@Luke is this you? Big achievement: Just getting here in an ’81 Trabant By Bill Griffith Boston.com Correspondent | 09.27.15 | 12:00 AM The Boston Cup auto show on Boston Common last Sunday featured 100 cars worth millions. It also featured a 1981 East German Trabant that was bought on eBay for $3,500 (including shipping from Bremerhaven to Baltimore). That was six years ago (in 2009), and the buyer was 11-year-old Luke Vancraeynest, whose interest in cars was sparked by movies such as “Herbie the Lovebug” and “Back to the Future.” He’s now 17 and uses his unusual vehicle as his daily driver. Unlike most of the vehicles on display Sunday, many of which arrived via trailer, he drove the Trabant 180 miles to the show from his home in Stamford, Connecticut. The trip wasn’t without drama. “The starter went on Friday,” he says. “So I had to make the call whether to bag the show or get there somehow.” The fact that this story exists reveals his decision. “It’s not too hard to ‘bump start’ it,” he says. “It’s light enough [1,300 pounds] that I can sit in it, get it rolling by using one foot, and pop the clutch.” Once it starts, suffice it to say the 600cc (.6-liter), 2 cylinder, 2 stroke engine doesn’t purr. “It sounds a lot like someone shaking a Maxwell House coffee can filled with nuts and bolts,” says Ken Lemoine, co-founder and show organizer of the Boston Cup. Vancraeynest rarely has to worry about speeding, except in school zones. “The only time I was stopped was coming home one night about 9:45 from a car show at Sharon Springs, NY. “I was seriously worried because I still had a junior license. Instead, the officer cited me for a burned-out taillight, asked about the car, and called it ‘bad a__.’ ” But it gets him where he wants to go. “I figure it gets about 40 miles per gallon,” says Vancraeynest. Unlike today’s cars, where most engine components are hidden under shrouds that cover the engine compartment, the Trabant is fairly simple to repair. “You basically can get by with some wrenches and a socket set,” he says, “but the most helpful tools actually are duct tape and zip ties.” Vancraeynest demonstrated how easy it is to repair. He backed off two threaded eyebolts on the grille and lifted it off the car in a matter of seconds. That gave full access to the carburetor, starter, alternator, fan belt, and wiring. There was no radiator to get in the way because this car is air-cooled. The 6.5-gallon gas tank also is under the hood. It has 27 horsepower and a four-speed manual transmission with the shifter on the column. Because Vancraeynest’s Trabi is the upscale 601s model, it has two gauges: a speedometer (in kilometers per hour) and a gas gauge. The base 601 just has the speedo. Body panels are made of Duroplast—a fiberglass-like material made with cotton fibers. Vancraeynest is a senior at Fox Lane High in Bedford, New York, where he’s a class officer and interested in theater. He plans to study mechanical engineering with an automotive bent in college. One school highlight was telling Mr. Berger, his world history teacher, that he had an artifact to show him out in the parking lot. “He freaked out because he’d done a lesson about East Germans only having one car choice,” says Vancraeynest. Why the Trabant? “I probably could have waited and gotten an old Civic or Camry like everyone else has,” he says, “but how many people can drive the car that hung from the ceiling at U2 concerts?” Vancraeynest was ecstatic when he saw a Trabant in a chase scene in the trailer for “The Man from UNCLE.” In the scene, the Trabi was chasing a more upscale East German Wartburg car. Until he fixed the rear brakes, he’d get to school early to avoid being caught behind school buses. A Hit with Showgoers Xenia Kwee of Needham loved seeing the Trabi in Boston. “I grew up in the Netherlands and my parents bought one, thinking it would last longer because it wasn’t steel,” she says. “There were only a few cars on our street with about 60 families. Kids thought our car was the coolest because it was the loudest.” She also had a memory about the Duroplast panels. “One New Year’s we had sparklers. When some of the sparks landed on the car, they burned the surface.” Carl Sjoquist of Scituate related, “Trabis were all over when I lived in Germany. I was in the West and drove VWs, but I remember Trabi drivers pulling out the coil to ‘lock’ the car.” Jeff Hillman of Tewksbury recalls driving through East Germany en route to the West from a trip to Czechoslovakia and Poland. “They’d [the East Germans] occasionally let citizens travel. On those occasions, the Trabi and Wartburgs were hazards on the autobahn.” Vancraeynest’s Trabi also enjoyed its day in the sun even as other cars were honored in the 4th annual event. The best pre-war car was the 1930 Lincoln 191 Locke Sports Roadster owned by David Nau of Wayland. Best American car was a 1953 Cunningham C3 owned by Dennis Nicotra of New Haven. Best European car was the 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300 SC convertible coupe shown by Jim Cosgrove of the OldTimer Restoration Center. Bill Griffith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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