To what extent was there a technological exchange in the automotive sector between the GDR and West Germany? Well, Wartburg 1.3 and Trabant 1.1 with VW engines are well known, as is the Wankel development under NSU licence in the 1960s. But do you know the Trabant X03? Perhaps in a different form ...
When we recently reported on the VW EA 276 prototype, which will be on show at the Bremen Classic Motorshow in early February 2024, voices were raised: Wasn't this in fact the ultra-modern Trabant P 603, development of which had been abruptly discontinued in 1968? Well, the legend of the Trabant as the true Golf forerunner was debunked after a short search on various Internet sites.
Gallery: Trabant successor concepts at the August Horch Museum Zwickau
Almost 8 billion GDR marks in costs for series production, political stubbornness (there was enough demand for the P 601), massive problems with the planned Wankel engine and the supplier problem put a stop to the P 603, despite its undisputed "world class" status. This was followed by a few more attempts by the Trabant makers to modernise their product, ultimately in an increasingly modest way, in order to at least get something accepted by the Politburo. This can be read in the standard work "Plaste, Blech und Planwirtschaft" (Plastic, Sheet Metal and Planned Economy) on the history of the GDR automotive industry by the recently deceased Peter Kirchberg.
A real P 603 no longer exists, but you can explore it virtually at the August Horch Museum in Zwickau
Finally, the Trabant was fitted with an expensive four-stroke engine from VW (EA 111/BM 820), for which the car had to be massively redesigned. But the Trabant 1.1 didn't show it, as it only came onto the market in 1990 after the political changeover. Only 38,256 units were produced by April 1991.
What hardly anyone knows is that Volkswagen had much more far-reaching plans as part of its GDR co-operation. In the August Horch Museum in Zwickau, which is well worth seeing, there is a photo of an angular small car project called the X03 (see above). The magazine KFT reported on this vehicle after the "Wende" and gave 1995 as the start date.
Gallery: Seat Ibiza II (1993-2002)
Jens Conrad knows more on his website: "Volkswagen then drew up a proposal, which was presented under the working title "X03". It was to be derived from the 3rd generation of the Volkswagen Polo (A03), which was under development at the time. The proposal included full rear variants with 3 and 5 doors as well as a notchback model and an estate.
Due to the political events in Germany in autumn 1989, Volkswagen cancelled the project at the end of that year. Instead, a contract was concluded for a joint limited company, on the basis of which the first VW Polo rolled off the production line at the Zwickau plant in May 1990 as a CKD model. Just under another year later, production of the Trabant came to an end."
VW historian Eberhard Kittler provides even more information in the book "Trabi Love". According to this, the X03 was originally an "MPV-like" study by Giugiaro that VW had in mind for series production. At the end of 1988, Volkswagen Group boss Carl H. Hahn presented a three-door design with Sachsenring logos and the 1.1 emblem to GDR Foreign Trade Minister Gerhard Beil. "The study appeared functional and timeless, so it could have remained in the programme of the East German partners for a long time," says Kittler. However, it was difficult to produce due to the large glass surfaces.
In February 1989, the approximately 3.80 metre-long study arrived in East Berlin for the first time. The vehicle was brought to Wolfsburg several times on board a lorry for top secret revisions. According to Kittler, it was agreed that the car would only be sold in the Eastern Bloc. 112,000 units could have been built annually, with development costs totalling 600 million marks. But the events of 1989/90 brought the project to an abrupt end, and billions had already been sunk into the VW engine project. (A separate book by Eberhard Kittler on the Volkswagen-GDR connection will be published at the end of February 2024).
Seat Ibiza II (1993-2002)
If you take a closer look at the Trabant X03 and its projected offshoots, the estate and saloon, it seems that the designs were realised after all. But not in the GDR, but in Spain. Giugiaro had already been able to realise his design for the VW Golf II as the Seat Ibiza I. The second generation of the Ibiza was created entirely under VW's direction on the platform of the third-generation Polo. Just like the X03 in theory.
If you compare the Ibiza II and X03, the Seat may look rounder, but the flared rear wheel arches and the large glass surfaces have remained. Giugiaro has obviously adapted his design to the zeitgeist of the 1990s; the Ibiza was launched in 1993. And not only that: it was joined by a notchback and an estate car under the name Cordoba. Both were later also available as the VW Polo Classic and Polo Variant.