For the love of a Trabi

Anthony Peacock meets the man whose love affair with the Trabant hasn't run smooth
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Indy Lifestyle Online

To most people, love at first sight is a meeting of eyes and hearts across a crowded room. To Graham Goodall, it was the moment he first glimpsed a Trabant pottering along the streets of Berlin in 1987.

To most people, love at first sight is a meeting of eyes and hearts across a crowded room. To Graham Goodall, it was the moment he first glimpsed a Trabant pottering along the streets of Berlin in 1987.

" Liebe auf den ersten Blick" (love at first sight) is certainly how he describes it in German, but then, people have all sorts of strange tastes when it comes to love. Goodall asked how much it would cost to buy a Trabant, and was told " ein Apfel und ein Ei" - an apple and an egg. Having discovered that the object of his desire was both beautiful (a subjective matter) and affordable (a fact) the Derbyshire auto engineer set about collecting them.

And that's where the trouble started. Now, 18 years on, there are 49 Trabants scattered liberally across his orchard. The Peak District village of Middleton-by-Youlgreave is home to ancient cottages, dry-stone walls, ruminating sheep and the occasional tractor. Against such a pastoral backdrop, the spectacle of 49 Communist runabouts in lurid shades of orange, blue and green has attracted some controversy.

The Peak District National Park Authority issued Goodall with a writ nearly two years ago, demanding that he remove the cars on the grounds that he is storing them illegally on residential land. Goodall has two objections. First, that he has a right to do what he wants on his own land. Second, that he never received the writ, and his signature accepting it was forged, he claims. At time of delivery, according to Goodall, he was in Germany - and it doesn't take Inspector Morse to work out what he was doing there.

"I've lived in my house for 20 years and have been storing cars all that time," he says. "The guy who lived here before me was also storing cars. We didn't need any planning permission or to apply for change of use. All of a sudden, they forge my signature, slap an enforcement notice on me, and now they've found me guilty of storing cars illegally. I've been fined £750 with £250 costs, and been told to move them. It's a violation of basic human rights and a travesty of justice."

Goodall has appealed against the decision, and the hearing will take place later this year. In the meantime, he has racked up a surprising amount of local support (with the exception of one former neighbour whom Goodall describes as "a slime-sucking sack of decomposed worm puke"). The British love the underdog, which is why Goodall and his oddball collection of motors have recently attracted more media attention than Kimberly Quinn's sex life. A BBC film crew regularly accompanied him to court - crammed into the back of an aesthetically "interesting" 1991 orange-and-black Trabbie estate, while GMTV broadcast a live link from the infamous orchard.

Goodall is president of the Trabant Club UK, where a collector recently offered £10,000 for his Kubelwagen: an army Trabant formerly used to patrol the Berlin Wall, complete with camouflage paint, blacked-out headlights and an AK47. Other highlights of his collection include a 1958 Trabant prototype, and a partially restored car that was given to Goodall by the vengeful wife of a philandering East German businessman.

In total, Goodall reckons that he has made more than 100 return trips to Germany on the hunt for Trabbies. Of course, the path of true love rarely runs smooth: he has twice had a wheel fall off at heady speeds of up to 75mph through Europe, while head gaskets fail with such predictability that it's always best to carry a spare.

The Trabant may not be the last word in mechanical sophistication, but with an engine that contains only five moving parts, anybody with a modicum of mechanical knowledge and a sense of irony can fix it when it inevitably goes kaput. It's a two-stroke engine with a gravity -feed petrol tank, avoiding the need for any fuel, oil or water pumps. Trabants are made from low-grade plastic, and so are about as liable to rust as a bar of soap. They are also surprisingly resilient. Goodall uncovered one car that had stood in a garden for 14 years, and it started first time after the battery was charged. He ended up driving it back to Derbyshire.

Finally, the Trabant is definitive proof that the Germans do, after all, have a sense of humour, as does the hero of this story: it takes the best part of 20 fun-filled hours to get from Germany to Middleton-by-Youlgreave.

But now, Goodall has decided that the Trabbies have to go. A museum has offered to take them on permanent loan, but their owner reckons that there is an average investment of at least £1,000 in every car, making the entire collection worth a minimum of around £50,000.

"As far as I'm aware, it's the largest collection of Eastern European cars in the world," says Goodall. "If I sell them, I want to sell the lot. I'll even throw in a Trabant transporter lorry, and there's £8,000 worth of spares in my shed. It's got to be worth something to someone, without even going into the amount of time the collection has taken to put together."

So far, Goodall has spent most of his savings on the legal battle over the Trabants in his orchard. However, as his barrister put it: "An Englishman's home is his castle - provided he has permission." But this ardent Trabant fanatic isn't going to give up the fight quietly. "I said in the past that the more the Park Authority complained, the more Trabants I'd collect. But then, at other times, I think, 'Sod it, I'll just have the world's biggest Trabant bonfire in my garden...'."

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