With hindsight it can be considered East Germany's response to West Germany's VW Beetle. Its purpose was to provide a cheap but still reliable car that was very affordable and also easily to repair and maintain. Still it was at the time of its release rather modern in many ways, with front wheel drive, a unitary construction, composite bodywork and independent suspension all around. The main letdown was the engine: by the late 1950s small cars in western countries mainly used cleaner and more efficient four-stroke engines, as employed in the Volkswagen, whereas budgetary constraints of the East Germany forced the use of a two-stroke engine in the Trabant. However, two-stroke engine was also to be found in cars like the Auto Union 1000 and other cars that were built in Western Germany.
- Trabant 601 Standard (as Limousine & Universal).
- Trabant 601 S (Sonderwunsch - Special Edition) With optional equipment like fog lamps, rear white light and an odometer (as Limousine & Universal).
- Trabant 601 DeLuxe. Like the 601 S and additional twin-tone colouring and chrome bumper (as Limousine & Universal).
- Trabant 601 Kübel (added in 1966). Jeep version with no doors, folding roof, auxiliary heating system, ignition system is RFI shielded.
- Trabant 601 TRAMP (added in 1978). Civilian version of the Trabant Kübel, mainly export to Greece.
- Trabant 601 Hycomat (P601 H), 1965 - 1990, in limited numbers (as Limousine & Universal). Made only for users with missing or dysfunctional left leg. It had included an automatic clutching system.
- Trabant 800 RS. Rally version (1986 - 1988) with 771 cm³ engine and 5-speed manual transmission.
The 601 today
Many former DDR citizens have mixed emotions in regards to their "Trabi", which still is a symbol for the demised DDR, since it was a part of the system. In recent years, these distinctive cars have become collectors' items, with growing popularity. Green Trabants are especially popular, as they are said to bring good luck. Many Trabant owners' clubs exist throughout Europe and 601s have their fans all over the world. Also, many Trabant 601s are still used as rally racing cars.
As a symbol for a forgone era, it has inspired movies such as Go Trabi Go that presented the Trabi as a kind of East German character and could make former DDR citizens laugh "not precisely at themselves, but at the absurdities of the system under which they lived until last year." It has also seduced people like the American actor David Hasselhoff to drive a "Trabi", although he had trouble to enter it. Stephen Kinzer of The New York Times likens the Trabi as a symbol for the people who built it, who “survive[d] through difficult times and ultimately triumph[ed]”. The car was also featured in the American film Everything is Illuminated.