The engine was a small two-stroke engine with two cylinders giving the vehicle modest performance. At the end of production it delivered 25 horsepower (19 kW) from a 600 cc displacement. The car took 21 seconds from 0 to 100 km/h and the top speed was 112 km/h. The main problem with the engine was the smoky exhaust and the pollution it produced. The Trabant factories grew from the factories of other German manufacturers, closed after World War II. After producing cars under the name of AWZ (Auto-Werke Zwickau), the name Trabant was used for the first time in 1957, after launching the Trabant P 50 model. This was originally meant as a three wheeled covered motorbike. It was converted to a car only in its final design.
Later, a Volkswagen Polo engine replaced the elderly two-stroke one.
After the 1989 Wende and later reunification of the two Germanies, financial trouble hit the Trabant factories, which closed in 1991. Although Trabants had been exported from East Germany, they became well known in the West after the fall of the Berlin Wall when many were abandoned by their eastern owners after migrating west. News reports inaccurately described them as having cardboard bodies. In the early 90s it was possible to buy a Trabant for as little as a few Marks, and many were given away. Later, as they became rarer, prices recovered, but they remain very cheap cars.
Such was their cultural anti-cachet that the rock group U2 used Trabants as props on their Zoo TV Tour, including several vehicles suspended from the ceilings of concert halls.
In the 1990s, the Trabant suddenly became famous when it upset the famous "Mercedes-Benz A-Class" while performing the common "Moose test" (a sort of slalom with small obstacles on the course). The Trabant perfectly passed the test. Mercedes had to deal with the embarrassment, while the Trabant received unexpected praise.
Since Trabants are so inexpensive to buy, they are a practical budget choice for use in rallies and other events.