Few countries are as gifted with engines as Germany. From the luxury vehicles produced by Audi all the way to the massive Axor trucks engineered by Mercedes, they cover a wealth of models and needs. Their cars are both fast and technologically advanced, and more often than not they are also durable. It is hard to think of anything the Germans do better than cars.
Recounting their history in the automobile industry is almost tantamount to retelling their social and urban history, especially post war.
Take the BMW 507, one of the first – and still one of the rarest – among German luxury cars. The model started production in 1956, under the insistence of legendary Max Hoffman, who wanted a Teutonic model introduced into the American continent. His vision was that of a roadster able to compete with local celebrities like the Jaguars (though ironically the strongest rival proved to be another German car – the superb Mercedes-Benz 300SL). The car was technically brilliant, both powerful and manoeuvrable, and gorgeous in terms of design – surely one of the most charismatic German cars ever made.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, only one year later, in 1957, East Germany witnessed the release of the Trabant. The name itself was of dubious origin, apparently inspired by German and Slavic terms. The Trabant was everything that the BMW 507 was not. Produced under the Communist regime, it was intended as a people’s car, like the Volkswagen Beetle or the Fiat 500, but it was slow and uncomfortable, and its blocky ugliness is still parodied today. Apparently it was very durable, but this may have depended on the users more than it did on the car itself – the difficulties in getting hold of such a car were so dramatic that anyone who owned one would go any length to prevent it from being damaged or broken.
Amusingly, the BMW 507 was more of a disaster than the Trabant. While its design was beautiful, becoming a favourite even with Elvis Presley, its production costs ended up being huge, and they almost led BMW into bankruptcy. The Trabant, on the other hand, went on to become an icon of popular culture.