No State car from the enemy.
Volvos in service of socialism
Everyone knows that the Göthenburg limousine was the preferred choice
of the former East German Security Service 'Stasi'. What the East German
bosses did with these likeable Swedish limousines we are about to tell
you. Our current thoughts are that Volvo took advantage of the leaders.
But then that is understandable for before the wall fell.
The 264 Landaulet with all the extras and two standards (hammer and
sickle). In good weather this was the perfect state car to pay tribute to the
flag waving public.
Waving, waving, smiling, smiling... "we love you" .
Landaulet with hardtop.
East Germany in the Seventies.
It was impossible
as socialist to let it be known publicly that a car from Sindelfingen or
Munich was preferred (which was of course privately the case). Cars from
the USSR, "Tschaika" or "SIL", also didn't meet the taste of the top men in
East Berlin nor did Casto's Cubo.
Some were probably too thirsty, or, by construction and design, far too
old-fashioned, and certainly uneconomical. They wanted to appear open
and modern, at least to the outside world. But their own automobile
industry didn't produce anything modern, and when they did have new
ideas they immediately sold them to the west. So, as always, the only
alternative was to import the goods.
Volvo - that was just what the top men were looking for - not too
ornamental, technically proven, local, from a neutral country, but still a
social state (but not many people knew that), from Sweden. Perhaps here
socialism and socialist ideals were exchanged. They sound very similar
but are very different in reality. Socialism is all about mutual respect and
human rights, which were of little relevance in the former Eastern Germany.
We know this now for a fact, although it was suspected for a long time.
After the publishing of the Stasi files, it became clear to the citizens that
what was happening in the German Democratic Republic was deteriorating.
Landaulet with softtop.
Our trusty Volvos in the hands of corrupt politicians.
Black markets, spies, informants?
On the one hand a leading example of capitalism with no dark side, but
one which without the western black market wouldn't have survived, on
the other hand a system of conforming - which offered some advantage
for the citizens, for example, rent and petrol prices that other countries
could only dream of.
A typical dark blue 164 just as it would have served the ‘deserving' people
of the former East Germany, that was available for professors, officials and
leading scientists, for example.
Since 1968 the SIL was hand-made as a separate model in the
Lichatschow factory in Moscow which was mainly used to produce
lorries. The State and Parade 114 type of ex-Russians shown remained
just as the extended Volvo restricted to top officials of former East Block
states and parties, in principle because they were too expensive. The SIL
had 8 cylinders, a 7 litre engine and 300 SAE-HP. The turning circle of
this unmanageable tank was 16 metres and it weighed 3000 kilogrammes
and drank about 40 litres of super petrol per 100 kilometre. Cheers!!
This ex-East German car IDA 8-10 changed in vehicle W-H 155.
Of course, we can't criticise everything concerning socialism for that is
not our job. It also had advantages to offer over our Western one-sided
capitalistic system. Our freedom is not always a complete freedom and by
comparison East Germany is not all dungeons. Even if freedom of
movement was possible, within the given limitations, people would still
have been on the streets in 1989. Then Erich Honecker would still have
been the first man in East Berlin. Then he'd still be driving a Volvo today.
That's today, the voting man.
There would have been enough people in the former East Germany who
would have happily changed their Trabant or Wartburg for a western car.
The savings were there but the normal citizens would not be allowed to
buy such a car. The paupers reached breaking point wherein the car
played a big role. If the state council had been more tolerant then the
revolution would have been less devastating.
The authorities behaved stupidly underestimating the importance of the
small privileges of the citizens. After 40 years of suppression they didn't
expect that the citizens would go on strike.
In 1989 it happened. In the name of peristroika Gorbechov congratulated
Erich Honecker on his 40th National Day and advised him to stop and get
wise (i.e. get out). Not a nice recommendation, but Gorbechov probably
saw no other way out, other than trying to find a union between the west
and the almost static East Germany. Hence it was a relief when the people
rejected East Berlin.
A second Prague Spring was not worth considering while Mielke and his
followers were around. Yes it was quite acceptable to let the Germans
shoot each other. But it seems that probably nobody wanted to play this
game. In any case, Gorbechov didn't drive a Volvo.
A 264TE photographed when the wall fell down by a firm in Köln. The
Volvo behind had already the new K-PS 888 plate.
After the Berlin wall came down everybody from Maagdeburg, Cottbus or
Halberstad was able to experience for himself and form his own opinion
over Volvos. This make was not longer a taboo. It wasn't so many years
ago that only big bosses drove Volvos Nowadays that association is no
longer valid. The vindication of Volvos in the New Germany had begun.
Of course the rumours surrounding Volvos didn't completely disappear,
but that was something that Swedes couldn't do a thing about. They were
victims of their choices. For many years in the former East Germany they
were the symbol of corruption and an inconsequent way of life of a
minority. They frightened a few brave citizens, in their dark blue or black
Volvos Odyssey of Volvo-carouses.
This picture has been taken in Köln this beautiful ex-East German
Landaulet-car has seen beter times. Where is this car nowadays?
Nowadays it is nothing special.
Most readers have a 850 or a Volvo from
the 400 series or even newer. The classics such as Amazons or P1800s are
exotic. In the beginning they had to be imported. The opinions haven't
completely changed: A Volvo driver is generally suspicious. With time
people forget. Nowadays the people who drive Volvos are convinced of
The bosses who believed in their constitutional state (and
there are still a few) don't drive Volvo anymore. They have switched to
Mercedes, Audi and BMW (how inconspiciously!). Only the real
enthusiasts drive Volvo nowadays - people who have a clear conscience
and with that they subconsciously accept the opinions of others. The
Göthenburg cars don't stand out so much anymore. Or do they? If we
want to be positive, think of the model from 1994. Times change.
Now we're going to explain how the importing and reconstruction was done, for the 240/260 and 700 series.
Odyssee from the Volvo-Karoserien
Normally the reconstructed Volvos came from the Bertone plant in Turin,
Italy. Everything was top secret, and East Berlin paid well. The chassis was
delivered by Volvo in Italy (usually 2 doors) together with all the
necessary parts and generators. Next came the forming, sanding,
polishing and tin plating. Every car was unique. The cars were sprayed
dark blue or black and the desired extra's were fitted accordingly.
Bertone supplied no extra's. If these were required they were added in the
relevant factory for leather, airco or transmitter.
The legendary 264TE limousine was brought out in 1977 and 1978. In
the years of 1983/84 there were a few additional 245 "transfers" stretched
van's. Altough they were build until 1980.
The Volvos that were used in the West generally had false registration
numbers and controlshields. That was for an obvious reason. With this
they could move more freely in the hurried opposition, especially in West
Berlin where they became more aware of the three big powers. As the
false papers or numbers became known by German Security Service or by
the Internal Security Service an amusing cat and mouse game began.
For the official closing of the procession in addition to some 164's, the
245T was also used. Some of the vehicles belonged to the government
and the others were divided amoungst the Stasi. So every "Firm" in the
formed East-German had his own carpark full of cars.
In the 1980's the Volvo car in the carpark were somewhat ...............................
Cars from the 760 GL and 740 GL series were added.
However, in principle the care remained the same. The basis was usually a
heavy 264 top of the range model used as landaulet with all the extras,
from where the former East Geman bosses stand out, wave and smile to
the reserved people.
If occasionally cars were "removed" by the bosses of the carparks, they
were only used for the internal market. Here the Volvos could be sold for
a reasonable price, still much too high for the ordinary citizens. In the first
place those were the people who had been of service to the socialistic
goals: for example doctors, professors, technicians, scientists and
Whether they where happy with it, is another question. Those low rank
Volvos were now third choice, unuseable for the higher positions. By
buying you almost signed a contract for half your life. The motto: who
oils, drives well.
In reality a 264TE has never been sold, mostly it was a cast off 140, 164
and 245. The sweep through the cupboard came in 1990 after "the wall
fell". The rest has been resolved and many tried to make money out of it
from the political and economical changes.
The only chance to obtain a Volvo during the DDR times was given in
1977/78 when about 2,000 Volvo 244 DLSs were imported. The majority
of them, as usual, were for well-off citizens, artists who had earned good
money. When having saved at least 50,000 East-marks, one had a good
chance to be able to become the owner of a 240.
A Russian Fiat, a fraudulous copy of the Italian Fiat124, meant pure
luxury, costing a mere 19.000 East-Marks. Can one imagine what it
meant to buy a Volvo? For a worker it meant something utopian, a dream
not to be fulfilled. But, in the end, wasn't it a western car, didn't one have
the possibility to get one? An Audi, a Mercedes, BMW? Of course that
was totally impossible.
text en photo's Volvo-Fan april 1993 translated for Bertone Register by Jules Janssen
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