General Motors has basically spoiled me forever. I expect a single car model to change some aspect of its styling every year or so, making pinning down a specific car by make, model, and year to be an easy task. East Germany didn’t have to pay heed to that capitalist “planned obsolescence” swill, and their vehicles didn’t degrade themselves with regular facelifts or other nonfunctional garnishes to keep up demand.
There wasn’t really that much competition in the omnibus market in the DDR, as far as I can tell, and the state-run Industrial Association of Motor Vehicle Construction (IFA) supplied the whole country in terms of trucks, buses, and a good variety of other motor vehicles. Maybe IFA built their Robur trucks and buses the same way year in , year out because IFA had a completely captive market and no incentive to change regularly. Maybe it was because IFA saw that annual model changes were petty, shallow, and meaningless updates to vehicles and just kept to a single look because it didn’t need changing. However, the Robur might never have received a facelift because IFA didn’t have a huge budget and couldn’t have made regular styling changes even if it wanted to. It was probably because the DDR was doing everything right, all the time, always, and the whole rest of the Western world was made up by marketing-driven hacks. It’s an open question.
The IFA built this Robur LO bus sometime between 1968 and 1991, and it could have been built to carry a variable number of tons, or could have come with a a selection of medium-sized engines. On the outside they all looked almost exactly the same, and the differences didn’t break down chronologically, as it seems that differences in trim and window shape existed at the same time across the Robur lineup.
Henry Ford designed his Model T to be an ideal machine, like a tool, like a shovel. You buy one, it works, done. The automobile was, for Ford, something that could be perfected and sold as a long-lasting durable good. But people didn’t buy cars for their functionality and GM’s constantly fluctuating cars came to vastly outsell Ford and the ‘T’. The precedent was set for planned obsolescence and annual model change, and the kind of consternation that precedent gave me when I was trying to precisely identify this mystery bus was intense, great, and remarkably entertaining as well.