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Cars made in Poland - during communist and post-communist times


AdrianK9 6 | 369
29 Feb 2016 #1
So I found a cool article online about Polish cars during the communist era and I want to share it here:
culture.pl/en/article/8-unforgettable-cars-from-the-communist-regime-era
and specifically about Fiat in Poland -
nowahistoria.interia.pl/prl/news-polskie-fiaty-127p-128p-131p-132p-i-zastawa-1100p,nId,1548416

I'm sure most people here have experiences owning or perhaps riding a Polonez or Maluch or even a Warszawa or Syrena. Poland during the communist era and into the 90s did have some imports from Europe like Renault, Skoda, Lada, and Mercedes. I'd like to hear more about your experiences and what you know about the industry, perhaps what cars if any you owned while living in Poland and during what decades, and so on.

While Poland did produce some of their own cars during communism and into the 90s, many of them like the Maluch and 125p were license built from Fiat or other companies. FSO Polonez was built for a long time and was actually exported around the world but I think production ended in the early 2000's. Now, two small manufacturers in Poland are making cars in small batches with price tags ranging from $80k-$120k plus for the Leopard and I believe $160k for the Hussarya.

In the mid 2000's a car company in Mielec began producing a very limited edition car called the Leopard. It is a roadster type of vehicle with many retro design ques powered by an all aluminum LS2 engine. One of the more famous owners of this vehicle is the King of Sweden.

leopardautomobile.com

More recently, several prototypes were made of a car called Arrinera Hussarya and is expected to go into production this year. The famous Brit Lee Noble is one of the designers of this car.

arrinera.com

As far as my personal experience in Poland with the cars available there I can mostly speak about what I've seen in the 90s and beyond. I am especially interested in learning more about the automotive industry during communism and also the period immediately after it. The very first car I've learned how to drive was a Fiat Cinquecento. My grandma from my mothers side owned a Fiat Maluch and my grandparents from my dads side still own a diesel Mercedes E-class station wagon (I think it's like a 1990 or 1991 or something). My parents throughout their lives in Poland owned a few different cars like a Maluch, some canary yellow diesel 1970's Mercedes not sure of the model - maybe a 220D (when they were in their 20s), and a Syrena which was my grandpa's car given to my father when he turned 18. My family in Walbrzych I remember had a red Polonez Caro. My father told me that while he was living in Poland some of the hottest cars during the communist times were the Renault 5 turbo and the Fiat Mirafiori.

Also, does anyone have any information or experiences with Pevex (and also Pekao) shops? Namely, how did the car purchases work there? Was it basically if you had dollars (like you traded your zloty from a cinkciarz) you could then go in purchase a vehicle at one of these stores?
kpc21 1 | 763
29 Feb 2016 #2
I have no idea how it worked with Pewexes, it's not my times, but I have heard that there existed also something like "dollar coupons", "bony dolarowe". Was it so that it could replace dollars while shopping in Pewex, since it was somehow illegal to possess dollars in Poland? But on the other hand, if it was so, what was the sense of the "cinkciarz" profession, if the dollars bought from them were illegal?

In the times of Warszawa and Syrena, very small number of people possessed cars. In my town, the current population - below 15 thousand citizens (and decreasing), I have no idea, how it was in the 1950's and 1960's (I believe that less, but increasing - maybe 10 thousand?), only a few people in the whole town had cars. The first car that was available to everyone was Fiat 126p, commonly known as "Maluch" or "Mały Fiat" (Small Fiat), as opposed to the Fiat 125p, known as "Duży Fiat" (Big Fiat). Although it was anyway expensive and you needed to wait many years after ordering it since the factories weren't efficient enough to satisfy the demand. However, the real car boom happened in Poland only after 1989, when cheap second-hand cars started to be imported to Poland.

What I remember is that in 2005 Fiat 126p "Maluch" was still the most commonly met car on Polish roads. Maluchs were then definitely less than 50% of the cars in Poland, but they were still most popular.

Before 1989 there were imported cars in Poland, but they were from the other Eastern Block countries - like: Trabant, Wartburg (East Germany), Łada (Soviet Union), Skoda (Czechoslovakia), Dacia (Romania).
Nathans
29 Feb 2016 #3
Regarding Leopard cars and related - not sure why Poles get excited about it; the engine is from Chevrolet? How can a car be called 'Polish' if the most important part was not engineered in Poland? At least the Chinese try to do some real job and try to recreate such things, but in Poland they take the content made in another country, package it in white/red stripes, bring a TV reporter to make some buzz, and voila - it's a 'Polish car' ;) Wasn't the last car 100% engineered and made in Poland called 'FSO Syrena'?
Chicago trucker
29 Feb 2016 #4
since it was somehow illegal to possess dollars in Poland

Who told you this nonsense? Many people had dollar accounts in banks.As for "bony Pekao" ,if ,when withdrawing dollars from bank account you decided to take "bony Pekao" you were getting 10% more.

Now to the topic,quite many (for a communist country ofc) Nissans (mainly Charade and I think Sunny) was sold in pre 1989 Poland thru Pewex and Baltona but there was also Polmot.I remember their commercial slogan "Polmot,why not?!".They were selling new and preowned vehicles imported from the west.In 1986 my father bought from Polmot 1985 Ford Granada diesel which was imported from the Netherlands (still had their license plates).Of course you had to pay in "hard currency"or "bony Pekao" for those vehicles.

I meant Nissan and Daihatsu of course.
OP AdrianK9 6 | 369
29 Feb 2016 #5
Was it so that it could replace dollars while shopping in Pewex, since it was somehow illegal to possess dollars in Poland?

Not exactly. I don't know the exact specifics of the dollar and its purpose in Poland but I do know that buying things with dollars was not illegal.

The cinckiarz profession I think was technically illegal but kind of accepted by authorities. The PL government was unable to provide basic goods for citizens during several years (forget what years it was I think it was either under Gomulka's or Jaruzelski's reign) and even during the 'good years' a lot of items were very scarce and rationed out. This is kind of similar to North Korea where there are markets where citizens can buy and sell goods - often using dollars or Chinese currency but rarely NK currency. Although technically illegal, they are a must since the NK currency has hardly any value and oftentimes an average citizen can't purchase certain goods from NK government run stores because the items simply aren't there.

Before 1989 there were imported cars in Poland, but they were from the other Eastern Block countries

Yes my parents had an old diesel Mercedes. The Skodas I hear were actually regarded, and still are, as pretty good cars for the money. Opel were also pretty popular but I don't know if that was pre 1989 but I sure saw a ton of them in the 90s

'Polish car'

You are correct - the engines are imported. Also these cars are made in very small amounts like the Hussarya is 33 units and the Leopard is handmade with about 80 to 200 units a year. Oftentimes manufacturers will import engines or other components because of economies of scale. The Germans make great engines but their electronics aren't the best in their cars. I had a 2004 Saab 9-3 Aero and the car was a mut. You would think oh a Saab - well that's a Swedish car. However, only the metalwork was in fact Swedish, the engine was a German VW/Audi - 2.0 turbo (used in the Audi A4, VW Jetta and GTI, etc), and the transmission was Japanese. The radiator was actually from Poland. Another example is Jaguars and Land Rovers since they use Ford engines but are often considered to be British cars.
delphiandomine 85 | 18,254
29 Feb 2016 #6
The cinckiarz profession I think was technically illegal but kind of accepted by authorities.

It wasn't accepted by them, it was controlled by them. Anyone operating a clearly illegal money exchanging business would have been shut down within seconds if they weren't SB men - it was a good way to monitor the flow of cash, and if someone was seen to be exchanging large amounts, then they were instantly suspicious.

How can a car be called 'Polish' if the most important part was not engineered in Poland?

That's not really relevant, because even Mercedes are using Renault engines these days for some cars. Engines have become such highly specialised things that it's just not possible for niche manufacturers to make their own. Aston Martin are using Mercedes engines too, I believe.
kpc21 1 | 763
1 Mar 2016 #7
Yes my parents had an old diesel Mercedes.

Is it true that there were periods, when the access of the normal citizens to the gasoline was limited due to shortages of this fuel on the market - basically, going to a gas station, you had to have a paper from your employee that you are allowed to buy the specific amount of gasoline (the same worked also in some periods for the grocery goods) - but this law didn't cover the diesel fuel, so you could go around it by having a diesel car?
OP AdrianK9 6 | 369
1 Mar 2016 #8
Not sure kpc21 - this was before my times. Communism in Poland was quite different right after WW2, different during the 60s and 70s, different during the martial law times, and different yet in the 80s right up to the explosion of the solidarity movement.

I do know that things were rationed and I actually still have an old ration card. I found it funny that the government rationed out cigarettes and alcohol.

As far as gasoline rations I have no clue but that's a good question. I do remember though having to crank up the engine on the old MB to get it going.

I've always wondering how popular Russian made cars were in communist Poland. I do know there were a bit of Ladas around. I would absolutely love to get my hands on a M13 Chaika. They're rather expensive though - $60k 70k+ for the sedans and $100k+ for the convertibles. Even when they are available they go very quickly.
Zlatko
8 Jul 2019 #9
Merged:

Renault copied Polish cars



carthrottle.com/post/wqg2p4q/

Also the Beskid became the Renault Twingo
pawian 173 | 13,543
17 Jul 2019 #10
I found it funny that the government rationed out cigarettes and alcohol.

Yes, that was fekking communism. And when watching old documentaries on youtube, you can come across funny comments: one guy standing in a line to buy vodka complains: What, only one bottle? I won`t even get it home full.

I've always wondering how popular Russian made cars were in communist Poland. I do know there were a bit of Ladas around.

They were popular because the market was hungry for cars. A lot of Ladas (my family had one, too), some Volgas(both old and new types) owned by wealthier guys (fuel!), my neighbour had a Moskwicz.

would absolutely love to get my hands on a M13 Chaika.

Never saw it driving freely in Poland.
pawian 173 | 13,543
17 Jul 2019 #11
I'm sure most people here have experiences owning or perhaps riding a Polonez or Maluch or even a Warszawa or Syrena.

So I owned Fiat 126p called Maluch (Toddler). I drove it for a few years and it never failed me on the road. It was a simple car which made it easy for amateurs to tinker at. One day I pulled out the whole engine to change the clutch shield or whatever it was called. Of course, I used the instruction book with a lot of step by step photos.

The biggest problem was with spare parts - they were always sold out when you came to the shop. I had to pay bribes sometimes. I also paid under the table at the filling station when the rationing wasn`t enough to go on holidays all over Poland. That was a crazy system - I am so happy it collapsed.
Cargo pants 2 | 618
17 Jul 2019 #12
Even still I have to wait for months for parts for my maluch 1976.Freaking almost 4 weeks and still no brake pads as asked by the mechanic and tyres are a horror to find.
pawian 173 | 13,543
17 Jul 2019 #13
Yes, that stuff will be more and more unavailable. But eventually you will be able to finish completing it and you will enjoy a nice collection item.

However, when I got in Toddler about 10 years ago, I felt so claustrophobic after having driven in mini vans before.
Cargo pants 2 | 618
17 Jul 2019 #14
I have it since 2001 after driving for 3/4 yrs i left it in the yard and now getting it restored again.LOL when i drive it 60 kmph people tell me it looks like a flintstone car,and even a cop pulled me over just to ask what the f was that and the customs guys when i imported it told me to take it out as a go cart but I had to explain him that its a car for roads so he had to do the proper paper work.
Zlatko
1 Jul 2020 #15
I generally liked the styling of Warszawa Sedan and Nysa vans. Never have seen a Syrena in Bulgaria but there were lots of 125p and 126p Fiats. I liked Nysa, 125p, Zastawa and Warszawa more than most Russian models. I also liked the quirky Barkas vans and Wartburgs, were there Barkas vans in PRL?
pawian 173 | 13,543
3 Jul 2020 #16
you could then go in purchase a vehicle at one of these stores?

Yes, you could purchase a car - either Polish made or foreign. My mother`s dentist bought a Japanese Charade in 1980s - it cost about 4000$.

I generally liked the styling of Warszawa Sedan and Nysa vans.

Do you remember that Bulgarian crime/spy film in which a part of the plot is set in Hong Kong or Singapore and the director used Nysa Vans as Asian police cars? That film was on in 1990s.


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