AWZ P70 "Zwickau" Coupé

Ok, ok, ready? Ready to be surprised? (Unless you already knew…)

The AWZ P70 "Zwickau" Coupé was made before the Trabant, in the same ex-Auto Union factory that eventually started producing the Trabant. One wonders why they thought they could improve on the P70's looks…

Credit to this car, and especially its construction, go to Auto Union. Part of their Zwickau factory included a research centre that had been—1937-1941—used in part to develop alternatives to steel. As suitable materials began to become more viable for production, they were tested. In total three DKW F7 models were modified with composite bodywork.

Not carbon fibre as we have today, of course, but a process similar to how Bakelite and Formica is made. After the war, the research centre fell under the control of East Germany, with IFA—Industrieverband Fahrzeugbau—resuming production of pre-war DKW designs. IFA was actually more a union of companies than anything else; the East German government nationalized various companies and industries after the Second World War and automotive production was no different.

Today's car is sometimes called the Zwickau P70 Coupé, owing more to the location of its factory in Zwickau than the state planners dropping "IFA" from its name for a few model years.

When the range (two-door sedan, wagon, and coupe) was released, the headline feature was the P70's Duroplast construction. Made from recycled materials, cotton waste, and stuff called "phenol resins," Duroplast is light, strong, and can be formed in a press like steel. 

Burning Duroplast releases very toxic fumes, so, similar to asbestos, when a Duroplast car is no longer needed, the bodywork requires special disposal. These days, old Trabants are shredded, with the material used as aggregate for cement blocks. If you've got some more time on your hands, a Berlin-based firm has developed a bacterium that can compost a Trabant body in 20 days.

Don't leave them out near the Zwickau P70, ok? And don't bring termites, 'cause the car has an upper wood frame to hang that Duroplast from! As the first mass-production car with composite bodywork, though, I think we can forgive the engineers—they'd wanted to use steel but the bosses wanted a new car…

…which was never going to happen. Underneath, mechanicals were based on those from the DKW F8, a small front-drive two-stroke car first introduced in 1939. The P70 had slightly updated specs over both the F8 and its P70 siblings. At 688cc, the water-cooled two-cylinder pumped out a rousing 22 horsepower at 3500 rpm, and was attached to a dash-mounted 3-speed manual transmission. Still, at just 800 kg (1763 lbs), the P70 Coupé could hit 100 km/h (62 mph). 

You know, eventually.

The Coupé entered production in 1957, and apparently only about 1,500 were made before the P70 range was replaced in 1958 by the all-new Trabant.

Sadly, even though the car has a pretty dedicated following, its likeness was largely co-opted by Shoji Takahashi, designer of the Nissan Figaro.

Or maybe that's just me.


Sources / Recommended reading