Live Auctions

BMW + SAAB = 1977 Wartburg Knight


Update 9/16/14 – Jason has listed this one here on eBay with a BIN of $4,000. The price just keeps dropping!

From 7/11/14 – We love to stumble upon cars that we have never heard of before! Take this 1977 Wartburg 353W that we just found on craigslist for example. When was the last time you saw one of these here in the States? Well, that could be because they were never officially imported to the States from East Germany where they were produced. We don’t know much about them, but this example looks to be in excellent condition. The $5,000 $4,500 asking price doesn’t seem too unrealistic either.


If you were to take an early SAAB and breed it with a BMW, this would be the resulting offspring! The exterior follows a similar three box design like that was used by BMW for their 2002. Things are far from ordinary under the skin though. The power from the three-cylinder two-stroke engine is feed to the front wheels through a column-shifted freewheeling four-speed! Hmm… That sounds very SAAB-like, doesn’t it?


The simple interior looks clean and complete. Good thing too because sourcing parts for this thing could be a pain in our neck of the woods. The design in here is very simple and again reminds us of a mix of Bavarian and Scandinavian styling. That is a very good thing in our book though. From what we have read these were efficient, but agile little cars so we bet this one is actually fun to drive. In fact, if we weren’t already up to our elbows in project, we would probably be headed over to Burley, Idaho right now to pick it up!


Maybe we should still make the trip over there anyway because the owner of this car seems like our type of guy! Just check out his garage, three oddballs and a Mustang. He is selling the Wartburg in order to focus on the restoration of his Trabant P50. He obviously has good taste just like us! We wish him luck with the sale, but if it is still around in a month or so, we might be stopping by!


  1. Frank

    Wow, hadn’t heard of these before. How cool! This chap has great taste in unusual cars. I’d love to have that.

  2. Ty Addison

    The green car in the background looks like a Mini.

  3. Jason

    The green one is a Trabant P601.

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Jason is the owner of this nice little collection and I’m sure he would be willing to answer any questions.

  4. Jimmy

    The green machine looks like another Trabby. Old Soviet and Eastern European tin is undergoing a revival in Britain although the Russian stuff is crude even for my eclectic tastes although I do admire Skodas. Wartburgs and Moskvich were imported to the UK in the late ’60s, early ’70s in an attempt to gain a western foothold, handling, build and safety were truely abysmal so it took Skoda and later Lada to gain some success. Now Skoda are owned by VW they are very popular and arguably the most reliable cars in Europe.

    • DT

      Trabants arent tin they are papier mache

      • Jason

        Pretty accurate description. Actually they are Russian cotton and resin cooked in a heat press. 2 cylinder 2 stroke. 26 HP of raw power.

      • Brian

        Russian cotton huh? So I guess trumble drying on high heat is out?

        Serious though – Jason, what a neat find! Where did you find it or did you import it? I thought the Wartburg has gone by the mid 1960s – guess I need to give back my Wartburg expert badge! Such a fun looking car, when I saw it, I expected to see ‘Mater in the next photo! If you do sell it, I think your gonna miss it!

      • Jason

        I will definitely miss it. I lived in Eisenach Germany, where the car was made, for about 6 months. If you really want to be entertained, do a Google search for EMW Eisenach to learn more about the BMW ‘s being made by Soviet Russia in East Germany after WWII.

      • Jim-Bob

        It’s actually a material called Duraplast. It is similar to fiberglass as it uses the aforementioned Soviet cloth scraps with phenolic resin as a binder. It’s incredibly strong in terms of mass to strength ratio and was a good choice of materials for post was East Germany, where steel was a scarce commodity. However, the Trabant isn’t all Duraplast either. The structural parts are made of steel and the exterior panels are made of Duraplast, much like a Pontiac Fiero. As for the engine, it wasn’t borrowed from SAAB but rather by SAAB. Both the Trabant and Wartburg used pre-war DKW drivetrains as the plant had been located in the Soviet zone after the war. As Sweden was a country with heavy socialist leanings that were seen as sympathetic to communism, the Swedes were allowed access to communist owned technology, as well as cultural exports, like the Cheburashka cartoon show (it was also the mascot of the 1980 Moscow games). DKW’s engines weren’t the only automotive technology expropriated from Germany. The Opel Kadett’s tooling was also taken from Germany and brought to the USSR to become the original Moskvitch.

      • Chris Bater UK

        Yes paper, cotton and resin, which sounds quite novel, but end of life disposal is a Dolphin reducing process, these body shells are a major hazard to recycle and the smokey engines were another environmental challenge! The Wartburg was a similar problem if a little more sophisticated, though not by much, Two stroke engine (?) and loads of emissions, especially when cold or driven hard ( well comparatively speaking). 0-60 was best measured with a diary rather than a stop watch and ear defenders were and advisable option. There was a Wartburg estate (station wagon) but any additional load just taxed the engine output even further. Rare in the States? someone did you a favour! Christopher.

      • Brian

        Just pour in a bottle of magic CRC emission passer liquid and slap on a turbo and you’ve solved all those problems!

  5. Mark

    The wheel bolt pattern looks the same as older Subaru ( 4 on 140 mm ) so you might be able to get some decent alloy wheels to fit it and dress it up. Its pretty unique, looks like it should be in a CARS movie.

  6. DT

    Nice clean car,couldnt register it in California,price seems more than fair

  7. jim s

    what does the pulley on the top of motor turn? nice peice of history and find. i think BF needs to stick with the mustang for now as you have found a car that the whole family is interested in.

    • Jason

      The only thing I can figure out with the pulley is that it ran the fan on earlier models of the Wartburg when it had a rear mounted radiator…I might be wrong though.

      • jim s


    • Mark E

      The pulley is the power take off. The owner can purchase an optional belt-driven lawnmower, snow thrower, garden tiller and potato/rutabaga attachment.

    • Roi

      This pulley runs the water pump, which is mounted on the top of the engine. In older models, when the radiator was placed behind the engine, it ran the fan as well. I know because I have an estate one of those.

  8. Sean Tennis

    Actually the engine is very similar to a DKW rather then a SAAB, common mistake on this side of the pond…

  9. Jimmy

    Yup, I think earlier cars must have had a rear mounted rad, cant imagine why. I seem to remember the 2-stroke Saabs have a funny little shaft that runs from a belt on the front of the crank back to the fan.

  10. Robert J

    Now let’s see, should I buy a Wartburg or a Reliant Scimitar, or perhaps a Jensen Interceptor…. I’ll stick with the sexy names and leave the homely gals for others to dance with. :)

  11. DT

    Jason ,curious what the motor bike is ?,thanks, nice stuff

    • Jason

      The bike is just one I built. Put on Harley decals, a vintage leather seat, fun to putter around with.

  12. chris

    An other triumph of Communism. Not. For 5K there’s a lot of cars I’d choose over this
    Berlin wall escapee.

  13. Clay Bryant

    It dices,it slices,it…………………………

  14. C

    This was pretty much the best thing on four wheels money could buy back in the GDR. It was not something your average joe could afford, let alone even get their hands on. The waiting list was nothing to joke about.

    In their western export markets (such as Finland) it was regarded as cheap disposable crap, costing like half as much as a western car. Parents of a friend had several of them, the estate version. The last one they had was floor shifted, an update that arrived late in the (long) cycle. I drove it once, iirc it felt like stirring cue balls with a knitting needle.

    I always preferred the predecessor, the 311. Awesome styling.

  15. Sonny Burnett

    I believe this car is much more likely to be from 1987 (or anywhere between 1985 and 1988), based on the colour-coded grille, the black bumpers, the black plastic handles on the doors and the design of the steering wheel. A 1977 car should have a different grille with a chrome insert and with headlights sitting deeper, chrome bumpers and handles, and a steering wheel with thinner spokes.

    Also, as far as I know, in 1977 the cooling fan was still behind the block, but on this car it seems to be in the front.

    • Jason

      I think you are right. My guess is that whoever had it imported made some “modifications” in Germany before they had it shipped over to make sure safety and emissions wouldn’t be an issue. All I know is that since it has been here in th US, it has had a vehicle identification tag and registered as a 1977.

  16. Rene

    I thought Skoda, for a momment

    • Rene

      Or maybe Trabant

  17. Gene Park

    Aha! A DDR version of the DKW. I had a 1957 DKW Zonderklasse 1000 3=6. I too had a two stroke 3 cylinder engine. A pint of oil with each 5 gallons of gas. I don’t know how many times an attendant would leave the copper oil can in the filler pipe. It was also known as the Blue Fog. There was a lever under the dash that would engage the compression. The engine itself had only 7 moving parts. Three pistons, three con rods and a crankshaft. There were ports in the cylinder walls to allow the intake of the gas/oil intake and to exhaust the gas. The transmission to the front wheels was another matter. It was a hoot to drive, having to power into corners. It was a high revving engine and when it unwound it would ping a lot. I really liked that car and it was roomy enough for five to ride comfortably in it.

  18. Horse Radish

    It’s fantastic, that a n y car will have a following.
    However, it is unrealistic to recover any time or money spent on this.
    As a comparison, for those $5000 you could get a West German Mercedes (as opposed to this East German one, see headline) in comparable condition, without the crudeness of this (sorry) under-designed box on wheels.
    There was a reason, why these weren’t exported to the West: because they were a required necessity in Communist East Germany with little else offered and a years-long waiting list.
    Imports were only allowed from socialist countries…..
    so the competition was meager to begin with and standards accordingly very low.

  19. viking

    In the mid fifties my dad had a car dealer ship in Sweden, that sold IFA wartburg ,before that it was IFA F9 andIFA F8. They looked like DKW. The earlier once had the body made of plywood covered with naugahide, we called them sawdust baskets. They had no starter motors ,insted it had dyna starters, you put power to the generator and it becomes a motor, strong enough to turn over the little two stroke two cylinder engine. It had a umbrella handle gear sifter in the dash board.

  20. cliffyc

    Probable reason for Wartburg models not being imported into USA I would guess,cost to modify engine (a real smoker, that 2-stroke) and all the safety bells and whistles to meet safety regs?

  21. Cameron Bater UK

    Looks like it also has a Volvo 240 Saloon’s roof

  22. jim s

    with a starting bid of $3500 and no reserve someone could get an interesting car.

  23. Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

    The auction ended again without any takers at $3,500. How low will it go?

  24. Jason

    Looks like I will have to keep this one. $3,500 even lower than I wanted to go. Oddball cars are hard to sell sometimes because you have to find an oddball buyer. What was interesting is that the most serious lookers I had were from Canada…problem there was figuring out a reasonable transport solution.

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Sorry we couldn’t help you find a buyer Jason!

  25. Mike

    I had the misfortune to have to work on a Wartburg 3cyl 2 stroke East German station wagon looking thing in 1961. We had a car dealer in the Sacramento area that imported all kinds of weird vehicles, including the fore mentioned Wartburg, DKW’s, Borgwards, refrigerator door BMW Isett’s along with double refrigerator door Janus built by Zundapp. Where would anyone find parts today, they weren’t available while the vehicles were still being manufactured. Back in those days we ordered a crankshaft for a Borgward and it arrived 6 months later as a raw unturned forging!

  26. Jason

    If anyone is interested, this car was sold to the Wende Museum in L.A., California. The museum specializes in cold war history and artifacts. With the funds of the sale, I am working on the restoration of my Trabant P50…lots of work ahead!

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Thanks for the update Jason and good for you! Hopefully you will send in occasional updates on the Trabant.

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