Everyone has their idiosyncratic car fetishes, and for me it’s space utilization. That’s part of why I love mid-engine designs so much, especially on non-sports cars. It’s so hard to do right, but when it happens, the packaging becomes sublime. That’s why I’m so taken with these stillborn mid-engined Wartburg prototypes.
If you even know about Wartburg at all, chances are you don’t think of them as being a particularly innovative company. Of the two major East German cars (the other being the Trabant), Wartburg was the fancy option, though it was still a three-cylinder two stroke based on an ancient DKW.
Wartburgs had really only two main designs throughout their life from 1956-1991: the roundy, ‘50s-style 311/312, and then later, in 1966, the unashamedly rectilinear 353. Both had the same basic layout: front inline-3, two strokes, driving the front wheels.
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That’s why this prototype, known as the P100 (sometimes called the 314, which would have been its model number) and dating from the early ‘60s, is so fascinating. It’s a completely different and daring direction from Wartburg, and that’s just not something I expected out of the staid-seeming company.
The P100 prototype used a flat-four engine mounted in the middle, driving the rear wheels. This layout allowed for two trunks, like a Volkswagen Type 3, and is, of course, a marvelous packaging achievement.
Exactly where that mid-mounted engine is is not all that clear, and I have yet to find any blueprints or cut-away drawings, leaving me to speculate. I assume an opposed engine was selected because those could be made very flat, making me wonder if an under-the-rear-seat layout was used.
If so, that would make the Wartburg P100 similar to that other DOA triumph of packaging, the Porsche-designed VW EA266, which stuck an inline-4 on its side under the back seat.
From what I can tell, the engine was this flat-four:
You can see that the block itself is very flat, but I imagine for an underseat location, they’d have to rework the intake manifold, unless they wanted to put a cushion on top of that air cleaner and call it an armrest. Still, as Volkswagen showed us with their Type 3 engines, such suitcase-like repackaging is possible.
Also helping to corroborate an under-seat mounting is the fact that the transmission developed for the P100 project was later used for the front-engine/front-drive Wartburg 353.
There was even a sports-coupé version of the P100 project, a lovely little thing called the 313-2. This would have retained the mid-engine layout, just in a sportier, coupé body. To me, it looks a bit like a mix beteween a Renault Floride and a BMW 700 coupé. I think it’s lovely.
It seems of the four built, at least two of these survive!
Some of the reasons given why the mid-engine approach was not eventually followed are essentially the same issues that affect most mid-engine cars: cooling issues, cabin noise, and engine accessibility. The cooling must have been especially tricky, since I see almost no air intakes on either of the prototypes. Maybe there was some sort of underbody scoop?
Like pretty much every non-sporting mid-engined car, the carmaker once again backed down from the inherent issues of such an ambitious packaging plan. Today, there’s only really one mid-engined sedan on the market, the Tesla Model S. And that’s only if you count the rear-axle-mounted electric motors as a mid-engine, which I suppose you may as well.
Even if they were never to be, these P100-series prototypes are fascinating, and show a daring, elegant side of the normally homely and staid Wartburg that I never knew existed.
(Thanks to Car Design Archives for turning me on to these!)