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American cars living and dying in Poland

Kamil Kaluski December 20, 2012 All Things Hoon

US cars in Poland

In the early 80s there were just about no American cars in Poland. Growing up in the capital city I may have seen one random American land-yacht and perhaps a van near the embassy row, but that’s about it. The cars seen in movies and TV shows were the typical, and almost-mythical, big police cruisers and smaller, but still big by Fiat 126p standards, sports cars. Think Smokey and the Bandit, Bullitt, Blues Brothers, Hill Street Blues, Kojak, and similar.

From behind the iron curtain, a kid such as myself had no idea what cars in North America really were. I really did not know that vehicles such as the F-series pickups or Suburbans even existed, never mind the fact that they could be so popular. Same thing with big family station wagons and their amazing tailgates and OMG rear-facing seats. The idea of non-American cars in America did not even cross my mind – why would it, when you have all this awesomeness, right?

In the late 80s and early 90s all hell broke lose. Communism was out and people of Poland were finally able to buy whatever cars they wanted. Importing cars from the United States meant huge shipping costs and tariffs, but so what? Who wouldn’t want a big, comfortable, Chryler or Chevrolet over a crappy Audiwagen? It was a lot more than a car however; it was the idea of choice, it was TV Land becoming reality, it meant, in some far-reaching but realistic way, freedom.

I have introduced Zlomnik to Hooniverse before: We looked at cars around my old neighborhood, the country as whole, and even a junk yard in Norway. Today we look at the North American market cars that were imported to Poland in the late 80s to mid-90s, or so. They’re interesting choices to say the least. Next time we’ll look at the French cars. As always, checkout zlomnik.com; use google translate or just look at the pictures like I do.

Why bother with a VW van when an Astro conversion comes with plush captains’ seats?

Big American land-yachts, it’s the stuff dreams were made of.

I have no idea why anyone would import that.

Conversion vans, minivans, sometimes conversion minivans. They’re becoming scrap now, victims of poor part supplies, non-metric tools, and poor gas mileage.

This was once a dream, while a Lada Niva was reality.

The bigger, the longer, the better.

Station wagons! Stretch limos were the thing to get married in, as opposed to a Maluch with two baloons and a bow.

Headlights were changed to meet some weird Euro spec.

Judging by the plates, it’s someone who works at an embassy or a consulate. Weird choice to ship overseas, but during my travels last year I saw a newer Chrysler Sebring with Minnesota plates – WTF Americans?

Back then few would know the difference between the 4-cylinder and the V8 – it was a Mustang and roads it was on were crappy at best, 70mph was fast.

 

 “Ford Aerostar is the best vehicle ever made”

Why anyone would import this is beyond me. The same car could have been had in the domestic market, perhaps without the leather seats. Note the required add-on rear fog-light.

 

 

Again… I don’t even…

Why bother with a common Nissan when you can have an exotic like this American Mercury Villager?

Note the color of the taillights. Turn signals must be amber.

 Bad-ass looking.

One reason any big American cars don’t work well in Europe, parking. It’s not uncommon to see cars parked at a 45-degree angle on sidewalks. The van fits, the American coupe, not so much.

Why was this car packaged and shipped 5000 miles to live there?

 

Currently there are "44 comments" on this Article:

  1. fodder650 says:

    In Poland isn't the Pacer considered a sports car?

  2. MVEilenstein says:

    I guarantee you that Blazer is one junkyard trip away from running again.

  3. Manic_King says:

    In the USSR, sailors were basically the only group of people who could import an car from behind the iron curtain. Before sailor was allowed to do that, he had to work couple of years on a cargo ship without escaping to the west or doing anything else which would be bad for his chances to get that "licence to import an single foreign built car". So it was really big thing to get this licence, problem was of course that those sailors weren't rich enough to buy OK cars in the west, even with artificial exchange rate and their side business of selling things at home they got free abroad (old magazines, cheap electronics, car brochures etc.).
    So they bought crappy cars, old Euro Opels and Fords but also some Barges from US, which later got nickname "Sailors dream". No spare parts available inside iron curtain so when they couldn't bring spare parts from their travels, communist made parts went in.
    A bit like those fifties cars in Cuba.
    So I remember seeing American cars only in foreign magazines (bought at second hand book store, imported by those sailors) and 1-2 IRL before first visiting the west (Finland, Sweden) when 15 y.o.

    PS. Any Hungarians here who could say what was the name of HU car mag which during communist times had mostly stories about western cars, I had subscription 1980-83 or so. I even understood some written Hungarian back then from studying these…

  4. jeepjeff says:

    I have no idea why anyone would import that.

    You take that back. That is awesome. ;)

    (I might occasionally daydream about owning one of these, and the market is small enough that I'd probably have to transport it across most of the country…)

    EDIT: I also have easy access to Jeep 4.0 parts to upgrade the engine a wee bit.

    • Kamil_K says:

      You must consider the fact that Eastern Europe in the late 1980s had the best small shitty cars in existance!!!
      The Pacer would have been considered a just a slighly bigger, slightly less shitty car, at a price ten times of small shitty "West German" car.

      • TurboBrick says:

        Yeah… but for all we know that could be a V8 Pacer which would really make some heads ekxzplowde when they saw that.

        • Kamil_K says:

          Not really. People in Poland, even back then tend to be very conscious about fuel costs… and power/speed did not really matter as the first real highways opened up only within the last dozen years or so.

  5. LTDScott says:

    I've always been fascinated by US spec cars that were sold by the factory overseas which required lighting changes to meet the local rules. The Corsica and Cutlass Supreme coupe both appear to be examples of this due to the sealed beam headlights and amber rear turn signals.

    • Kamil_K says:

      Note the extra lights on the Astro, above the taillights.

    • mallthus says:

      I remember seeing a decent number of Euro spec GM cars back in the 70s and 80s. My Dad used to work at a GM plant and there was a whole little section just off the line for fitting things like E-spec lights, etc. Later, he was at Van Nuys when they were building Camaros. They had not only that section for doing E-spec lights, but a whole secondary QA line for export cars, where the quality checklist was 20x as long as for domestic cars.

      I remember from traveling in Europe in the 70s and 80s, that most of the American cars I saw had Swiss plates. Given their lack of a domestic auto industry, the number of NGOs there, etc, it sort of made sense.

      And then, of course, some American cars are just plain cool enough to be appealing in Europe.
      <img src="http://i.ebayimg.com/00/$%28KGrHqZ,!lYE-dW6LJt%29BQJsnVFG6Q~~_19.JPG" width=600>
      <img src="http://i.ebayimg.com/00/$(KGrHqJ,!jIE2LTqfYVkBNyRNcgMUw~~_19.JPG" width=600>

  6. RichardKopf says:

    I'd love to find a set of amber-turn signal tail lamps for my Caprice.

  7. Synchromesh says:

    I was in Poland last year. Of course I was far more interested in finding Ladas after not seeing one upclose for 20 years and I found a few (a 2107, a very beat up 2109 and few more). But I did see a few American cars. Most were from mid 80s – early 90s era. square Camaro, a Dodge Daytona and some more. Made no sense to me either but there they were.

  8. Rover1 says:

    That Australian made Mercury Capri has probably done more miles sitting on ships than it has driven.

  9. Van_Sarockin says:

    What a bizarre assortment of cars. It's always a surprise to see things through the eyes of others. You don't mind if I pop by to put things right with that Toronado, do you?

  10. kush says:

    You should loook further on zlomnik becouse i cant see the 6 wheeler van conversion. Named cobra jet or smth. I know zlomnik is reading this . Help.

  11. Jay says:

    I think a lot of these seem to be survivors of the "first wave" of American and western cars that came into Eastern Europe, rather than stuff that was brought in recently. There's hardly anything here from the 2000s and later, which is not that unusual. Still, very cool to see the stuff that was brought in.

  12. mseoul says:

    Where were the Poland pics taken? Is that a Poznan registration? I see Warsaw too, right? Anyplace else?

  13. Goodwin says:

    After the fall of the union it was cool to have any foreighn car, weather it was a Fiat or a BMW. An old Pacer would turn just as many heads as a brand new Mercedes back then.
    Back in 92 my dad bought a Peugeot 309, it wasnt any more reliable or better looking than a Lada and the spares were hard to get hold of, but it was the joy of owning something different. I can still remember people looking back at his car as he went by…

  14. Age_of_Aerostar says:

    ”Ford Aerostar is the best vehicle ever made”

    I've been away too long… didn't get to comment on this. :-)

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