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East vs. West: This Audi-powered Trabant keeps up with a BMW M5 on a drag strip

The small, smoke-belching Trabant is remembered as the model that put East Germany on wheels. Most Trabants disappeared when motorists discovered more modern economy cars from West Germany and France after the wall collapsed in 1989, but one example escaped the crusher and has been transformed from a Spartan econobox into a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing that outpaces purpose-built sports cars on Polish race tracks.

The Trabant pictured above is a late-model example that started life with a 40-horsepower 1.1-liter four-cylinder engine borrowed from the Volkswagen Polo. Seemingly well-versed in engine replacements, the owner initially upgraded his car with a 1.3-liter engine, later moved up to a 1.8-liter, then a 2.0-liter, and finally shoehorned a GTI-sourced turbo four that he ran until he got the chance to buy a wrecked first-generation Audi TT. Naturally, he saved the engine for his Trabant’s next heart transplant.

Czech website Autoforum reports that, before the operation began, the owner fitted the mill with go-fast goodies such as a new turbocharger, bigger injectors, and a modified intake manifold. As a result, the turbo four makes 270 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 272 pound-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm. What’s ever more impressive is that the Trabant has been equipped with the TT’s six-speed manual transmission and all of the components that make up the quattro all-wheel drive system.

Zwiastun Trabant 1,8 turbo 4x4

The custom-built, 2,500-pound Trabant can reach 60 mph from a stop in 4.5 seconds — just a tenth of a second slower than a V8-powered BMW M5 — and go on to a top speed of over 124 mph. To put those statistics into perspective, the Polo-powered model took a lackadaisical 22.8 seconds to get up to 60 mph and barely broke 80 mph when given enough tarmac.

Comprehensive brake updates — including a fully functional ABS system — bring the party to a stop, and a long list of suspension and chassis modifications keep the Trabant on four wheels and pointed in the right direction. The bigger engine is complemented by two-tone brown and black paint job and 16-inch alloy wheels tucked under huge fender flares.

The most surprising part of this build is that it’s fully street-legal in Poland. Fitting an Audi engine and the corresponding electronics in a Cold War-era Trabant is no easy task, but convincing the government to let you drive it on public roads is a praiseworthy achievement.

Ronan Glon
Ronan Glon is an American automotive and tech journalist based in southern France. As a long-time contributor to Digital…
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