The Polish Fiat 126p is now 35 years old and can still be seen on the streets of Poland. The ?Maluch,? meaning ?little one,? as it is fondly referred to by Poles, is a car that seems immortal — a legend that accompanied Poles during their difficult social changes.
It began in 1972, when Fiat 126p was introduced in Turin as a successor of Fiat 500. Actually a lot of big car companies (Volkswagen, Citroen, Renault) competed in orders to sell a small, cheap car to the communist Poland, continuously sending the nation prototypes of different cars. Fiat won, as its offer was the most advantageous. Poland could pay for the license, to produce Polish Fiat 126p, in spare parts manufactured in Poland and sent to Italy. The new communist authorities appearing in the 1970s, wanting to gain popularity, took huge amounts of loans from abroad. This allowed some investments and the cheap car, nicknamed ?a car for Kowalski?, (a common Polish surname akin to Smith) was in fact one of them.
From the moment of its introduction, the Maluch became an object of desire and envy among the whole society of Poland. In 1972 it cost around 68 thousand zloty, while the average pay was around 3-4 thousand zloty per month. Even despite this, it was easier to buy and cheaper to drive than older and bigger cars like Warszawa or Fiat 125p. It was within an average person?s reach. Of course it was impossible to buy a Maluch or any other vehicle simply from a car dealer. Throughout the 1970s, one needed a special coupon, ?talon?, to buy a car. They, of course, were distributed mostly among those who were well-deserved members of the leading communist party.
Of course one could buy a car with U.S. dollars. The situation changed in the 1980s, when a limited number of cars went on ?normal? sale. Those who had enough money could sign for a special lottery, pay monthly rates for the car they did not actually have yet and wait to be drawn.
Maluch was originally designed as a 4-person car, with two types of engines: a 594 and 652 cm3. The car was produced in Tychy and Bielsko-Biala, in south of Poland, and for a short time in Italy. Maluch has two doors and the engine is located at the back, leaving no access to the inside from the back. It has a maximum speed of 105 km/h, though not many drivers were brave enough to achieve it. In 1985, the number of cars manufactured reached about 2 mln. There was also a version called Bis, which had a 700 cm3 engine (1987-1991), and even a convertible version. After 28 years, the production of the Fiat 126p finally ended in 2000, with the last, limited yellow edition, dubbed ?happy end?. The last car went to the Fiat museum in Turin.
During its long existence, Maluch meant something more than just a car. Wojciech Pojasek who is now 54, recalls Fiat 126p as a symbolic meaning of social promotion
?It is hard to recall myself driving such a small car. But I know that when my wife and I bought our first Maluch, it did not seem to be small. It was just big enough and much more comfortable than Trabant (a model manufactured in the German Democratic Republic) or the Syrena.? He tells a story of him building his house in 1987 ? ?I used Maluch to bring nearly everything to the building site, like central heating boiler which weighed 200 kilograms or even a front door. It must have looked extremely funny ? that little car carrying a door on its top ? but it is certainly true!?
In fact, luggage carrier capabilities of Maluch became legendary. It does not have a real trunk at all. The engine is placed at the back, so it has only a very little luggage space under the hood.
Every single Fiat 126p though, was equipped with a roof rack ? this is how Wojciech was able to carry a door. Another person, who is now 86 says: ?I remember once my wife and I were driving on a little trip to the forest in our cute, white Maluch. We took almost each of our grandkids ? there were six of them sitting in the back!? The Fiat 126p was able to prove many things seeming impossible from the outside. In Szczecin (Northern Poland) in 1978, there was a contest called ?I push the Fiat myself!? ? the winner pushed his Maluch a full kilometer in 3 min. 47 sec., with average speed of 10 km per hour. There is a long list of stories and jokes about Maluch, some of them similar to jokes about VW Beetle and other small cars. (Including the one about the number of elephants you could put inside Maluch.)
Boris Chomski from Hamburg, writes on his web site on Maluch?s topic, ?there were models breaking down once a day. It needs a lot of patience and skills to fix Maluch, and it is not the cheapest means of entertainment. Now it is a car only for real freaks. In a few years it will disappear from our streets completely and then we?re all gonna miss the characteristic sound of its engine.?
Maluch originally did not have a single electronic part, so an amateur could grasp the mechanic structure of the car completely. Most Poles fixed their little cars themselves.
Does Maluch have any future in Poland? Now it seems to be rather something for collectors and motorization hobbyists. Or else ? it should be, but the continuingly huge number of Fiat 126p?s that can be found on Polish streets show the life of the infamous ?tool for driving? (as some people used to call it) is not going to end soon.
The disappearance of Maluch is not that near yet. 21-year-old, Wojciech Gut, from Glogow Malopolski (a small town near Ukrainian border) owned a Maluch for three years because it was the cheapest possible means of transportation, while still being a car.
?I bought it for 200 zloty (50 euro). Frankly I hated the little bastard and I am happy to drive Opel Corsa now,? he says.
Unfortunately, it must be added that it is definitely much safer to drive even a 15-year-old VW Golf, which is extremely popular in Poland, than our funny, little ?can?, ?pip?, or whatever you would like to call it. All in all, the place of the Maluch truly belongs in the museum.