The five-door Camping-Limousine seen here is but one of half a dozen body styles made available by the nationalized East German manufacturer. Seen as very much a “German Car” and upscale in comparison to the Trabant, which was the only other option available to the general public in the GDR, the 311 was still a far cry from modern designs emerging in the West.
The Wartburg name comes from Wartburg Castle, overlooking the valley where the factory was built in 1898. Wartburg built cars of increasing sophistication until BMW was formed and acquired the plant in 1928. The iconic DIXI, 315, and 328 BMW models were built here prior to the Second World War. After the war, BMW pulled up stakes and moved to Munich, leaving behind an intact plant for the Soviet occupiers.
Without fresh designs, the Soviets cranked out pre-war BMW designs as their own, until forced to stop by court order in 1952 – so they then built “EMW”s with a red/white roundel, instead of the Bavarian blue/white roundel! Eventually the plant, then known as the Eisenacher Motorenwerk, began production of other derivative cars, such as the IFA F9, itself very DKW F9-like.
The introduction of the 311 in 1955 was essentially a clean-sheet design, although the stretched frame was from the F9 and the engine was decidedly a DKW. Wartburg continued with the BMW naming convention from its distant past, i.e. a 3-digit number beginning with 3, for all subsequent models. The car was quite stylish and well-appointed, with leather seats even available. However, the body-on-frame construction and two-stroke engine dated it badly compared to cars just over the border. Demand always far outstripped supply, and it was said that five times more cars were alwayson order than could be produced!
After the fall of Communism in 1990, the plant closed, and reopened as an Opel plant. Building No. 2 was kept
as a museum to the marques built there for well over a century: Wartburg, BMW, EMW, IFA, Wartburg (again), and Opel.
Manufacturer: VEB Automobilwerk Eisenach
Country of Origin: German Democratic Republic
Drivetrain Configuration: Front engine, front-wheel drive
Engine: 900cc 3-cylinder, two-stroke;37 HP
Transmission: 3 speed manual
Top Speed: 71 mph
Years of Production: 1956-1965
Number Produced: 258,928