Automotive History: Horch P240 Sachsenring and Sachsenring Repräsentant – East Germany Tries (And Fails) To Build A Luxury Car

Horch 1957 Sachsenring Wikipedia crop-vert

Ending up on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain for the builders and lovers of fine cars sucked. A number of Germany’s premier automakers were based or had plants in what became the GDR/DDR (East Germany), but life was not going to be the same, given the lower incomes. Initially, the Eisenach BMW factory kept producing some pre-war BMWs (later EMWs). But lack of sales and state diktat ended that in 1955, and Eisenach was switched over to making two-stroke Wartburgs.

Oddly enough, just a couple of years earlier in 1953, the Horch factory, which once built splendid luxury cars before the war, was told to develop and build a new home-grown luxury car. So they did, but not surprisingly, sales were as dismal as the rest of the DDR economy, and it was killed off after a few years. But then a few more were ordered up in 1969, strictly as a parade-mobile. Of all the communist era parade-mobiles, the Repräsentant has to be the saddest by far. It looks just like one of those little fiberglass kiddie-ride carousel cars, right down to the cheap plexiglass windshield.

Horch 853-DV-09-PBC_013

Horch, the top-tier brand in the Auto-Union federation, built some of the finest luxury cars in Germany prior to WW2, like this exquisite 853 Cabriolet. Unlike the BMW factory in Eisenach, the Horch factory didn’t even attempt to re-start production of its pre-war cars in its heavily damaged factory in Zwickau. And quite likely much of its production equipment was hauled off to Russia, as reparations.

Pfaffendorf, Traktorist bei der Feldarbeit

Instead, this is what they built, the Pionier RS01 tractor. Quite the come-down, and no Horch genes in it. But food was more important.

Horch H3 lastwagen

As well as re-building. So Horch also built this equally un-luxurious H3 truck. Priorities had changed, and the market for luxury cars was dead (presumably a large portion of the BMW/EMW output went to Russians, who had a thing for Mercedes and BMWs even back then).


But Horch also built the IFA P2 military 4×4, which actually did have some genuine Horch genes. Its engine, a lovely 2.4 liter OHV inline six, had been fully developed by Horch before the war and intended for a smaller Horch, but was not put into production because it was deemed to not be quite as silky smooth as Horch’s legendary inline eights. Such were the glory days of the Third Reich. But the Horch OM6 engine was revived and powered a whole series of these DDR “Jeeps”.

Sachsenring -P-240-Cabriolet Wikipediaimage via Wikipedia

In 1953 the word from up high (or via the latest five-year plan) that Horch was to develop a new six cylinder luxury car. Oh joy! But it was to be a wee bit more modest than the old Horchs of yore; the new P24 was to use the 2.4 L OM6 engine, and sit on a 110″ (2800mm) wheelbase chassis.

Initially called Horch P240, the ‘Sachsenring’ name was added starting with full production in 1955. As of 1957, the storied Horch name, and the “H” emblem on the hood had to be dropped altogether, due to litigation from Auto Union in West Germany (Horch had been part of the Auto-Union conglomerate). From then on, it was just the Sachsenring P240. This black four-door convertible is from 1956, the first series.

Sachsenring P240 gagarin and Terschkowa 1963

The four door convertible was of course built primarily for this purpose, here showing off Russia’s astronaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man into space, to eager East Berliners in 1963. Ich bin ein Berliner too!

If you aspired to a Sachsenring, you were probably in the front few rows. If you aspired to a Wartburg, you were in the middle section. If you aspired to a Trabant, you’d be up in the nose-bleed section. If you weren’t there to smile and cheer for the Stasi photographers at all, you obviously didn’t aspire to any sort of car.

The ambitions for the P240 sedan were quite high and totally unrealistic, in terms of sales. The production goal for 1956 and 1957 was 15,000 cars. As it turned out only some 1,382 P240s were built over its total production life from 1956 – 1959. Oh well, the precious 12 million DDR Marks invested in the plant to gear up for P240 production turned out to be a waste. So much for the planned economy. Not surprisingly, the few P240s built all went to party bigwigs and others associated in favorable ways to the party bigwigs. This one does rather stand out against the duller and drearier Wartburgs and such next to it. The DDR Buick.

In the end, it was cheaper to just buy Volgas and Chaikas from the USSR, and the plug was pulled in 1959. And in the 70s, the DDR bosses took a shine to Volvos, since Sweden was a neutral country.

Trabant, Wagen der Nullserie verlassen das Werk

So much for that brief foray back into luxury cars. The former Horch plant now churned out the Trabant, a fitting companion to the Pionier tractor and the H3 truck.

DCF 1.0

But in a very odd move (and outcome), the word came down in 1969 to build five new P240s for the People’s Army. More likely, it was just a re-bodying of some older P240s. This was in association with the 20th anniversary of the DDR, and the unfortunate result was called Repräsentant. Representative of something other than good taste, obviously. Rarely have I seen a sadder excuse for a parade-mobile.

Berlin, 25. Jahrestag DDR-Gründung, Parade

It was even trotted out again for the 25th anniversary, in 1974. Those guys look like they’re about to bust out of it. Or maybe they’re just exceptionally well-fed comrades. Either way, these look pretty pathetic. The 1956 version was a lot closer to a Mercedes 300 than this was to a Mercedes 600. Got to love those black wheels and hubcaps, which are straight from the first version, and worked on it; not so much in 1974.

I do hope that not too many of the folks who designed and built the Horch 853 were still around when the Repräsentant was designed and built. There were a lot of indignities with ending up on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, but that’s a bit too much.


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