Holidays with Grell

Today I’m going to be returning for a post on one of my favourite diecast lines: the promotional toys made for German marketing company Grell.

I wrote an in depth look at the offerings available last month, and proving that every day is a school day I have since learned that the manufacturer Grell used to produce the models was the now defunct High Speed. Surprisingly some High Speed castings live on with other manufacturers but sadly not any of the Eastern Bloc vehicles. I’m keen for them not to be forgotten however, and in the first post I mentioned I’d share more Grell when my collection grew. And that moment has come, courtesy of 2 brilliant Trabants with a decidedly holiday theme.

Firstly this 601S complete with “Dachzelt” or “roof tent”.

The “Dachzelt” was the brainchild of Gerhard Müller, an agricultrual machinist from the Saxony town of Limbach-Oberfrohna. Inspired by similar arrangements he had seen on vehicles while living in France as a teenager, he decided he wanted to bring the concept to the people of East Germany and in 1976 he began working on a prototype. Due to the political situation at the time, East Germans who could afford a holiday were extremely limited in their choice of destinations. Flights were expensive and destinations outside the Eastern Bloc were pretty much impossible for a normal East German citizen. Subsequently many East Germans turned to the car for their means of getting away. Trips to the Baltic Coast, The Balkans and drives into the countryside were common. This gave the roof tent had a strong customer base. In the height of production the waiting list could be around 2 years. Müller began organising popular meetings for roof tent owners, bringing in owners from Germany and further afield. He also made awnings for ice cream parlours and shops, and business was going strong up until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Running a business in the strange new world of unified Germany was sadly not successful for Müller and he fell into debt, dealing with cancelled orders and a huge surplus of material. He tried to revive the once popular meetings and re-ignite some interest in his product but he never got to see a second wind for his creation. He sadly passed away in 1999, en route to offering one of his tents to a museum in Poland.

These days the Dachzelt or Müller-Zelt has become a must have accessory for the new breed of Trabant owners, and there are even reproductions being made. Since 2009 owners have been gathering again, swapping stories of old meets and holidays and taking part in road trips.

In the world of diecast Trabis, the Grell car is the only 1/64 scale one out there complete with the Müller tent. The Trabant casting itself is a bit basic but well proportioned. Combined with the dachzelt though makes for such a unique piece. It’s a must have for collectors of Eastern Bloc diecast and even for collectors of DDR related items. The tent can be removed by the way, but doing so reveals two large holes where the base clips into the roof, so best to leave it on in all its glory!

The other Grell Trabant to arrive in my collection recently is the very green 601 Kombi hauling an IFA Camptourist trailer tent.

The Camptourist was the go to for a family camping holiday in the DDR. Available in different sizes to accommodate 2 to 8 people, the Camptourist was a stalwart of many of Eastern Europe’s campsites come summer time. Thanks to a burgeoning retro and vintage car scene and a certain amount of “Ostalgie”, the Camptourist is still a rather desirable bit of kit to owners of classic Eastern Bloc vehicles and there’s also an interest in them among certain vintage Volkswagen owners meaning that they can still sell for a tidy sum of money.

Image from oldie-camping.de

The Grell version sadly doesn’t open up into the full size tent like the one above, infact it’s a rather light and basic plastic trailer sat on wheels borrowed from the US trucks that Grell also produced. But regardless, I’m happy they have chose to replicate it in any form as it’s an interesting piece of the story of East German motoring.

And the Trabant Kombi tow vehicle is such a perfect combination with the Camptourist trailer. Ugly tow hitch aside, I love this casting especially in green. Oddly the paint is matt finish although I have seen gloss versions in the same colour.

The 2 cars sit perfectly with the Wartburg 353 Kombi and Intercamp caravan that you saw in my first Grell feature.

If you’re a fan of your weird and wonderful, your Eastern Bloc vehicles or indeed a modeller or customiser out for some good pieces for a diorama or custom, you can’t go far wrong with these Grell combinations. Worth a look for the dedicated collectors for sure.

Alex Winson

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