Wartburg 353 Knight

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Eisenacher Motor Works

Wartburg 353 Knight

1966 - 1976
East Germany
3 cyl. 2 stroke
991 cc
42 bhp
4 spd. man
Top Speed:
99-115 km/h
Number Built:
2 star
Wartburg 353 Knight
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 2


While residents east of the wall were familiar with the offerings from Wartburg, it wasn't until 1963 that the first right-hand-drive models were manufactured - in this case for export to Cyprus.

The Wartburg range was then displayed for the first time at the London Motor Show, and soon afterwards an agreement was formwed with Industria Limited to import the cars into the UK. The reason for chosing Industria was obvious, as they had previous experience dealing with Eastern Bloc countries and were already importing Jawa and CZ motorcycles from Czechoslovakia.

In 1964 Industria created a network of dealers across the UK, and started out with the importation of 4 door saloon cars - they being moderately successful with sales of around 600 between 1965 and 1967. This despite the fact that the cars on offer were primitive, both in design and engineering.

Thankfully Wartburg released a completely new model in 1966, the 353. In the UK the sedan was launched as the "Knight", while the 312 Estate station wagon was dubbed the "Tourist".

While the mechanicals were obviously a carry over from previous models, the new Wartburg had merit, at least aesthetically. The all-new sheet metal was crisp and clean, if not a little French in character. The engine capacity was slightly increased, however it remained as a 3 cylinder 2 stroke configuration.

Such a design would always have difficulty selling itself in a country brought up on 4 cylinder/4 stroke designs, but there were a couple of benefits from using a 2 stroke engine. Obviously the fuel economy was great, and with no valves, distributor or dipstick the servicing costs were also very cheap.

In fact the design allowed Wartburg to stretch out the service interval time to a whopping 30,000 miles - this at a time when the vast majority of automobile manufacturers were recommending 3000 mile service intervals.

They packed the Knight with plenty of standard kit too, such as independent suspension on all 4 wheels, two speed windscreen wipers, wind-tone horns, electric screenwasher and twin reversing lamps. Inside there were fully reclining front seats, seat belt anchor points, throughflow ventilation, a floor mounted gear change and heater/demister.

There was much more too, including a radiator blind, cigarette lighter, interior light, full tool kit, automatic lights in the boot and engine bay, adjustable beam headlamps, steering lock, childproof locks on the rear doors and mudflaps. Despite major revisions to the Knight, the pace of development did not keep up with other manufacturers and, by 1976, it was decided that it was no longer economically viable to export the cars to the UK. Nevertheless it had been reasonably successful, particularly given the mechanical specification frowned upon by many. In all, nearly 20,000 right hand drive Wartburg Knights and Tourists had been sold.

Those that parted with their cash soon learned the car did not handle all that well, nor did it offer a particularly comfortable ride. Many bemoaned the low rent decor and crude steering set-up. The allure of the cheap entry price (£619) and list of standard features were soon forgotten. Yes, there was good reason not to buy a Wartburg Knight - they were bloody awful.

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Also see:

Wartburg 353 Knight Brochure
Wartburg Car Brochures
Wartburg 353 Knight Specifications
Wartburg Car Commercials
Reader Reviews page 1 of 1
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Steve Walsh
Posted Recently
My Dad bought a new Wartburg Knight Saloon in 1969/70. At the time I was a keen cyclist & we could get 2 bikes in the boot (It was a bit awkward but we managed). I thought it was a great car. I also learned to drive in it. It was a bit awkward 'cos my Dad had it "freewheel" ie NO ENGINE BRAKING. I got to be very quick with my right foot from accelorater to brake. Had the car about three years, he then bought a Hillman Hunter. I followed him with two of my own as the Wartburg was not cool when your 19.
William Read
Posted Recently
My first car, a Wartburg Knight saloon, was purchased on 13 August 1976, the 15th anniversary of the construction of what became known (in the West) as the Berlin Wall. It was spacious, comfortable and reliable, and I was sad to change it for an FSO Polonez after 4 years. Strangely, the Wartburg car was "banned" in the UK in the late 1970s by the Common Market for alleged emission problems... but for at least 20 years later they continued to be sold in Belgium as new imports from the GDR.
Mark Telford
Posted Recently
I've owned 2 Wartburgs now, an 88 353 saloon and an 85 353 Tourist estate. Viewed as classic cars, they're second to none.
They're fun to drive, the 2 stroke engine sounds great and is immensely practical and never fails to start.
Much has been said about their bad handling characteristics, but much of this was due to the old days of cross-ply tires. With decent radials they're as good as anything else of their time, remember they're basically a 1962 design.
The Tourist estate model is the best Wartburg from a practical standpoint, the space with the seats down is truly cavernous. I'm 6'2 and could stretch out and sleep in the back if I wanted to ( I don't want to :) and powered by a 1 litre engine, unbelievable.
My car has been fitted with an electric fuel pump and electronic ignition which does away with the need for points. So the only servicing this car needs is it's plugs replacing every 30,000 miles.
The air filters in these are metal ones that are cleanable and reusable for a long time.
The mechanicals are simple and hardy and if you're a diyer like me, you can do a lot of work yourself on these yourself.
If you want something you can take to shows, yet drive everyday if you want to, grab one of these before there's none left. They're unusual, quirky even and cheap compared to most classics.
feel free to contact me for more information. [email protected] ***
Tommy Wylie
Posted Recently
I have owned two Wartburgs and I love them! OK the handling is iffy and the brakes are not all that great, but I love the way it's put together, and the 2 stroke engine is the greatest feature of the car. Although it is only Ford Escort sized, it is designed in such a way as to maximise the available space. You are sitting up not reclining, and even in the saloon the boot is vast. With stiffer springs and a front brake transplant (discs instead of drums) I'd have a Wartburg as my daily transport to this day!
Matt Concannon
Posted Recently
I am the owner of a 1986 Wartburg Tourist and although a little put off the car by all that I had read, I have been pleasantly surprised. The car although not in the first flush of youth and needing a few parts (as you'd expect for a car of its age) has been a bloody revalation. The sheer amount of stuff you can fit in the tourist is in Citroen CX safari league, yet the 993cc engine can still tug the car along happily. Servicing is a doddle and most issues can be fixed by the roadside. In this age of sealed for life replace over repair ethos, the Wartburg just keeps going. My car has 4 pot caliper discs up front so can stop very well and the handling isn't as bad as some Fords I've driven. Considering that this car had independant coil suspension on launch in 1966 I had to laugh when Ford made a big deal of this setup when they launched the focus 30 odd years later. If the bomb ever did drop two things are certain and one of them is that if there were any survivors, they'd be driving about in a Wartburg.
Henry Schmechel
Posted Recently
From 1969 to 1974 I had four Wartburg Tourist Estates, bought new. My last car before the Wartburgs was an MGB, but I was in no way disapointed. The top speed was around 80 mph. Acceleration was adequate, and the handling superb, remember this was front wheel drive at a time when, apart from the Mini, cars were rear wheel drive. They also had a brake limiter on the rear wheels, to stop any locking up. I found them to be one of the most comfortable rides of any cars I have owned before or since, and there have been many. As I used these cars for work and pleasure, they were on the road for 7 days in every week. I found them to be very reliable. I do feel that, journalists writing on these cars have not driven them. May be their comments come from fellow journalists, who also have not driven them. Pity, you would have enjoyed the drive. I did.
Posted Recently
Por favor quisiera contactar con alguin que tenga piezas de Wartburg o sepa quien tiene, necesito para hacer andar el mio
Mi correo [email protected]
derek numan
Posted Recently
anna, aren't you the one with the unusually large hands and deep voice?
anna j dixon
Posted Recently
you are wrong about this car there very good I have one for year 1968 and still going they are avery good work horse and my mother likes it too as she as more room for her legs and it very comfortable like siting in a high back arm chaire and it hand well in snow as these cars where built for winter and built too repair your self ?at why they are easy to maintain?not like the rest cost a lot ? you are all been ripped off by the big motor companies ? yours Anna J Dixon
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