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The Museum of Communist Polish Cars in Krakow

Kamil Kaluski October 24, 2011 Eastern European Cars, Museum Tour 43 Comments

For those that have not figured it out by my weird name, I am Polish. I was born in Poland and came to the United States at the age of ten. Recently, after twenty-five years, I went back to Poland to visit family, old friends, and the country I left behind. I was also looking forward to experiencing some of worst cars ever made which I remembered from my childhood. To my surprise, however, the Polish roads were filled with modern cars commonly seen throughout Europe. What gives?

It turns out that once you give people freedom and an opportunity to prosper one of the first things they buy is cars. Frankly, no one can blame them. During the decades of communistic oppression these people were teased with Western movies which featured cars they could only dream of. With communism overthrown the floodgates of car buying opportunities opened, the Ladas, Skodas, and Fiats were replaced with Volkswagens, Opels, and Toyotas as fast as humanly possible.

This week we will take a closer look at a few selected cars which were available in the communistic Poland between the 1950s and the 1990s. Most of those cars were based on western cars, manufactured under a license. Over the years they were, for the lack of better terms, improved and modernized to some unknown and misunderstood standard. Some were even exported to other communistic countries, including China, to give people who were privileged enough to buy a car there a choice… which was a mind-blowing idea.

Many people here talk about Alfas, Triumphs, and others as crappy cars with passion. Well, those people have seen nothing yet. These Polish cars have more personality, drama and communistic labor union love than anything that has ever come of Detroit or the U.K. The Krakow Street Car Museum surprised me with the fact that it had no street-cars or trolleys (not really surprised), but instead featured just about every make and model of Polish vehicles ever made. I figured that this would a great way to start our week-long journey of Polish Communistic cars.

  • Polski Fiat 126p – Also known as “Maly Fiat” (small Fiat) or simply, Maluch. More on this descendant of the Italian 500 later.
  • FSO Fiat 125p – The big (ha!) sedan, wagon, and rarely-seen pickup truck. The museum had a nice selection of them which showed off the vague differences implemented over its thirty year life-cycle. Engines ranging from 1.4 to 1.6 liter, live axle, craptastic build quality. The reliability surprisingly wasn’t that bad.
  • FSO Polonez – A full test drive and review of this car is coming up. It’s based on the 125p, improved in every way possible, except the engine, chassis, or the interior.
  • FSO Syrena – A miserable car built for over twenty-five years. Front wheel drive, leisurely and loudly propelled by a 2- or 3-cylinder two-stroke engine. Offered in a variety of a coupe, wagon, and a pickup truck, it was so bad that Polish people would make fun of it… once the smoke cleared.
  • FSO Warszawa – Initially build under a Russian license, it was the first Polish car produced after World War 2. Given the time and its origins, it is not surprising to see some resemblance to American cars of the era. It was actually a very good car and its biggest problem was its heavy weight and/or an underpowered four-cylinder engine.

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  • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

    Crack…and how!

  • Paul_y

    Well, I know where I'm going on vacation as soon as I have a job again.

    • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

      And if you go with a job, you might leave with a wife!

    • jeepjeff

      Kirkham does their bodywork there in an old MiG factory.

  • tonyola

    What's a little sad is that FSO always wanted to make more modern cars on their own without relying on Fiat. They made a large number of prototypes during the Communist era but were always shot down by the central government. Here's a Warszawa proposal from the mid-1960s. Not bad looking in a Volvo sort of way.
    <img src="http://img.interia.pl/motoryzacja/nimg/zasluzonych_obywateli_PRL_1389847.jpg"&gt;

    • Kamil_K

      Yes, tons of eager engineers held up by "the system", lack of funds, morale, and a reason to do anything. I also recall several prototypes from the late 1980s.

      Further proof of this are the dozens updated versions of the FSO Polonez that came out in the 90s, toward the end of its production: sedans, pickups of various sizes, choice of gasoline or diesel engines. Unfortuantly used cars imported from other countries killed that business model.

  • TurboBrick

    What we need here is a car review… and here's Jeremy Clarkson giving his review on the FSO Polonez. With polish subtitles to maximize the effect:

    [youtube x5gETRjT470 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5gETRjT470 youtube]

    • Kamil_K

      My own review of the Polonez is coming… I drove the damn thing.

      • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

        No to bedzie super tydzien, dzieki! – Michal (Gdzie sa moj ogonki na tej klawiszy?)

        • Kamil_K

          Ja tez nie mam ogonkow. 🙁

          • Did you guys just both mash down on your keyboards by accident?

          • Tiller188

            Ja tez — szkoda, ale chyba to dobrze, bo moge mowic tylko troche po polsku. (Heck, I had to look up "ogonki". And "klawiszy".)

      • TurboBrick

        Unfortunately I can't say the same, though I do remember an old geezer in my home town/village/whatever that had a safety orange Polonez. I'd pull over if I got stuck behind him because his car had a rather unpleasant burning oil odor eminating from it.

  • Vavon

    That was very interesting Kamil, thanks for sharing that with us.

    This site might interest you too: http://protauta45.republika.pl/
    Look at all those Polish prototypes like the FSM Beskid and the FSO Wars.

    Or this very cool looking Beacon Sports!!!
    <img src="http://protauta45.republika.pl/syrsport.jpg"&gt;

  • dukeisduke

    The Syrena looks like a rounder, cuter version of the Trabant 601. Just think how popular you'd be in some American suburb, driving a Polish two-stroke sedan.

    /shudder

  • sport_wagon

    Na zdrowie!

    Good to have you aboard!

    -A descendant of Kowalskis from just outside Warszawa.

    • Kamil_K

      Dzienkuje!

  • Manic_King

    Well, when I was child in then USSR I remember that when Polish builders came to restore my home town's old town to former glory because of coming Olympic games, they used all these above vehicles for their transport + probably boxiest minibus I have ever seen, Žuk:

    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/60/Zuk_side.jpg/640px-Zuk_side.jpg"&gt;

    • Kamil_K

      Damn it people, don't spoil the week for me… Nysa and Zuk reviews are coming! 🙂

      • Manic_King

        Great, I had totally forgot there was also Nysa.

  • scoutdude

    I think the green pickup in #37 is pretty cool looking.

  • I'm looking forward to the series, but so far I don't see anything substandard about any of these vehicles.

    • pj134

      In fact, for some of our French-car loving community, it would be quite a leap forward.

  • Charlie

    how popular would you be in an american suburb driving a commie two stroke??
    well i drive a trabant 601 as well as a polski fiat 126 in longmont colorado…..
    and the usual repsponce from those that even recognize the cars is really positive..
    wait till they see the skoda 136 rapid that should be out and running by springtime!!

  • suju89

    Ahhhh, the FSM Niki, the first and last car that Wheels Magazine Australia rolled on a road test. Damned if I could find a link to the article.

    • sporty88

      IIRC, also the last car that they didn't list a 0-60km/h time for – because they couldn't get it to go that fast. If you have a collection of back issues, I'd look at issues from about 1988-90.

      • sporty88

        Sorry, meant 0-100 km/h

  • Mad_Hungarian

    I'm pretty sure some of the bigger cars (red and white sedans in photo #22) are based on the Soviet GAZ Pobeda. Photo 15 is a wagon version that looks like some sort of Volvo from an alternate universe.

    • Kamil_K

      It sure is GAZ based.

  • cheapthrills

    I know of a certain saucy minx who would be extremely excited to set foot in that museum. Said individual will probably be tuned into this programming all week.

    Looking forward to this, Kamil.

  • Kamil_K

    By the way, has anyone noticed the pans for catching the leaking oil under some of the cars. 🙂

    • rovingardener

      I would think that if they aren't leaking, they're empty.