Hello Lamley readers!
My name is Alex. I’m 29, from the UK and it’s safe to say I’m blown away that John gave me the opportunity to share my odd little hobby with you all! Cars and diecast have been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. My hobby started around Japanese cars in the heyday of Gran Turismo in the late 90s, and has branched off into every conceivable direction: US muscle, Supercars, classics, racers. But over the past few years my interest in European and old Eastern Bloc cars has grown sizeably and meshed beautifully with my love for history and travel. After visits to Europe, my collection began to contain brands like Welly, Grell, Schuco and Norev. My workbench where I work on custom diecasts began filling with vintage Majorettes and Guisvals, battered Fiats, Renaults and Citroens from dusty boxes in foreign market stalls. And it’s these European models and brands I hope to be able to cover for Lamley.
This article is about the car that started my “European” leanings: the Welly/NEX Trabant 601S Deluxe.
The Trabant 601 was made by VEB Sachsenring in Zwickau, in what was then East Germany. It was the third generation of “Der Trabi”, built for the longest production time, from 1963 to 1990, during which 2.8 million were produced overall making it the most common vehicle in former East Germany. Depending on what side of the “Iron Curtain” you happened to be born on, it was either a symbol of a hateful, repressive East German regime or the hard earned result of your labour. Waiting lists could be up to 13 years long and the demand to production ratio was an alarming 43:1. The body of the car was made from a form of recycled hard plastic known as Duroplast which gave rise to many jokes in the West but gave the average Trabant a near 30 year lifespan. Power came from a 600cc 2 cylinder, 2 stroke engine giving a whopping 25bhp.
I must point out now I’m not here to pick sides and wax lyrical about The Cold War. Whatever you may believe it’s easy to take the “Trabi” at face value. To laugh at its plastic construction. It’s teeny engine. But for a lot of people in Central and Eastern Europe this is a car that has memories attached. Nostalgia. Talk to anyone from Germany, Bulgaria, Poland, Slovakia. Mention the Trabant and there’s always a story. A first car, a trip out. Everyone mentions the smoke, the unmistakable noise of the 2 stroke engine, troubled winter mornings. And mostly, they smile. And hey, a car that can raise a smile or a story is a good car to me.
I picked my diecast 601 up at a museum in Berlin a few years ago. As you can imagine, finding diecast Trabants in Berlin is not hard. They’re dotted around the numerous souvenir and market stalls, they’re at museum shops. They’re everywhere. But they’re not all great diecasts. Some are brand-less, misshapen lumps that sort of look like a Trabant. But the Welly cars are gems. As soon as I saw this one with its frog green paint, I was hooked.
Closer to 1/60 scale than true 1/64, they’re perfectly executed. They come in a selection of colours sometimes offset with a contrasting roof. The tampos are sharp, the wheels and interior detailing work well. It’s not overly complicated nor under detailed. My only criticism is there’s too much chrome! But if you’re a diecast customiser that is easy to rectify, Welly cars are super easy to work on. And don’t think they’re limited to Berlin: you can find them on eBay and online retailers easily and inexpensively. I own three examples; two I modified and the lurid green one I picked up in Germany sits standard.
And I adore it. It set me off looking up other East German vehicles which got me into collecting Grell models (of which I hope to write about in future), and got me into searching out other Welly “gems”. And they are out there.
Welly do a great line of classic European vehicles that seems to have fallen under the radar somewhat. They can appear in the most random places including recently as part of a magazine publication in Portugal. I’ve even seen them sold as keyrings. I do most of my hunting on eBay and I have managed to obtain a few more including this brilliant Renault 4 which, for a budget model, is fantastically presented. The window piece has even been cut to replicate the sliding side window on the original. For the low prices Welly models retail for, details like this are a real bonus.
I hope I can cover more of Welly’s classics in future, and introuduce you to some new brands and models from this side of the pond. But for now I hope you enjoyed my little story of where this hobby took a turn for me. And maybe it can set you off in a direction you never thought of too.