CAR MANUFACTURERS in the Communist bloc of Eastern Europe had to walk the line between giving people cars they wanted to own and meeting government plans to provide practical, inexpensive, vehicles to take workers to their place of employment.
On top of that they also had to deal with the problems of shortage economies, creating problems for manufacturers in getting enough parts and materials, and for consumers, who often had to endure long waiting lists before getting a car.
Yet despite such economic problems and trying to create an automobile market where consumerism was officially frowned upon, a series of home-grown industries, such as Zwickau (East Germany ), Skoda (Czechoslovakia ), and Dacia (Romania ), strived and thrived to create a distinct series of vehicles in the post-war era - the best known being the GDR’s Trabant, a vehicle as iconic to Eastern Europeans as the VW Beetle or Citroën 2CV is to Western Europe.
All this and more is contained in Cars Of Eastern Europe: The Definitive History by Andy Thompson (Haynes Publishing ). It gives a fascinating and detailed description of the many vehicle models (and the list is exhaustive ) produced by the Communist states, detailing aspects of their design, engine capabilities, how they were sold to the people.
Cars Of Eastern Europe also details the economic and political pressures car manufactures faced, and how such cars and companies fared in both the domestic and international markets - the Trabant was only successful within the Eastern Bloc and did not survive the fall of the Berlin Wall, but Skoda thrived internationally during and after Communism.
The book is full of fascinating facts, statistics, and anecdotes that car enthusiasts will revel in while students of Communism will find the book a very useful insight into manufacturing trends, consumerism, and mass culture within the Eastern Bloc.
Haynes Publishing must be commended for the beautiful production of Cars Of Eastern Europe. It is lovingly illustrated by contemporary advertisements (fascinating in themselves ) and photographs of practically every model of car and van discussed in the book, creating a wonderful visual reference and library on the ‘Communist car’.
Cars Of Eastern Europe is the best kind of coffee table book, you can pick it up to browse for a minute and find yourself still browsing hours later. More importantly, not only is it a pleasure to look at, it is also a coffee table book you will actually read.