Sachsenring P240

Sachsenring P240 with Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin as a passenger

Sachsenring P240 with Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin as a passenger

One of the strangest yet somehow understandable quirks of the civilization that fell beyond the Iron Curtain is that even though everyone was supposed to be equal, some were more equal than others. It's probably a negative trait that some of the human race need to somehow—any way possible—acquire more than their fellow citizens.

But making luxury goods is a good thing, is it not? We wouldn't revere Mercedes-Benz if their lineup consisted of the first three letters of the alphabet—without the S Class and other groundbreaking vehicles, they're just Buick. The desire to win favour among the world's elite drives the world's luxury carmakers to build better vehicles, filled with enough technology and luxury to make mere mortals blush.

For an overview of what mere mortals would have taken to their local military parade, read the #bcotd story on the AWZ P70 'Zwickau' Coupe. It's also a good overview on the facility that helped build this car, the Sachsenring P240, a large sedan designed to shuttle the Communist elite from place to place.

Problem? Tatra was already making a luxury sedan for that purpose, the T603, and thanks to their more advanced facilities had been making more than the maximum allowed under Comecon regulations. The T603 had been released the same year as the Sachsenring, but was almost the opposite to the more conventional P240. Tatra placed an air-cooled V8 engine out back, while the Sachsenring was developed by former Horch engineers and was much more conventional in design. The elites in East Germany wanted to drive their own luxury car, and drove the big Sachsenring instead of a Tatra.

A small 2.4-litre 6-cylinder from Horch was placed under its bonnet, with rear wheel drive completing the typical luxury car layout. Named after the local Sachsenring race track, it was a luxury car with a sporty name but only 80 horsepower and a top speed of 140 km/h (87 mph) to back its name up. This was a problem.

See, because the Comecon wasn't supposed to be making very many luxury cars (even though they all seemed to find homes), the powers-that-be decided on a test for 1958: Tatra versus Sachsenring, to see who would supply vehicles to the Communist elite. Both Ministries of Interior from East Germany and Czechoslovakia attended the trial, as did the East German Minister of Machinery—an important-sounding title, eh?

Tatra won, earning the ability to supply high-ranking officials with cars, not just in East Germany but across the Comecon. If you were lower on the totem pole, the government gave you a Volga—but many weren't even that lucky. 

With a sedan, wagon, and convertible—for parades!—bodystyle, outside of bespoke machines the P240 is one of the most rare vehicles built in the 1950s, with only 1,382 completed. Few survive today.