Car for every climate ? "The Bandit"

  Poland also produced a small Fiat from 1972 to 2000.The first Fiat made in Poland, the 508, appeared in 1932. It was the most common car on Polish roads before the war. After the German invasion in 1939, production ended.It took more than 30 years for the Italians to renew Poland’s production license. The full-sized Polish Fiat 125p began rolling off the assembly lines of the Warsaw car company FSO in 1967.FSO had been looking for a successor to its Warszawa since 1965. Fiat’s 125, which could accommodate five people, seemed a good fit.FSO made some changes in the 125, however ? and that’s why it was dubbed the 125p. FSO used cheaper material in the body. In addition, the Polish car’s interior was changed.Still, the Polish Fiat was technically and stylistically advanced for the 1960s.The first models had 1,300 or 1,500 cubic-centimeter engines. Later on, a sports car version boasted a 2,000 cubic-centimeter engine.The Fiat 125p set a 25,000-kilometer speed record on an expressway from Wroclaw to another Polish city, Legnica, in the 1970s. The average speed was 138 kilometers per hour.Later the car set records for 30,000 miles and 50,000 kilometers that are still unbroken.Fiat 125p also took part in Monte Carlo and Safari rallies.To distinguish the 125p from the Maluch 126p, or small Fiat, it was nicknamed the Duzy Fiat, or Big Fiat. Other nicknames are the Bandit and the Kanciak. The name Bandit, or Bandzior, comes from what some people call its sleek, aggressive design ? one suitable for fast driving. Kanciak comes from the Polish word “kant,” or edge. That car got its name because the design contained many edges.Owning a Duzy Fiat meant you were somebody in Poland. You weren’t as important as the big shots who drove Volga’s but you had some status. There was for two reasons: first, you had to have a good chunk of money to buy a Fiat. And, second, you needed a special coupon to buy the car ? the coupons were available only to leading Communist Party members.Non-privileged Poles had to be satisfied with small people’s cars like the Maluch or the Syrena.  Roman Skwarek wrote in a handbook about the 125p in 1969 that “the cars will be destined for both the cold and tropical climate zones. All 125p cars will be ready for difficult conditions and their durability will be extended.” This was a clear sign that the Polish Fiat was to be exported.Adrian Agatowski, 24, of Belchatow, who is such a fan of the Duzy Fiat that he started a web site about it, said:  “I noticed once a surprising ad for a Fiat 125p with the steering wheel on the right side, characteristic for the UK.” Those who knew the history of the car would not have been surprised, however. Two-thirds of production during the early years of the Polish Fiat was sent abroad to pay for the license fees that the Italian parent required.Communist countries that imported the 125p included East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Yugoslavia. Britons knew the Polish Fiat as the cheapest car on the market ? about 3,000 pounds in 1991. They also knew it was a poor-quality car.Other Western countries which sold the Polish 125p included Ireland, France, Austria, Holland, Sweden and Finland.Many Third World countries bought the Polish Fiat as well. In fact, assembly lines to make the car were set up in Egypt and Colombia in 1973 and later in Thailand and Indonesia.FSO provided the overseas factories with large components, which were then snapped together ? much of the work stayed in Poland.Polish Fiat 125p fans contend that the best versions of the car were made before 1973.”I love the bandit?s car body ? it was aggressive,” Adrian said. “Early models on the Italian license had a lot of chrome, with shiny bumpers and wing mirrors.”The Fiat 125 designers used a lot of chrome and nickel, especially in the front of the car ? on the bumpers and door handles and around the headlights. The car had a stylish and tasteful interior, too.But the need to make the Polish Fiat cheaper meant that after 1973 plastic replaced metal trim and grillwork and decorative details disappeared from the inside.Duzy Fiat collectors consider the post-1972 versions, called the MR, rubbish.In 1983 the Italians refused to renew Poland’s license for the Duzy Fiat because of all the changes. But FSO kept making the car, changing its name to the FSO 125p. The Duzy Fiat assembly lines finally went silent in 1991 after Poland had produced 1.45 mln licensed and unlicensed cars.Several versions of the big Polish Fiat appeared during its manufacturing run. One was the Estate, introduced in 1972. It was big and sturdy, so it was modified into an ambulance car. It’s likely that some small hospitals are still using it.There were also pickup-truck versions of the Duzy Fiat, suitable for delivery use. The funniest version was the Dachshund. Two Estate cars were bolted together to give the Dachshund two extra doors and seats. The result was a kind of minibus.Some of the Dachshunds were made into convertibles and used to give tours of Warsaw. Unfortunately, not many of these peculiar vehicles have survived.In addition to a passenger car, the Duzy Fiat was used as a police car and a taxicab. In fact, its use as a taxi was immortalized in a hit TV comedy from the 1980s called “Zmiennicy.””One of the characters drove a yellow 125p cab, and every Polish kid remembers it,” Adrian said. For them the Duzy Fiat will always be a symbol of life during Poland’s Communist era.

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