8 Unforgettable Cars from the Communist-Regime Era
#lifestyle & opinion
small, 8 Unforgettable Cars from the Communist-Regime Era, Bielsko-Biala, 1979. Red light, yellow light, green light – GO! Maluch was a signal for fashion and convenience. Fiat 126p advertising material, photo, maluch forum_7120039.jpg
Under the communist regime, there were shortages of almost everything in Poland. It would get so bad at times that certain stores would have nothing but vinegar in stock. Nevertheless, Poland under communist rule had something that is practically non-existent in present-day, democratic Poland – mass-produced domestic cars.
There were two main reasons why communist Poland could mass-produce cars. Central planning is the first. If the central government decided that a particular product needed to be manufactured, it would be manufactured – regardless of economic rationale. Therefore, opening a state-owned car factory was relatively easy, as it essentially required only an arbitrary decision from the leadership.
It’s worth noting, however, that almost none of communist Poland’s car brands have survived in the post-1989 free-market environment of democratic Poland, where production generally must be profitable. The Honker brand, which still exists today, may be considered one of the few exceptions. Honkers, however, are chiefly produced for the emergency services and the armed forces.
Pass the Popcorn: Polish Cinema After 1989
The second reason relates to the isolated market of communist Poland. With a very limited choice of consumer products under communist rule, and the cars that were available were mostly Polish. If you wanted to drive a car in communist Poland, you often had no other choice but to drive a domestic one. This guaranteed a steady demand for Polish-produced automobiles. Once Poland became a free-market economy and the choice of cars grew, this demand diminished dramatically.
Still, some of the vehicles produced under communist rule are now retro classics – the sight of which brings joy to the hearts of many car-conscious Poles. Below, you can find a list of eight cars produced in communist Poland, which are now considered appealing on a sentimental level.
The first car mass-produced in Poland after World War II. This curvy vehicle was manufactured by FSO from 1951 to 1973 in Warsaw and named after the capital city itself. A number of versions of the Warszawa were created to accommodate the diverse tastes of the nation. This car took on the forms of, amongst others, a station wagon, a pickup, an ambulance and a draisine.
Giving Warsaw Its Sound Back: An Interview with Noam Zylberberg
standardowy [760 px]
A Syrena car parked by the Syrenka Warszawska (Mermaid of Warsaw) monument, 1962, photo: Tomasz Prazmowski / MSiT / Forum
In 1953 the Central Committee of the Polish Communist Party created a resolution which contained the following words:
A popular means of transport has to be created which will save time during business and leisure and will be meant for rationalizers, shock workers, activists, scientists and leading representatives of the intelligentsia.
This resolution led to the Syrena, a small two-door sedan, being put into production in 1957. This car was manufactured until 1983.
This light commercial vehicle was produced at a factory in the town of Nysa – which, before making cars, manufactured beds and safes, amongst other things. The Nysa used the same chassis as the Warszawa and was produced for more than 35 years. In the 1970s, a large portion of the car's production was meant for export to markets such as West Germany, China, and Spain.
9 Architectural Icons of Communist Poland
Polski Fiat 125p
standardowy [760 px]
Pope John Paul II in a Polski Fiat 125p in front of the Częstochowa cathedral during his first pilgrimage to Poland, 1979, photo: Krzysztof Pawela / Forum
A Polish car produced under licence from the Italian company Fiat. FSO started producing the Polski Fiat 125p in 1967 and manufactured it, under different names, until 1991. The changes in name were a result of Fiat withdrawing the licence for this car in 1983. The Polski Fiat 125p was a state-of-the-art vehicle in the second half of the 1960s and was to substitute the Warszawa – which, by that time, was considered an obsolete design.
Polski Fiat 126p
standardowy [760 px]
On the set of Paul Haggis' movie 'The Third Person', a Maluch can easily manoeuvre Rome's streets while holding 1.85 metres worth of Adrien Brody, photo: EMANUELEPHOTO / Splash News / East News
maluchy east news.jpg
Another Polish car produced under licence from the aforementioned Italian firm. The Polski Fiat 126p was manufactured from 1973 to 2000 by FSM. This immensely popular car was a characteristic sight on Polish roads for many years. In total, 3.3 million units of this vehicle were produced, 2.4 million of which were for the Polish market. In 2000, the popular Polish band Big Cyc released an album which includes 'Mały Fiat,' an energetic song about this car.
Playing with Censorship: How Polish Artists Dealt with the Communist Regime
standardowy [760 px]
Reporters standing on board of a Tarpan during John Paul II's 1987 pilgrimage to Poland, photo: Wojtek Łaski / East News
A truck that’s both fun and serious! The cab has enough room for three people, behind the partition, and on the bed you can transport sacks of potatoes. On Sundays, you just have to adjust the movable partition and clean up the vehicle, and the truck will be ready to take a six-person family to church.
This is how the Tarpan, an agricultural vehicle, was once advertised. This truck was produced from 1972 to 1994.
The name for this car was chosen in a readers’ vote conducted by the now-defunct newspaper Życie Warszawy. Over a million units were produced by FSO from 1978 until 2002, when manufacturing of the Polonez came to an end. In the early 1980s, a coupé version of this car appeared and was produced in small numbers. Nowadays, the Polonez Coupé is a great and much sought-after rarity.
Polonaise ‒ The Royal Dance Every Polish Teenager Has to Master
To some, the most beautiful Polish car ever made. This sports car was a prototype designed by FSO engineers in 1957 to 1960. Sadly, the communist authorities of the time didn’t appreciate the Syrena Sport, as this vehicle’s style didn’t correspond to their ideology, in which there was no room for flashy cars. Because of this, the Syrena Sport was never put into production. As if that weren't enough, the only specimen of this car was destroyed in the 1970s.
Poland under communism
Discover 100 Years
of Polish Design