Polish PRL-era Automobiles | The 'Maluch'

19 Mar 2020
Like the Czech Škoda and the East German Trabant, the Polish Maluch has served several purposes during its lifetime; a Godsend for families behind the Iron Curtain, source of amusement for smirking foreigners and now, as a cult icon for nostalgics. Through the years Polish exports have won world acclaim, from expertly cut glass to dangerously delicious vodka, so this flimsy tin deathtrap on wheels is something of an unlikely hero of Polish engineering. Manufactured between 1973 and 2000 in Bielsko-Biała and Tychy, the car was produced under the Italian Fiat license with its official title being the ‘Polish Fiat 126p’. Its diminutive size earned it the moniker of 'Maluch' (Little One), a name so widely used that the manufacturers officially re-christened the brand in 1997.

When first produced in June 1973 it was priced at 69,000zł (approximately three times the average annual wage), and became the first popular family car in Poland, despite being the size of a small refrigerator. Throughout communist times the car could only be purchased by joining a lengthy waiting list, though diligent workers would often be rewarded with special vouchers allowing them to jump the queue. Though production came to a halt in 2000, the surprisingly reliable cars have achieved a remarkable staying power, and you’ll still find scores of them coughing smoke as they zip around Polish cities. Today a used Maluch retails for only about 500zł, so there's little stopping you from becoming a proud owner yourself. Rather bizarrely, Oscar winning actor Tom Hanks even has a liking for them, following a visit to Budapest in 2016, he added a photo of himself in a Maluch to Twitter - it went viral, and a local from Bielsko-Biała in Silesia saw it, starting a charity campain for a local children's hospital, called 'Bielsko-Biała dla Toma Hanksa' (Bielsko-Biała for Tom Hanks) to buy a Maluch and have it sent to him in the U.S. It worked, and he received it in 2017.


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