longtime head of Saab in the U.S., Bob Sinclair, recalled (for an Automotive News World Congress audience) stopping at a U.S. gasoline station around 1959-60 where the proprietor had several new Wartburgs on display. When Sinclair questioned the man about the car's DDR origin, he protested that "No, they are from Eisenach!" Sinclair later imported, after surmounting much red tape, a new Wartburg for his personal use.

  • Arthur J. Dock

    The last (and only) Wartburg I've ever seen in person was at a microcar show in California in the early 90's. This was, of course, not long after the Berlin wall had come down. As I recall it, the story was that a couple of German guys had brought a pair of cars to the east coast of the US and then driven them across the country. One was a Wartburg, the other was a Trabant. I guess they figured they could sell them and pay for the trip.

    Funny story about the Trabant – I wanted to get a look at the engine and when I opened the hood and it came off in my hands. Luckily I was able to pop it back in place and no harm done. 'Course now I've told the world and if the owner reads this – sorry about that :-).