There are things that people associate with Poland. Some may think about skiing and the mountains, others associate Poland with good food and strong beer while others may think about Nazi occupation and death camps. However, there is something people may not always immediately think of when they hear or read about Poland, yet, it is possibly one of the most typical produces this country has to offer, the Fiat 126p or simply “Maluch”.
For Poles, the Maluch (little one) is what the Lada is to the Russians or the Trabant to the east-Germans. An icon of “Polishness”, many Poles can share their very own experiences and memories of the Maluch. For most Poles, a tiny car they learned to love and adore, for tourists and visitors an attraction, the Maluch keeps running and running and the cult around the tiny car is growing bigger and bigger.
The very first Maluch was assembled in Poland on the 6th of June 1973 using Italian parts. The original design was made and presented in Italy in 1972, however, one year later the Fiat 126p was presented in Warsaw and manufacturing began at the plant in Bielsko-Biała and from 1975 in Tychy. Production in Poland was the result of a contract “on industrial cooperation and licensing for small car 126”, concluded by the Polish authorities with Fiat on the 29th of October 1971. At the time, the Fiat 126p was designed as a compact car with rear-wheel drive, two-cylinder engine capacity of 594cm3 and maximum of 23 horsepower.
One of the reasons for the Maluch’s popularity was its price. At the time, the Fiat 126p retailed at 69,000 Zlotych, the equivalent of 160,000 PLN today. It also received very positive reviews, even by western media. Germany’s “Auto, Motor and Sport” Magazine, for example, branded the Maluch Europe’s cheapest car to buy and maintain in the small car category.
Over the years, the Maluch went through several enhancement stages such as in 1977 when the engine size was increased to 652cm3. The last modifications took place in 1999, which saw the addition of headrests for backseat passengers.
The last Fiat 126p – Maluch left the production hall in autumn 2000. The last cars went to the Fiat Museum in Turin as well as the Museum of Technology in Warsaw. In total, between 1973 and 2000, over 3.3 million Maluch were produced in the manufacturing plants in Bielsko-Biała and Tychy. Over 900,000 of these were exported to destinations all over the world. Between 1885 and 1989, over 25,000 Maluch were exported to China were they were, more often than not, operated as taxis. In the Chinese city of Wengzhou alone, over 5000 Maluch cars were used as taxis.
Today, already antique versions of the Maluch tend to be an object of desire for collectors. Two years ago, in Piotrków Trybunalski, an original, almost straight from the factory, copy of the Fiat 126p built in 1979 was presented to the media. The owner kept the car in the garage with plastic film still covering the seats and only 101 kilometers on the meter. It was sold at auction for 260,000 PLN.
Annual parades and meetings in honor of the tiny car take place in various cities and towns across Poland. There are fan clubs, clubs that specialize in re-building or tuning Maluchs which are “a bit out of shape” and international buyers from across Europe call themselves proud owners of the cult icon the Fiat 126p has become.
A truly remarkable little car that keeps running and winning over the hearts of millions.