The Cinquecento is an icon of Italian retro style. Named after the displacement of its tiny two-cylinder air-cooled engine, it was produced in huge numbers from 1957 until 1975. However, not many people know about its successor, the Fiat 126, and its “Polski” version that kept a whole Eastern European country moving.
Easter Germany had the Trabant. Russia had Lada and Volga. Meanwhile, Poland had the “Polski Fiat”, this 126p. Still based on the 500’s platform, it had a boxy shape, partly because it needed more rear-seat space, but also because this was popular in the 1970s.
The original 126 was one of the first city cars ever designed. At just 1.4 meters wide, it was 28cm or 11 inches narrower than a Smart car. This was not a lot of space to squeeze four people into. So how did it end up as the most popular car in Poland at a time when it was still under communist rule?
Fiat had ties with a number of governments and offered its models to be produced under license. The famous Lada model was a copy of the Fiat 124 that was assembled in the Eastern Block. Zastava in Yugoslavia produced the Fiat 600. The famous Yugo also used Fiat 128 parts.
In the 70s, a new president came to power in Poland and he wanted to increase personal transportation. A deal was struck with the Italian automaker where the Polski Fiat 126p would be made locally. Production began in 1973, initially with imported parts.
Poland’s buyers were eager to enjoy the freedom a car could bring them and often waited a couple of years for their 126p to be delivered. It was slow, of course, with the tiny engine producing only 24 horsepower. It’s been reported that reaching 60 miles per hour took something like 40 seconds.
As you’re probably aware, Tom Hanks used to own a Polski Fiat 126p. The little city car was fully restored with a leather interior and sold for $83,500 at auction earlier this year. But for me, the most famous 126p owner is Mat Watson of Carwow, who bought one over 3 years ago.
The modern Abarth treatment
Simple, mass-produced cars make great renderings because plenty of people were stuck in traffic wishing their Dacia, Lada or crappy Nissan had a big turbocharged engine. The Polski Fiat never got a performance version like its predecessor, the Abarth-tuned 500. While many people created their own tuned 126 track cars, this one is firmly fixed to the digital world.
Artist PistonZero generated a digital widebody Polski Fiat that we bet plenty of fans of the car will like. Every component has been aggressively modified, starting with the chassis. This obviously has an all-new independent suspension bolted to a tubular frame. The track tires are barely engulfed by a widebody kit, while extra downforce is generated by the aero package.
The engine compartment remains sealed, but we have a couple of ideas about potential engine swaps. When talking about rear-engined cars like Fiats and VW Beetles, you’ve either got a huge budget for an air-cooled Porsche engine or just go for the Subaru turbo-4.