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Polish Cars Living and Dying in Poland

Kamil Kaluski June 11, 2014 Eastern European Cars, Featured 10 Comments

polish cars living and dying in poland

Poland’s automotive history goes back to the 1920’s when the country was recovering from the World War I. Fighting and smaller wars went well into the 1920’s, despite the world war officially ending in 1918. At the same time Poland was turning into a very industrialized nation: ports, mining, rail, manufacturing, and first airports were all in construction all, with added cultural developments. The first Polish cars were made 1927, although in very small quantities. Several trucks, based on Italian and French designs, were also produced before World War 2. By the mid-1930s cars were plentiful, and as told by my father, my grandfather had a rather cool BMW 328.

Everything was interrupted when Germany, and shortly thereafter the Soviet Union, invaded Poland in September of 1939. Despite its resistance, the simultaneous attacks from the west/southwest and the east by two superpowers overpowered the Polish army rather quickly. Being centrally located and rich in natural resources, what was once Poland became the place for the Nazi German forces to create weapons and equipment factories. The existing railroads allowed for easy transport of the equipment in and out of the country. The same railroads allowed for transport of concentration camp prisoners into the first concentrations build outside of Germany.

Outside of killing people and culture, the most physical war damage occurred in Poland toward the end of the war. Warsaw, the capital city, was almost completely destroyed during the 1944 uprising. Things didn’t exactly get pretty once the war was over; years of chaos due to a lack of an established government kept taking lives. It wasn’t until the very late 1940s and early 1950s that Poland began to resemble a fully functioning country. With its borders redrawn, it was finally given independence from Soviet Union in 1952 but remained a communist country under its heavy influence, like many other surrounding countries. Crap.

To be succinct, things pretty much sucked in Poland until 1989 when the communists were overthrown. In that time, like in the rest of the region that was under USSR control, everything was state owned and state controlled. Like so many government ran organizations all over the world (please don’t comment on current political affairs, thanks) nothing ran quite right, not only in Poland but in all Eastern Bloc countries. With no end in sight, those that could (hi!), left.

The post-WW2 Polish cars were mostly based on Russian designs, which is like totally shocking. Those Russian designs were mostly based on Italian Fiats, under license, or blatantly copied (oh hi, KGB) western, often American, designs. Political red tape, lack of funding, limited R&D resources, and close Russian supervision, not to mention lack of competition, further limited any kind of technical progress or innovation. Politicians in charge of marketing and product development led to long product cycles and limited models. The fact the final products were outdated and abysmal quality shouldn’t be surprising.

Today we will look at many Polish cars made after World War 2 until the fall of communism, or thereabout. These vehicles don’t fully reflect what has been happening in Poland during that time as many of them were simply not available for purchase by the general public. One would buy a lottery ticket and the winning ticket would then allow the purchase of a vehicle years down the road when it was finally produced. As always, all of the pictures were taken recently in Poland by the readers of Zlomnik.pl, a site which them complies them into sort of a monthly V.I.S.I.T. post. Big thanks and much love to them!

Hit the jump for all the pictures and links to previous “…Cars Living and Dying in Poland” series. Enjoy.

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Polski Fiat 126p, a.k.a. “Maluch” (munchkin?) was produced under license from Fiat from 1973 until 2000. While it underwent multiple updates over the years, it remained pretty much unchanged in that time. 600cc 23hp, 650 24hp, or even a 702cc (big block?) 2-cylinder engine was mounted in the rear. It was kind like a Porsche 911.

No, it wasn’t. It wasn’t anything like a Porsche. But it was a lot like a 1957 Fiat 500, except not as cute or refined.

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After WW2 all of Europe needed trucks. Poland, arguably one of the most devastated countries needed trucks, too. An ex-Nazi factory in the town of Jelcz was utilized for production of automotive chassis used for trucks and buses. It continued to make trucks until after communism was overthrown. It then went private and today it still makes military vehicles, parts for old trucks, and various metal works.

This is  a Jelcz o43 SAN H-100 bus. Rutting away gracefully. They were known as ogórki, or cucumbers, because of their rounded shape.

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This is a late-model FSO (Fabryka Samochodów Osobowych / Passenger Car Factory) Polonez, similar to the one I reviewed some time ago. It’s less beautiful than earlier Giorgetto Giugiaro-designed car, but still charming by today’s standards. Late in its life the 1.3, 1.5, 1.6, and 2.0-liter engines of Italian/Russian design were equipped with GM fuel infection injection.

Read more about the Polonez line here.

Yellow license places = historic license plates. Vehicle must be of some age and is limited in mileage.

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The Nysa van was based on the similar Zuk, but has more round body lines. While it was offered as a cargo and passenger van, I remember seeing more passenger versions around whereas the Zuk was commonly seen in a more utilitarian spec.

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Position commonly assumed by Polonez owners. Insert your own joke.

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Polski Fiat 125p was cleverly named after the Italian Fiat 125, under the license of which it was built. This is a later mid ’80s model. I’m sure no more than a handful of such stretch models was produced.

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Another mid 80’s or newer Duzy Fiat, Large Fiat, nicknamed in such a way as to draw distinction between it and a smaller 126p. It made sense, seeing how the 126 was numerically higher.

Nag!

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Syrena Bosto. It is the van version of the 105 “sedan”. The higher van portion of the vehicle started a the B-pillar and went back. In the rear there were barn doors. Some models had a rear bench seat and rear windows, some were all cargo. I would say the the Ford Transit Connect is a blatant rip-off of the Bosto.

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This is a pickup truck. These one- or two-horsepower vehicles used to be all over Poland. Farmers who could not afford a Zuk, Nysa, or a Tarpan would use these. With many narrow two-lane roads these very slow moving vehicles caused many accidents. Things got worse when more powerful western cars became more common. When I visited Poland in 2011 we were passing one of those on one of those narrow two-lane roads just as an Audi S6 or RS6 wagon passed us at a much greater speed, narrowly avoiding an upcoming vehicle.

Now today more and more highways are being opened in Poland, making car travel easier and safer.

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Warszawa, a Russian-designed vehicle named after Poland’s capital city. Until its first redesigned it was identical to the Russian Soviet GAZ Pobeda. In 1951 the license to manufacture this vehicle was graciously gifted to Poland by a tyrant called Stalin. In 1957 Polish FSO said “gee, thanks, we’ll give it a face lift, more power, and rename it!”

The vehicle underwent another transformation in 1962 and was produced until 1973. There were sedan, wagon, and pickup versions. Its frame/chassis/engine was used to develop the Nysa and Zuk vans. It always looked very American to me, especially the later sedan versions. ‘Murika!

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Early Star 25 truck.

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Zuk, quad-cab pickup. The bumper had a hole in the middle where you’d insert a crank when your battery died, which probably happened often. The crank worked much better than its modern version, an 800 number.

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Mid ’80s or newer 126p. Note the black trim, rear fog light and reverse light. I know people who towed small camper trailers with these things, because small, light, 2-cylinder, cars are known for amazing towing abilities. FSM mudflaps FTW!

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Early 125p, rotting. Zaporozec (ZAZ) next to it.

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FSR Tarpan. Fabryka Samochodów Rolniczych, or Farm Car Factory, produced this beauty and its several versions from 1973 until 1994. The vehicle was actually quite interesting. Behind the first row of seats was a movable wall. Moving the wall back shortened the bed but made room for a rear bench seat. Moving the wall forward made the bed longer. It took Chevy thirty more years to come up with something similar, but less pretty. 

Like many AMC vehicles, the Tarpan was made up of other cars’ parts: GAZ/Warszawa engine, Fiat blinkers and door handles, Polonez interior bits, etc. The Tarpan continued to evolve over time. It came in fixed wagon and pickup versions and later with diesel engines.

In 1988 a Tarpan Honker was introduced. While it looked kind of similar to the original Tarpan, very few parts were shared. Political changes lead to FSR changing hands a few times, which didn’t help things. The Tarpan Honker pressed on, however, evolving into a military vehicle which was used in combat in Iraq. The vehicles are currently being used by many mining companies, Iraqi, Latvian, and Lithuanian armies.

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Jelcz 315, or at least of 300-series. It was a surprisingly well designed truck that used parts scavenged from around Europe. The two-axle truck was so strong that its capacity surpassed the 8 ton limit of 2-axle vehicles, therefore a 3-axle model needed to be developed. If the Jelcz looks familiar, it’s because it was made under a license from British Layland, but was modified for Polish production. It was build from 1968 until 1991.

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The cap and the chassis extension is definitely after-market. I’m not sure of camper or van. I think it looks pretty cool though.

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Ahh yea, after spending a year working in U.S. in 1985, my uncle came back and picked himself one of these newly updated Polonezs for around $4500. You didn’t have to wait if you paid in American dollars. The updates consisted of new C-pillar windows and differed headlight layout. It was so revolutionary!

One could opt for a more powerful 1.6-liter engine, but my uncle did not do that. He wasn’t sure of the new motor’s (ha! it was just bored out) reliability. Old school, pre-EU, license plates.

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Connoisseur of amazing legendary Polish cars, clearly. One day his collection will be worth almost $1000.

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Older, pre- mid-80’s face-lift FSO Polonez. I’m pretty sure the rear headrests are not factory.

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Syrena 105 pickup. Yea, a small unibody pickup truck, what a novel idea.

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What happens when you convert a luxury (ha!) FSO Polonez fastback or sedan into a pickup truck? This, an FSO Polonez pickup truck. These were produced in the 1990’s, toward the end of Polonez’s life cycle. It was powered by some Citroen diesel but there was a time when they dropped a much less reliable Rover engines into them. What a nightmare.

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A Zuk van, but the back body looks like something French.

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I’m not 100% certain, but the one on the left maybe 126 BIS, a revolutionary Polish design where they removed the fixed rear window and attached a hatch! Oh, and horsepower skyrocketed by one to a total of 26!

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Older military Star truck.

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Green leaf sticker means virgin driver.

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“Library on wheels”

No one reads books anymore.

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They came rusted out of the factory.

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Polonez Superlaggera. Given all the crap inside, this is probably someone’s top secret project.

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“Electrical installations” “electrician” – seriously, if this guy can keep this thing running, you hire him!

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Ice cream. I’m disappointed that it isn’t written on the side of the van.

Notice how the interior is different color then the outside. I’m guessing it was re-sprayed in a barn somewhere.

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Two Star trucks at work. The one on the right is a ’73-’00 266 6×6 model. I remember seeing a lot of them as a kid in military trim. Supposedly they were very capable: 4-ton capacity, 180cm (70″) water fording. With proper preparation they were designed to be towed along the bottom of body of water by a boat. They were used by several eastern European and African armies. 

In 1988 two Star 266s entered, and finished, The Dakar Rally!

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Late model Syrena 105 (’72-’83) on left and an earlier 103 or 104 (’62 ’72) on the right, with suicide doors. As if the vehicle itself wasn’t already suicidal.

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First generation Nysa.

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A Zuk with a flatbed and a basket. I have no idea what the capacity of that basket is, but you couldn’t pay me enough to get into it.

FSO 125p. Ambulances usually had the frosted windows. I’m not really sure what this was, the camo doesn’t seem authentic, perhaps it’s just covered up bondo/rust.

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WOT – how you have to drive them to keep up with those speedy Smart Cars.

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Home made license plate, because replacements are no longer available, seems to be washing off in the rain. Notice the old city street.

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Early 125p, almost identical to its Italian Godfather.

Let’s take a break and look at the other posts from this series:

American cars living and dying in Poland

American Cars Living and Dying in Poland (part 2)

West German cars living and dying in Poland

East German cars Living and Dying in Poland

Japanese cars living and dying in Poland

Italian cars living and dying in Poland

French Cars Living and Dying in Poland

Czechoslovakian Cars Living and Dying in Poland

Swedish Cars Living and Dying in Poland

Obscure, weird, and random cars living and dying in Poland

The Museum of Communist Polish Cars in Krakow

 

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Syrena 105. This picture may have been taken outside of Poland.

Seriously, if anyone knows the person who owns this beauty, please have him email me – Kamil@Hooniverse.com.

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Old 1950s Star still working. Looks like this is coal, maybe?

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Early 126p, as noted by the “Polski Fiat” badge as opposed to the FSM badge. Also chrome bumpers, wheels with wide bolt-pattern. Roof racks were common because the front trunks are smaller than most briefcases.

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A classic Star 28/29. Produced between ’68 and ’89, I remember these being everywhere. One wheelbase, many uses, 5000kg capacity and tow rating. Top speed – 50-ish mph. Down hill.

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Ugh, seriously, this looks worse than Clarkson’s white Citroen.

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Let’s see Crown Vics last thirty years on taxi duty.

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The hatch and the taillights of the FSO Polonez was redesigned once again around 1990, because freedom!

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Regular cab FSO Polonez pickup.

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I guess that orange thing is suppose to prevent theft?

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Late Nysa.

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The front-wheel-drive Syrenas were powered by a 2- or 3-cylinder 2-stroke engines making between 27 and 40hp. 4-on the tree was the only way to go. They sounded amazing, kind of like an unhealthy Chevette that’s running on three cylinders, except not as refined and more smokey.

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I’d love to hear how this happened.

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Star 28 fire truck. Look at the size of the search light!

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Warszawa, Nysa, Syrena, Polonez.

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FSO Polonez pickup with a concrete mixer.

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This is is the newer, but only slightly improved, Star 200. Made from ’76 to ’94, the biggest difference between it and the 28/29 were dual headlights in the bumper. Previous headlight locations were covered up with some sheet metal. This one was available in to wheelbase lengths, had more power, and more gears.

Shockingly, many models did not have power steering. Brake and clutch pedals were known to be difficult to engage. Girly-men should stick to driving their Ford F-150s, this is real men’s world, even when transporting poop, such as this truck.

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Syrena 105 Bosto van. Given the side windows it probably had a rear bench seat. That is correct factory spare tire location.

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10/10, would hail.

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Take a hatchback Polonez and “improve” it but removing that whole hatch area and you get this, a wonky looking sedan. I’m pretty sure that this is BMW’s inspiration for their weird new hatch cars.

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Oh yea, a later Tarpan 239 pickup! Sunroof, heated and ventilated seats, power windows and door locks, nav, Bose audio, dual clime controls, LED lights, MyStink connection, it did not have any of those!

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Another Bosto. Someone snagged the spare tire.

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ZSD, Zakład Samochodów Dostawczych, or Delivery Vehicle Corporation. These names were so clever, much like Russian VAZ, ZAZ, GAZ, they were all bureaucratic acronyms. Nysa is a town in Poland. In the early 50s a furniture factory was converted a delivery van factory, because why not, I’m sure Ikea could make a helluva Transit Connect if they wanted to.

Based on the same GAZ/Warszawa as its cousin/competitor Zuk, the Nysa was more used for passenger and light cargo transport. There was a lot on-off specialty models made on the request of the country for various organizations: militia, ambulance, TV and movie making, roadside assistance, fridge vans, etc.

My father drove a Nysa like this on some kind of expedition from Warsaw to Afghanistan in the mid-70s. Obviously Afghanistan was much different then than it is now.

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These Stars were not tilt-cabs. Engine was accessible by removing a huge engine cover inside the car. That engine cover made the cab very small with only two seats.

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Fiat 125p kombi. That hatch looks like it’s about to fall off.

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Star 244… err, 243.

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Another Jelcz ogórek rotting away.

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Syrena, stanced.

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Rear wiper was owner installed, as was the race stripe and rubber molding. I’m surprised that the rear wiper is even needed because of the aerodynamic design of vehicle. Those rubber covers over the rear air vents are installed during colder weather to allow for quicker engine warm up. Passenger side mirror was definitely not there from the factory.

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Jelcz truck. I guess Jelcz and Star were competitors, but they did share a lot components.

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FSO 125p pickup with a ridiculous, but probably useful, cap.

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Syrena Bosto, an early Polonez, a Trabant (not rusting!!) and a 125p. It’s sad that they these end up this way, but when western cars became more available in Poland people couldn’t wait to get rid of this junk. There is now sort of a renaissance occurring with everyone attempting to restore (and sell for ridiculous money) these pearls of PRL.

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There sure seems to be a lot basket cases cranes in Poland. This one is on top of a Tarpan.

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Polonez pickup. The tank in the back may mean that it was converted to run on LPG. Or that someone just placed a random tank there.

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Zuk fridge box and flatbed. The flatbeds were a lot more common in Poland probably due to increased functionality.

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Tarpan with a relatively really long box. And a Maluch.

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Another Star 266, another basket crane. This one has a muffler in the front for some reason.

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Old rural small city pre-war neighborhoods. No one wants to live there but many have no choice.

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Mint Warszawa. Old plates suggest the same owner since the early 80’s. That car has seen some stuff.

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Zuk quad-cab flatbed.

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Early Star truck military troop transporter. If only this truck could talk.

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Stretch kombi. Isn’t it beautiful?

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Just try to imagine this in a Lemons race… Murlee would just hand you the prestigious IOE before the race even started. At the last race the Saucy Minx pointed out that importation charges would not count toward the $500 price of the car!

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Old car, old man. I sometimes wonder what kind of an old man I will be.

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I would bet that these guys are pretty happy.

 

  • Sjalabais

    Seriously skewed ratio between living and dying, but what a great series of almost unknown cars! Even having grown up in next-door GDR I am not familiar with every design.

  • FЯeeMan

    The Warszawa has something of a Saab 96 vibe going on above the belt-line.

    That is an amazing collection of old vehicles (I know they don't belong to a person, but the country has collected them). Nicely written up, to. Thanks!

  • Someone on the internet said that the article is full of crap. So I took out some words, hopefully now it's not full of crap.

    • FЯeeMan

      I'm not sure what crap there was, but I think it was the Hooniverse kinda crap, so I didn't notice.

  • mseoul

    Great summary at the start of the photo series. That sums up modern Polish history and motor history in a few paragraphs!

    I want to know who owns that Syrena in Pennsylvania too!

    I saw this sentence and thought Kamil suddenly introduced GM into the article: "In that time, like in the rest of the region that was under USSR control, everything was state owned and state controlled."

    Has the Smyk ever been in Hooniverse? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpmV5eJ0LfE
    These were too rare to make it in the series here but they to have the most unusual of the varied "front door" openings of any car.

    • Thanks!

      No Smyk yet. I really only cover what's on Zlomnik's "miks" and what I have seen myself.

      • Vairship

        The Smyk: it's like they looked at the front opening door of the Isetta, and decided to make it LESS convenient!

  • Synchromesh

    I've been to Poland in 2011 as well. Loved these old Soviet-era cars. Sadly I didn't see any Syrenas but I did see a quite a few Polish Fiats both old and new. Even a couple of Ladas! All these were far more exciting that modern Eurotrash that seems to dominate the streets of Polish cities nowadays.

    • Yes, neither have I. 🙁

  • DiBs

    The muffler in front…. Maybe it was a fuel truck on a flightline and got converted to its current cherry picker config later.