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2011 Hooniverse Car of the Year Nominee: 1998 FSO Polonez Atu Sedan

Kamil Kaluski December 14, 2011 Hooniversal Car of the Year 33 Comments

My first nomination for the 2011 Hooniverse Car of the Year is an obvious one. This pinnacle of communistic engineering is based on the 1960’s Fiat chassis with a body designed by the famous Giorgetto Giugiaro and Walter de Silva. This, combined with the best of eastern European manufacturing quality and attention to detail, are just some of the reasons why the FSO Polonez should be the Hooniverse Car of the Year.

[Modified image courtesy of TurboBrick]

Virtually unchanged over its twenty-five year life cycle, it was antiquated the day it was introduced when compared to cars from West Germany. Live axle, leaf springs, and a powerless yet very thirsty engine were only the beginnings of a nightmare design. It’s not that luxuries such as power windows, power steering, or air conditioning were not available – they were incomprehensible. For the first twenty years the Polonez did not even have any dash vents and it never came with a factory radio, probably because it would be inaudible over the headache-inducing noise of the engine.

It was only for the lack of any of those features that the Polonez retained its good reliability standing, often compared to segment leaders such as Zastava and Lada. Amazingly, the lack of those features did contribute to its lightweight of just 2400 pounds. That, when packaged with the 86-horsepower engine, resulted in the hp-to-weight ratio of just 28:1, surpassing modern many vehicles such as a 2010 Toyota Prius. And not much else.

However, like the infomercial says, there is more. Simply, the Polonez cannot be expressed in words. It is a vehicle which needs to be experienced, and furthermore, it is a vehicle whose historic implications need to be understood. Jeremy Clarkson described its handling a random mix of over- and under-steer, and while not wrong, he only began to scratch the surface of its unpredictable character. Where its “sporty” rally-ish appearance may have given hope and its Alfa-inspired shifter may have made promises, the non-existing brakes and vague steering were there to remind you are in fact deep in the red zone of communism.

But the HCOTY winner needs to be more than just some random jalopy; it needs to have the Hooniverse X-factor, and that maybe the only place where the Polonez simply over-delivers:

  • No U.S. market car of the last twenty years can match its simplicity.
  • New or old, it is guaranteed that the Polonez will be generating some kind of unidentifiable noise from somewhere.
  • They all leak something, and that cannot be fixed.
  • They all rust when exposed to air.
  • The Polonez is one of the handful of vehicles ever produced that was available as a 4-door sedan, 3- and 5-door hatchback, a pickup truck with three different cabs and bed lengths, six-door limo, a cargo van, and an ambulance.
  • The Polonez was one of the few eastern bloc vehicles which was exported to Cuba, China, U.K., Australia, and Canada.
  • Guaranteed 24 Hours of LeMons Index Of Effluency win.
  • A car similar to the one pictured can be obtained for approximately $1500. However, since the Polonez has been in production since 1978, it is easily obtainable for much less than that, perhaps even free.
  • It is also because of that age that the Polonez can be legally imported into the United States.

The HCOTY will feature many other old cars. Many of those cars were turned into modern art after the company or their owner has thrown fifty grand or more at them. They will be faster, better looking, and simply more awesome. But this competition isn’t about beauty or speed. This competition is about a vehicle which will put a huge worry-free grin on any hoon’s face and say fuck you to the mainstream of the annual automotive awards and this is where the Polonez cannot be beaten.

  • jeepjeff

    Leaf springs in 1998. Wow. Even Jeep had completely ditched leaf springs by then. (Not by much mind you, the 1995 YJ Wrangler still had 'em on all four corners, but the 1997 TJ did not.)

    Also, Solid Axles in the first two nominees! Things are starting off Right.

    • pj134

      The XJ still had them though.

      I think the Raptor has them currently.

      • jeepjeff

        Damnit, you're right. The XJ did still have them, even though the GC did not. I think all the fullsize trucks still have them, at least on the rear axle.

        • pj134

          Yeah, I used the Raptor specifically because it is the highest performance bendy straw.

          • jeepjeff

            I was discounting body-on-frame trucks, as there is a good reason why they still have leaf springs and solid axles. They're stronger, and the application doesn't have strong requirements for best handling. Also, getting the same towing and load bearing performance out of an IRS system would be prohibitively expensive.

            • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

              The truck-and-a-like variants you see in the photos shows why people like me can make an excuse for that setup at least 😉

              • jeepjeff

                No excuses needed for an SRA in any vehicle, IMO. (But I'm known to be crazy.)

        • m4ff3w

          Don't the current generation Ram trucks have coil springs in the rear?

          • Mr. Tactful

            Some or all of the half tons, yes.

          • Maymar

            Yes, all the half-tons, like Mr. Tactful said. In that case, I think it's less of a high-performance issue (the SRT-10 certainly had rear springs), and more to gain composure reflecting its likely mission as a daily driver that needs to haul the occasional boat, as opposed to an out and out work truck.

    • Guillaume

      Back in 2007, I experienced driving Aussie Ford Falcon Wagon, with great 4.0 6 cylinders in the front … but leaf springs in the back (The sedan didn't). Yes the car was new. I could understand it for the Ute version, but the family Wagon ???

  • danleym

    I'll take the triple axle pick-up, thank you. Sipmly because of how different it looks.

    • I only saw one of them, in the mid-80s. I wonder how it drove.

  • TurboBrick

    No, no, no… Kamil, man, you have to sell it!

    No factory radio = "Sound-system ready"
    No dash vents = "Remarkably solid construction"
    Exported to Cuba = "Polonez brand is recognized for it's quality around the world"

    Let's just make some edits…

    Where its sporty rally-ish appearance may have given hope and its Alfa-inspired shifter may have made promises, the non-existing brakes and vague steering were there to remind you are in fact deep in the red zone of communism

    And now read that like the Renault Fuego "Turbo Zone" ad and we''re pretty close to marketing gold here!

    • blueplate

      You are nominated for redaction of the day!

    • Dude, you really need a job in marketing. 🙂

  • sport_wagon

    It's got my vote based on the out-of-context marketing quotes alone.

  • Van_Sarockin

    Show me that six door limo with one of the pickup beds, and I think we'll have a walk-off winner.

    • Geez man, is it not enough that it's a hatchback limo?

      • danleym

        I didn't even see that! I change my vote, now I want the hatchback limo. The style and sophistication of a limousine, with the sportiness and practicallity of a hatch. What's not to love?

  • dukeisduke

    Even the publicity photo makes it look crappy. That gets my vote.

  • dukeisduke

    I'm finally eating some Swedish Fish, by the way (we talked about them last week). I think I'm hooked (no pun intended).

  • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/03/Rover_Vitesse_19850706.jpg/500px-Rover_Vitesse_19850706.jpg"&gt; There is a group of my friends that have been perpetually thinking about starting a Lemons team, one day I saw a really cheap Polonez on allegro and sent them the link with an idea for a theme. I don't think it's an instant IOE winner, but pretty dang close. Also they stopped emailing me about Lemons stuff right after that, I wonder why…

    • you're wrong… it's an INSTANT IOE winner, guaranteed.

      • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

        I don't know… Knowing the luck of the Poles regarding promises like that it would be the very race that some Germans would arrive unexpectedly with a Wartburg. But the real winners would be the Russians that got a Zaporozhets out on the track the last few hours and upset everything even though the Polish team would have been resisting those Germans all weekend long. Stupid lust of the the leaders!

  • Devin

    A Polonez Ambulance driven by people dressed as Bruce Reynolds and Dom Deluise would be the greatest Lemons theme.

  • RichardKopf

    Yes. This is it.


    A post a few days ago about the choice for a drifiting vehicle included a statement that an FSO Polonez would have worked as well as an E30 BMW. I learned something new that day!
    According to Wikipedia the FSO Polonez is a front engine, rear wheel drive car!

    A station wagon equipped with a manual gear box and rear wheel drive! Full of win indeed.
    And with those reflector thingies spanning the full width of the trunk lid it kinda reminds me of a Cadillac Catera from the back. Not bad company!

  • kermelan

    Never had any chance to ride one, being a Pole as I am though. To be honest, it 'd scare the sh*** out of me, after I've seen few time how it can roll over or oversteer in any simple curve. Stil,, be as it may, Polonez is a taste of polish lifestyle from late 70' to early 90. It deserves some appreciation – the first prize would be good enough I guess.

    • Daggeth

      Yes, but for some reason some people say it was constructed as tank, and later got turret removed.
      [youtube 7vIPTWw4M8U http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vIPTWw4M8U youtube]

      Car was constructed in late 70's and this movie is made at speed of 50 kmph. I'm still amazed.