Polish Fiat 126p sees unlikely Cuban revival | News | DW | 11.08.2016
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Polish Fiat 126p sees unlikely Cuban revival

The Polish-made hatchback - the Fiat 126p - is not what you might expect to see on Cuba's roads. But as the island nation opens itself up to Western tourists, one relic of the Cold War will surprise many.

Cuba is perhaps an unlikely home to one of Poland's most cherished artifacts from its communist days, the so-called 'Maluch' - the little one - but a home and a flourishing one it is.

Made by Fiat in Poland since the 1970s, the car is barely seen on Polish roads these days, but an estimated 10,000 "Polskis" - as the locals calls them - are registered in Cuba, according to aficionados.

The island nation's many amateur mechanics have been equipping their 'Polskis' with stronger suspensions, more powerful motors, even high-end sound systems and upholstery.

"2016 has been the year of the Fiat Polski 126p," Hendy Coba, president of Friends of the Car, an officially sanctioned Havana car owners club, told the news agency AP.

Thousands of others can be seen around Cuba, overshadowed by the 1950s American giants, known as almendrones, and even by the rattling Ladas and Moskvitches imported from the Soviet Union.

The car was produced under license from the Italian automotive company Fiat, which had built cars in Poland before the war. The communist Polish government revived these ties in the early 1960s.

The FSO factory in Warsaw started producing the Polski Fiat 125p sedan in 1967 and manufactured it, under different names, until 1991. The 125p was still a relatively modern vehicle vehicle in the second half of the 1960s and was to substitute the Warszawa, which by that time was an obsolete design.

But the 125p was deemed too large for many Polish motorists' needs - and a smaller design was called for. Enter the Fiat 126 - a tiny replacement for Fiat's venerable, and even tinier, 500. It went on sale in Italy in 1972 - with an agreement a Polish version would soon follow.

The Polski Fiat 126p was almost identical to the Italian model, and the first one rolled off the assembly line in 1973. It stayed in production until 2000, by which time, 3.3 million units of this vehicle had been produced, 2.4 million of them for the Polish market.

The original 126p was never widely exported from Poland into other socialist bloc countries, but that didn't stop Cuba from gaining a large number of them, starting in the 1970s.

Powered by a straight-two engine ranging in displacement from 594 cc to a whopping 704 cc, the 126p doesn't need a lot of gas or a lot of maintenance.

The 126p remains one of the most affordable cars on the island, and its running costs remain low due to solid engineering and thrifty engines. After the VAZ 2105, the Polski Fiat 126p is probably the most common Fiat derivative in the country.

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