Communism's 'Ferrari of the East' is back on the road after 27 years
Saturday 09 December 2006
It was built out of bits of East German Trabant and Wartburg cars, yet its rakish drop-nosed looks and - by Communist standards - staggering top speed of 102mph won it the nickname "Ferrari of the East".
Now, 27 years after Communist East Germany's only sports car went out of production, its makers have decided to re-launch the two-stroke engined vehicle that was once the star of motor racing circuits behind the Iron Curtain. "Ferrari of the East" may have been the title bestowed on the wing-doored car that looked as if it had been lifted from an early James Bond movie, but its real name is the less glamorous Melkus RS 1000.
Last month the Dresden manufacturers, Melkus engineering, produced the first of its revamped sports cars based on the original. The latest model, stylishly painted glistening yellow, was unveiled at the city's transport museum by Peter Melkus, the company owner, who declared, with tears in his eyes: "The Melkus marque is reborn !"
Fifteen of the new cars are due to be completed by early next year and the company says that nearly all of them have already found owners. "Once we have completed our remake of the original, we plan to embark on the next generation, the Melkus RS 2000," Mr Melkus said.
Communist East Germany was hardly a car owners' paradise. Fifteen years was the average waiting time for a two-stroke, smoke-puffing and plastic-bodied Trabant or Wartburg car, which were the only domestically-made vehicles. Parents were known to put their children on car manufacturers' waiting lists shortly after they were born.
Given such dire economic circumstances, the Melkus RS 1000 had no difficulty in achieving legendary status. It was the brainchild of an East German driving instructor called Heinz Melkus, who had a passion for Ferrari and Lotus cars and a gift for mechanical engineering.
"My grandfather once took a rare trip to Yugoslavia and his Wartburg was overtaken by a sleek-looking Lotus while he was driving on the Autoput motorway. After seeing the Lotus, he wanted to build sports cars himself," his grandson Sepp said. "In 1969, when East Germany was preparing to celebrate its 20th anniversary, the authorities finally gave him permission to build a sports car to mark the event and the Melkus RS 100 was born," he added.
In 1969 and throughout the 1970s, Heinz Melkus scoured East German factories and car breakers' yards for Trabant and Wartburg parts that formed the basis of his sports car. The building took place in a garage close to his Dresden home using a Wartburg 353, 75-horse power, two-stroke engine and a body moulded out of fibreglass.
The 101 cars built were snapped up by enthusiasts. Heinz Melkus went on to become East Germany's equivalent of Michael Schumacher.The gradual economic decline of East Germany finally brought production of the Melkus RS 1000 to a halt in 1979.
Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'
Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?
Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent
"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier
Animal welfare charities have urged the boy band to cut the scenes
Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here
- 1 This 'woman calls police to order pizza' story isn't going where you're expecting
- 2 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 3 Jimmy Carr's controversial Oscar Pistorius joke goes a bit too far at the Q Awards
- 4 Ottawa shootings: Bruce MacKinnon's cartoon is the perfect tribute to soldier Nathan Cirillo
- 5 Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Isis releases first video showing the stoning of woman accused of committing adultery as her father shouts 'don't call me Dad'
FCKH8: YouTube reinstates provocative anti-sexism video showing young girls swearing
Diwali: What is the festival of lights – and how is it celebrated around the world?
Jimmy Carr's controversial Oscar Pistorius joke goes a bit too far at the Q Awards
Ottawa shootings: Bruce MacKinnon's cartoon is the perfect tribute to soldier Nathan Cirillo
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Attacks on 'Ukip Calypso' show how skewed people’s priorities are
£350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reading are...
£10 per hour: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an experienced note taker...
£4800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: A full time...
£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...