Traversing Europe and Beyond in a 1972 Trabant [Adventure]


Paul Hartl is a pretty unassuming guy. An immigrant from the Czech Republic, he’s in his 50s and works as an accountant in Canada. He’s tall and lanky, with an easy grin and a quick wit; an old rally racer who recently raced the Baja 1000 in a stock VW bug. He likes to do things the hard way.

As such, he’s planning on driving a 1972 Trabant 601 from the Czech Republic to Mongolia. And then just for kicks, he’ll finish his trip in Kyrgyzstan. You know, as you do.

Hartl and his buddy, rally co-driver Hymek Streda, will adventure for 5 weeks, traversing 12,000 kilometers (7500 miles) of some of the most dangerous roads in the world in their little East German wonder car. The Trabant sports an air-cooled, 595cc 2-stroke engine, complete with two cylinders. It knocks out 27hp, even less torque, and has a maximum speed of 80 km/hr, or just about 50 mph.

Trabant map

When asked why he picked what is quite possibly the least appropriate car for this adventure, Hartl says, “Well, it’s cheap. It probably won’t get stolen in Russia. And I used to race a Trabant when I lived in Czechoslovakia. I know the car. I’ve built it over and over again!

“It’s not a bad car. It’s the worst car ever made.”

The duo has kept the Trabant stock, save for adding a skid plate and a radio “…for after we start hating each other’s guts.” The engine is freshly rebuilt, and they will take another with them as a spare. It’s only 36 cubic inches, so it’s not like it’s taking up a lot of space.


Once the two get onto the nasty roads of the more far flung locations, they will switch to off-road tires with a stronger sidewall. Their fuel tank is a small 20 liters, just a smidge over 5 gallons. The teams is anticipating 200 kilometers per tank (124 miles), so they will carry three 20L gas cans, as well as one gas can of oil.

They will obviously need to rely on the kindness of strangers.

While there is an organized, albeit loosely organized, rally to Mongolia, headed up by The Adventurists, Hartl found it too expensive and decided to go out on his own. A look at his budget (in Canadian dollars) and one has to wonder how this trip is even possible.

  • $180 – bones of a Trabant
  • $1800 – rebuilt engine and prep
  • $1500 – travel to Prague
  • $2000 – fuel
  • $1000 – unscheduled problems and food

That’s a mere $6480 Canadian, or just a bit over $5000 US for a 5-week adventure that has a very small chance of succeeding.

“Challenge is what I like. I could do it in a Jeep but why? The best feeling is overcoming the problems. In the end you know you’ve done something. It makes me feel like I’m living.”

In similar spirit, he team is using their adventure to raise money for a Mexican shelter for battered women and children called Mi Casa Esperenza in Ensenada. Hartl learned about the shelter when he raced the Baja 1000.

People can pledge a certain amount per kilometer or a set amount, but 100% of every donation goes directly to the women and children of La Casa. You can donate here.

The team leaves July 14th, and are anticipating a mid to late August finish. Hopefully the team will update us here at TFL Car as they get into trouble…uh, I mean, as they successfully navigate this wackadoo trip.


When asked if he has any advice for others who want to plan such a trip, Hartl has very few words.

“Jump….I mean, plan, but jump.”

Check out Roman and Tommy as they snag another communist-era car, the Tatra 603, in our Prague to Pebble or Bust series.

emme hall tflcar Emme is a driver, reviewer, rabble rouser, and Gazelle who can be found online on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and either one of her blogs.