3 April 2014

Poland has its place in auto history

Overseas: Manufacturer that built some of globe’s most intriguing models continues to produce today

The Polish auto manufacturer Fabryka Samochodów Osobowych (FSO), which literally translates as Factory of Passenger Cars, was located in Warsaw.

It began building cars under licence in 1951; the first car was the Soviet GAZ-M20, which it called the Warszawa.

An in-house team of engineers led by Karol Pionnier began developing a small car for The People in 1953. The Syrena 100 (named after the famous statue of the mermaid at the bank of the Vistula River) was unveiled at the 1955 Poznan International Fair and went into production in 1957.

Over the next 26 years, more than half a million of these two- and three-cylinder, smoke-belching, two-stroke-engined cars moved the Polish masses.

It was rather similar to the East German Trabant and had the same production life span, except more than three million Trabants were built.

The Syrena 100 to 104 models were fitted with suicide doors and were nicknamed Zajacowka or Rabbit Catcher. The suicide doors configuration turned out to be useful and used to catch the occasional family meal, a stray rabbit or chicken, or so the legend has it.

After the Syrena, FSO went back to building cars from other manufacturers, including the Fiat 125 called the Polski Fiat, the Daewoo and toward the end of Britain’s car industry, there was talk of building the MG Rover in Poland.

Today, FSO continues to build cars under licence and produces the Chevrolet Aveo.

The 1960 Serena Sport would have satisfied the dreams of an affordable Polish sports car but the government would not allow it. They felt it too extravagant and issued an order to halt any production and that was the end of the ‘Polish Corvette.’

It was a car many Western journalists considered the most beautiful car built behind the Iron Curtain.

When the factory test driver Joseph Miachalik floored the 750-cc four-cycle, two-cylinder boxer engine prototype, he was amazed it could reach a speed of 120 km/h. The one-off prototype was hidden away in a research facility until the early ’70s.

The government ordered it destroyed and sent an envoy of officials to see that the order was carried out.

1 Reader Comment

  • 1
    Paul Wilson Fairfield, VA September 10, 2015 at 18:09
    When I was in Poland in 1992-3, every big apartment block had a couple of inert, abandoned "Syrenkas" (diminutive form of Syrena) in front of it. They looked sort of like the cars in Sol Steinberg's famous New York picture--head-down, demoralized. A Polish friend told of catastrophic family vacations where the car collapsed, grabbing all the time and money they'd planned to spend on the beach. The problems were often poor-quality cooling hoses and other trivial items. In some ways, the design was advanced. This summer, a Syrena pickup truck (restored better than new) was displayed in the Warsaw airport. I thought it was very cool.

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