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.
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.
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