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Used Car Review: 1998 FSO Polonez Atu Sedan

Kamil Kaluski October 25, 2011 Used Car Reviews 28 Comments

 

The Polonez was one of the few Polish cars not made under a license from another manufacturer. Based on the Polski (Polish) Fiat 125p, the Polonez had a unique hatchback body, interior, and… well… that’s about it. The chassis, engine, and overall crapiness remained the same.

The Polonez was build virtually unchanged from 1978 until 1986, when it received a new front-end, a C-pillar window, and an option of a “more powerful” 1.6-liter engine, which was a descendant of the original Fiat 1.3-liter. During the 90s, as communism was overthrown and surplus of new used vehicles was coming over from other countries, the Polonez underwent more meaningful changes in order to remain relevant. A sedan version was introduced, such as the one seen in these pictures, and was immediately labeled as “ugly” when compared to the earlier versions. Pickup versions in various wheelbase lengths were also available as well as more engine options, including a Peugeot diesel engine and various fuel-injected options.

It should be noted that cars in the 70s and 80s Poland were not easily obtainable. Common folks would put their name into a lottery for an opportunity to buy a car, and five years down the road they might be able to buy their little Fiat 126p. You really needed to have connections to get onto the list to get the big 125p. The Polonez was the freakin’ Caddy however. To get a Polonez you either had to be, or be very close with someone, in the government or simply pay in American dollars – cash was always king… mostly because there was no such thing as an ability to finance a car. When your turn came to get the car and you had no money to pay for it, you were not getting it… to the back of the list you went. If you were lucky, your family would all pitch in together and you’d have your beautiful Polonez.

So, what was this pinnacle of communistic engineering? Well, it wasn’t much. New cars were known to be missing vital parts right out of the factory, things such as engine mounts. To get the passenger side mirror, for instance, my uncle bribed to the guy at the gate who hid the mirror behind the glove-box. Nonetheless, each Polonez came with a not-so-solid one-year warranty, and if you knew the right people and the right repair shop, you could even get some things repaired. When you picked up your new Polonez at the factory, there were no showrooms, the best thing to do was to drive the thing to the nearest shop to have rust-proofing/undercoating put on ASAP.

The pictured ’98 Polonez Sedan was purchased by my uncle new and handed down to my cousin. It was their third Polonez. I asked him why he didn’t buy a used German car, he said because of nostalgia and the fact the he knew a lot of people which guaranteed him a decently made car, warranty work, and cheap maintenance.

With 120,000 kilometers (75,000 miles) on the odometer, my uncle and my cousin managed to keep it in a decent shape. The only warranty-related problem they had was with the rear differential (live axle, BTW), which had to be replaced three times within the first year. Otherwise, the exhaust has rusted over and has been replaced twice, there has been, and still was, a few knocks from the suspension, and that’s about it.

Inside, the seats are rather undersized, manually adjustable with rails and levers that easily cut your hand during the said adjustment. Four-zone climate control consists of four window cranks. The heater works rather well and the aftermarket radio pumps the best of Euro club music through the rear-mounted speakers which deafen rear passengers when adjusted to a level which makes the audible in the front. There is also a lot of wind noise as the windows don’t make a tight seal.

The visibility from the driver’s seat is pretty good, a testament to the super-weak roof pillars. The clutch and brake pedals are located very close to each other and because of the way the floor is shaped it is impossible to press the clutch all the way down. The five-speed transmission has very vaguely defined gates but the shifter throws are not that long. The lever itself in located on the vertical part of the center console, not unlike the Alfa Romeo Spider.

The 1.5-liter OHV engine made about 86-horsepower from the factory and probably hasn’t lost much since. Despite the optimistic speedometer which indicates a top speed of 180km/h, the actual top speed is about 140km/h, or about 85mph. Despite that, the Polonez has a serious thrust for fuel, averaging less than 300kms (180 miles) from a tank. I don’t know how much the tank holds but I paid about $80 to fill it.

The Polonez, despite the live axle and leaf springs (!!) and no power is actually not horrible to drive, or be driven, around the city in. Once you get used the weird pedal layout, the shitty shifter, and the vibrating speedometer needle, there really is not much to it. Oh yea, no ABS and the brakes are rather inadequate, but besides that… oh yea, don’t plan on passing anything short of a horse-drawn carriage or a tractor. Even passing a city bus maybe an adventurous undertaking. But besides that, and the rust, it’s really not a horrible vehicle.

Some pictures of a pickup Polonez I spotted in Krakow. Also, the FSO Polonez wikipedia entry.

 

  • Nice review. I guess the bit where you hang it from a crane is in part 2, right?

  • Matt

    Looks like the love child of a Nissan Sunny and a Saab 9000 CDE.

    • Kamil_K

      The older one really were nicer looking. Check out the wiki link.

  • Alff

    Alfa Spider, a Polonez for the rest of us.

    • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

      What I read:

      "Used Car Review: 1998 FSO Polonez Atu Sedan… The lever itself in located on the vertical part of the center console, not unlike the Alfa Romeo Spider… speedometer which indicates a top speed of 180km/h…vibrating speedometer needle … But besides that, and the rust, it’s really not a horrible vehicle."

      So yeah, just about perfect too.

      • Alff

        My vibrating speedo needle says, "Testify!"

  • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

    That live axle leaf spring setup made it a good work horse and so all the pickup versions and what not were created. But for the more adventurous: <img src="http://www.polskie-auta.pl/polonez/akt-02.jpg&quot; width="500">hydro-pneumatic Polonez prototype That's a very inhospitable looking engine bay! Anyway I stumbled on this when I was trying to find a photo online of the Daewoo Polonezy that were used by the Police in Warsaw at least. Daewoo basically owned FSO by the end there, but most were still badged like the one in this article, but I swear that about ten years ago I saw some with the Daewoo rounded front grill like on a Lanos and a big reflective DAEWOO between the tail lights on police cars there. Can't find any pictures now though, drat. It looked even worse.

  • TurboBrick

    …FSO Polonez received rousing reviews by American Hooniverse.com. Reviewer Kamil Kaluski offered praise with "really not a horrible vehicle" and compared it to an Alfa Romeo. Actual Polonez owners were quoted having said that they prefer their FSO over German cars, because of better perceived quality.

    • Kamil_K

      I can see this being quoted in ads and broschures!

      • Devin

        I'd like to imagine a splashy night photo of a Polonez driving quickly with the tagline: FSO Polonez: It could be worse!

    • I interpreted the review as something similar to "Besides that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play"?

  • My friend's Mum had one of these in the late '90s, a pre-facelift with the white painted steel Weller "rally" wheels.

    She had a Volvo 343 before and she later traded it in for a 1990 Ford Escort. What a wretched life of cars.

  • Kamil_K

    Anyone notice the headlight fitment in the first picture?

    • TurboBrick

      Beautiful craftsmanship. That's to illuminate the side of the road better, so that you can see the pedestrians and wildlife better at night, yes?

      • Kamil_K

        Absolutely!

  • BlackIce_GTS

    "The first step is admitting you have a problem."
    I really want that pickup. What's the next step? I look at shipping container rentals and craigslist.pl, right?

    • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

      Nope in Poland yo use Allegro instead of CL.

      • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

        Oops, wrong URL, this guy has a bunch of trucks for sale, one nice Polonez pickup too with a covered bed. http://allegro.pl/polonez-truck-wszystkie-zabudow

        • Kamil_K

          BTW, $1 (USD) = 3 zloty

          • BlackIce_GTS

            This is dangerous. Nobody help me figure out what shipping would cost, and I'll pretend it's a lot. For only 800 North American Dollars, I can get a gullwing pickup which no one at ICBC will acknowledge the existence of, with no parts availability. If that weren't enough, the blue one could stand up to an 80s Toyota pickups in an oxidization contest. How can I resist?

            • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

              Aww crap, I read the description, it's just the cargo bed covers that guy sells, sorry. But that first one is the car for 2500 zloty.

            • Kamil_K

              I know someone who can help with shipping. Just sayin'

  • RichardKopf

    I wish I would have seen one when I was in Zgorzelec last spring. Oddly enough, I saw a lot of `80s Chrysler Minivans.

  • TurboBrick

    I'm sorry, I just had to…

    <img src="http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6230/6281089681_1b5f876641.jpg&quot; width="600" alt="PolonezAD">

  • Kamil_K

    OMG!

  • Peter

    You made several false statements about this vehicle: First and most important- roof pillars are not weak. They may look like, but they are very well designed, and it was confirmend in several crashes that you can roll this car, and the roof stays in place, almost undamaged, while most of cars from the same era will break. You can even ram this car with train and it keeps it shape, apart from from and back, which are controlled deformation zones, this car was really safe even for early XXIst century standards! Moreover, it was avaible with lots of different engines: 2.0 DOHC (Fiat), 2.0 SOHC (Ford), 1.5 OHV Turbo (FSO), 1.4 DOHC 16v (Rover), 1.9 diesel (Citroen), 2.0 Turbodiesel (VM) and 2.0 diesel (FSO). Some of these engines were avaible only for short time, but 1.9 diesel and 1.6 16v were actually very popular and delivered really low fuel consumption and performance comparable to western vehicle. Actually Golf III 1.4 had no chances whatsoever against the Polonez 1.4 16v, because the Golf had 60HP, Polonez had 103HP, and both cars had similar weight. The OHV engines remained more popular mainly because they were very cheap and easy to repair, but new car in a showroom had actually almost the same price, no matter the engine.