24 Years & Counting: An Epic Trabant 601 Restoration

They say good things come in small packages, and that’s definitely the case here.

The 2024 Elmia Custom Motor Show, held in Jönköping, Sweden over Easter weekend, turned up some amazing builds. You would have seen many of them in my main event story, but today I want to share the car that stole the show for me – a 1988 Trabant 601.


For anyone unaware, the Trabant 601 is a compact car built by VEB Sachsenring from 1965 to 1990. Essentially, West Germany had the Volkswagen Beetle, and East Germany had the Trabant 601.

Maik Kalsow, this Trabant’s owner, bought the car way back in 1999 for a mere 50DM (Deutsche mark), which roughly translates to US$27 in today’s money. Yes, you read that right!

From 2000 until 2010, Maik worked on the car with his brother, whom he had purchased his first 601 from some years earlier. But when his sibling’s automotive interests went in another direction, Maik continued the build himself. It was at this point that he decided no nut or bolt would be left untouched in its recreation.

The vast majority of work was completed over the past eight years, with Elmia 2024 being the Trabant’s latest showing.


With every door open, the wheels removed and mirrors laid on the ground to show off the effort that Maik has put into the 601’s underside, I had to take a closer look.


Even if you’ve never seen a Trabant 601 in person, this cabin might seem familiar. That is because the instrument panel, pedals and door handles came from a Mk1 VW Golf. Elsewhere, you’ll find a custom dash, bolt-in half roll cage, Recaro seats and a Momo steering wheel.


And that’s not all. This little beast is packing a serious sound system built around a Kenwood KDC-X7000DAB head unit, six Audio System M Series component speakers, a pair of Alphasonik PSW810 subwoofers and Hifonics Zeus amplification – all housed in custom enclosures.

From the initial interior concept to the leather and carbon work, Maik did it all himself.


The exterior has a story of its own. Six months after purchase, the entire car was torn down for a full overhaul. All unnecessary holes were filled, the roof edges were smoothed out, and new Audi door handles in carbon fibre were added. Maik also adapted Golf Mk1 headlights to fit.


The fenders have all been widened – 70mm at the rear – and now house 14×8.5-inch Schmidt TH wheels wrapped in Toyo Proxes 225/40R14 tyres.


At Elmia, the exposed left-side wheelhouses revealed the Golf Mk1 front disc brake conversion and a rear drum overhaul. As for suspension, there’s a mix of Kupke coilovers and Koni shock absorbers with forged leaf springs.


The mirrors under the car showed just how much work Maik has put into the undercarriage.


As for the engine, the Tranbant’s 2-cylinder, 2-stroke, 600cc mill remains, but 26 horsepower has never looked so good.


Maik went above and beyond to ensure the engine bay received the same level of attention as the rest of the car. The engine, gearbox, alternator and carburettor were all painted in the exterior colour. And the fan wheel was chrome-plated, as was the strut bar.

The engine itself hides away under a custom-made carbon cover.


It has taken Maik 24 years to get to this point with his Trabant, and I’m sure there will be many more years to come. Custom car builders always say there is something to change or upgrade, but what could Maik possibly improve on? I guess we will have to wait and see…

Alen Haseta
Instagram: hazetaa



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i was expecting a honda transplant but was pleasantly surprised he's kept the original motor! Maik could not have done a better job with this, its incredible


love seeing souped up oddball cars.

Trabant was doing composite body panels before it was cool.


Never thought a Trabant can look this cool. Those widened fenders definitely elevate the appeal factor!

I'm also always curious about the fuel tank being right next to the engine. Is that actually a safe placement?


Sounds like you don’t know a lot about cars or vehicle design.


Of course I'm no engineer, which is why I am asking instead of being a pretender and act like a know-it-all.


I honestly think there is no safe place to do anything in a Trabant. Especially in modern trafic, you wont walk away from any kind of accident easly in these small machines.