Warsaw

Polish PRL-era Automobiles | The 'Maluch'

23 Apr 2021
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 plenty of them zipping around PL's cities and villages, coughing up smoke as they go.
Maluch spotted in Kraków's Nowa Huta district, March 2021.

When we first wrote about the Maluch circa 2005, it was possible to buy one for as little as 500zł, as few people wanted them. Today, however, they've become collector's items and a well-kept Maluch goes for at least 4,000zł, hitting the tens of thousands for rebuilt models. Among their fans and admirers, the Maluch can count Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks, who, following a visit to Budapest in 2016, added a photo of himself in a Maluch to Twitter. It went viral, of course, and a local from Bielsko-Biała - where the car was originally manufactured - started a charity campain for a local children's hospital, called 'Bielsko-Biała dla Toma Hanksa' (Bielsko-Biała for Tom Hanks) with the dual goal of buying a Maluch and sending it to Hanks in the U.S. It worked, and he received the car in 2017 (see the video below).
 

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