Thursday, October 22, 2009

Beater Road Test: Wartburg 353W

There's something about your first car you never forget. For some lucky East German kids that car was a two-stroke, three cylinder remnant of the DDR. Friend of BeaterBlog Fabian Hartwich shares his story.

As far as I remember, I bought the car in late spring of 1998 from a good friend who owned for about a year before that. I paid 1000 German Marks for it and with that contributed enormously to his new car: a BMW 318ti compact for more than 30.000 Marks!!! We were 19 then. My Warturg was built in 1985. When Oliver bought it in 1997 it was 12 years old already, but still brand new! The previous owner was an old neighbor of his who drove the car - no kidding - less than 2000 miles during that whole time. When I got it, it had roughly 10.000 miles on it. I drove it 3 1/2 years before I put in storage. The car now sits with around 30k miles on it.

When I had it, it was pretty reliable but needed some maintenance. I did almost everything on that car myself. I had to take it to a shop only once (a lever of the clutch broke off its axle going into the bell housing, I wasn't able to replace it, so it had to be welded to the axle again). That was one of the one and a half time the Wartburg died on me. The other time was (really convenient) in a construcion zone on the Autobahn with two tiny lanes, no shoulder and in an uphill section. The engine lost power and then died pretty quickly. I came to a quick stop (remember the hill) and then sat there in the right lane causing a jam. Luckily a few minutes later a tow truck came by and took me to the next exit which was maybe 3 miles away. When we were off the highway, I tried to start it again: no problem! So, what happened? It was around freezing temperature and it rained/snowed at the same time. The mix of water and snow must have gotten into the engine compartment and frozen the carburator (don't know exactly what froze, but I heard later it was a known problem when I tried to find out what had been wrong). From then on I made sure I would use this little fancy "iron curton" to close the grill in time during the winter.

The biggest surgery I did on the car was a clutch change. It was scary the see a car without an engine for the first time. and it was exciting to start it and see if it would still move after we were done. I did.

One morning my passenger side window looked different. You can see it too in the pics. Someone was interested in my Radio (with CD-Player!) and took it. The d-bag didn't care to ask for the keys, so I had to replace the window and get a new radio.

The other time something was bent on the car was my fault: First winter with that car. Parking lot entrance road. Snowy road .. no problem (even checked mu quickly with the brakes) .... a little later ... snowy road downhill ... and ... BIG problem. I only looked at the brakes and the wheels locked. From then I was thinking about which car would be best to hit and at what angle. I was also hoping the car would come to a stop, but of course than hope was in vane. With maybe 7mph I hit a parked Merc C-Class on his front left corner with my grill, exaclty the middle. My front end was V-shaped, the Merc didn't show much damage. I was pissed and got the beer I wanted to get anyways.

Apart form that I gained my first low mu driving capabilities in that car. I took it to snowy parking lots quite often and had fun. Having fun, I once bent a hub when I didn't see a curb due to all the snow and hit it with my front left wheel sideways. I was pretty impressed by the sudden lateral acceleration, but knew that that wasn't a good thing. So, I replaced the wheel bearing and the hub.

Although this car was East Germany's luxury sedan, it had a few minor flaws. After I have had it for a while rain water collected in the trunk. The heat and especially blower weren't very effective, so during winter I sometimes had ice on the insides of the windows that never melted. There are typical spots where Wartburgs rust. Mine started doing that too after 2 or 3 winters.

Other than that, I really liked the car. It was already somewhat special when I drove it, because at that time many poeple had their east German cars replaced already. Since I did all repairs by melself, I learned quite a bit about cars. Sometimes it was a little annoying, but overall and looking back it was fun.
Some day I will hopefully put it back on the road and drive it. Who knows ... maybe I'll bring it to the US?!?

1 comment:

  1. Fabian, always smooth with the ladies. What will you do now that you can't hide them in the truck of your Elise?