It’s Berlin or bust for Yorkshire couple in Cold War Trabi

DRIVING to Berlin in a German-made car may appear straightforward but motorist Dominic Russell-Price knows otherwise.

Dominic Russell-Price and Chris Blackburn will shortly be heading off from Nostell Priory nr Wakefield to Berlin.

For his car of choice is not an Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz but an East German Trabant which was manufactured during the Cold War era.

And he’s had a fair few breakdowns in his 597cc ‘Trabi’ to know that driving from Wakefield to Berlin won’t be a doddle.

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Mr Russell-Price and his partner Chris Blackburn are fans of the Soviet-era car which has been the butt of many a joke over the years.

Dominic Russell-Price and Chris Blackburn will shortly be heading off from Nostell Priory nr Wakefield to Berlin.

The couple are leaving Yorkshire on November 1 for a four-day drive to Berlin in their 1972 P601 kombi (estate) Trabant which has a measly 23 horse power engine and cruising speed of around 55 mph.

They are taking part in a Trabi parade through Berlin on Sunday November 9 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The 900-mile trip to Berlin will involve avoiding autobahns as the little car can’t compete with modern motors when it comes to speed.

And it’s not quite as reliable as your average German marque.

Dominic Russell-Price, Publicity Officer of Trabant Owners Club and organiser of Soviet Auto Luxury Tours, and Chris Blackburn House & Collections Manager Nostell Priory, will shortly be heading off Nostell Priory nr Wakefield to Berlin to take part in a Trabi parade through the city to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. 24 October 2014. Picture Bruce Rollinson

“It can be temperamental, like any old car can be,” he admits.

He is happy to defend the car against critics and aims to dispel a myth that they are made of cardboard.

“It isn’t made of cardboard,” he said. “It has a steel monocoque (a type of rigid frame) with plastic panels made of Duraplast, a mix of recycled cotton wool waste and phenol resin.”

“We have done 23,000 miles in the past five years but for this trip I have put in a new fuel tank because they can get rust in the tank which needs flushing out.

Dominic Russell-Price and Chris Blackburn will shortly be heading off from Nostell Priory nr Wakefield to Berlin.

“I prefer to get there without having to do too many roadside repairs.”

The couple have done long trips before, including a 2,500-mile drive which took in Austria, Hungary, Slovenia and Italy, which exposed some of their old car’s weaknesses.

During that trip they had to deal with blocked fuel pipes and failing spark plugs and the fan belt failed on a recent jaunt to the Lake District.

Thankfully, the air-cooled engine is not difficult to work on for the DIY mechanic. “I can get the engine and gearbox out in 45 minutes. The engine weighs 45 kilos – about the same as a dog!”

He admits that the two-
stroke engine can sometimes be a bit smelly and the odour has been known to penetrate the cabin.

But apart from these minor quibbles the couple have enjoyed many hours of enjoyable motoring.

For Mr Russell-Price, 49, who grew up in the 1980s when the Cold War had yet to thaw, the Trabant is a bit of history which is fast disappearing.

He works in arts marketing and lives at Nostell, Wakefield, but his hobby is visiting Cold War era sites such as nuclear bunkers and air force bases.

Like-minded friends are involved in the ironically-titled Soviet Auto Luxury Tours (SALT) fan club and Mr Russell-Price is publicity officer for the Wartburg Trabant IFA Club.

Around 100 Trabants are expected to attend the Berlin rally, he says.

“Driving a Trabant is a bit like driving a big go-kart. We both love driving and like a challenge. We’ve tackled the Alps and Atlas mountains so we’re hoping that a drive to Berlin should be as simple as a walk in the Black Forest.”