Berlin - Think "German sportscar" and communist East Germany doesn't immediately spring to mind. With good reason – the East German car industry manufactured mostly sputtering Trabants and the more upscale but boxy Wartburg.
Which makes Heinz Melkus, a racecar driver and builder from Dresden, all the more impressive. In 1963, while competing at a race in Vienna, Melkus spotted a Lotus Elan for the first time and became fixated on the idea of building a sportscar for normal road use in East Germany. With the help of several universities, a protoype was finished by 1968 and between 1969 and 1979 Melkus KG, his tiny carmaker, produced 101 of his namesake two-seaters.
It's a distinctive vehicle: gull wings (copied from Lotus), bulging fenders, aggressive sporty snout and two extremely low seats. Melkus sourced parts entirely in the GDR: a Wartburg chassis fitted with a fibreglass body produced by a truck factory. The motor – a 2-stroke, 992cc with 68hp – was a souped-up Wartburg engine. Even with such a puny powertrain, the 1000 RS could reach a top speed of 165kph. The car cost 30,000 marks, a small fortune for East Germans. By comparison, a Trabant would set you back about 10,000 marks.
After reunification, the 1000 RS became a collectors' item. For a few years, Melkus produced the RS 2000, a modern sports car with a top speed of 270kph and a price tag of €115,000. Reportedly, less than 20 were made.