Two-Cylinder: 1993 Polski Fiat 126p

Some cars become desirable because they are things of utter beauty, while others offer breath-taking performance. The Polski Fiat 126p became a sales success in Poland because the alternative to owning one of these usually involved walking everywhere…or staring at the back end of a horse. The reality was that the Polski was a pretty impressive little car that grew from humble roots. Polish winters are not renowned for being easy on vehicles, and the 126p proved up to the challenge. By the time that production finally ended in September of 2000, more than 3.3 million of these little beasts were plying Polish roads. Barn Finder Pat L spotted this absolute beauty for us, and I have to say thank you so much for that, Pat. It is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and has been listed for sale here on craigslist. The sale price has been set at $9,500.

Some car brands’ names roll off the tongue smoothly and almost seductively, but Fabryka Samochodow Malolitrazowych (FSM) rolls off the tongue like a brick. It was this company that produced the 126p under license between 1973 and 2000. There’s no mistaking its Fiat roots when you look at this little green classic’s shape. However, it does have one very notable advantage over its Fiat sibling. At the slightest sign of moisture or humidity, the Italian Fiat would begin to dissolve like a soluble aspirin. FSM undertook some re-engineering of the donor car to cope with the rigors of a Polish winter, using heavier-gauge steel of better quality. The result is a relatively resilient car and is not particularly prone to the rust problems that can plague a regular Fiat. This one does present very well, with paint that holds a pleasing shine. The front bumper’s fit is a bit odd on the upper edge, but I believe that a bit of adjusting and tweaking would fix that. There are no visible rust issues, while the trim and glass look to be in excellent condition. Cosmetically, it appears that this little car needs nothing.

The beating heart of this beast is a 652cc air-cooled 2-cylinder engine that produces 24hp. This rear-mounted powerhouse sends its ponies to the pavement via a 4-speed manual transaxle. You can always tell you are dealing with a classic from lower down the pecking order when you read the vehicle’s description. When the seller refers to a “4-speed manual transmission with reverse,” you can be pretty sure that this isn’t going to be a car that is loaded with mechanical sophistication. The power output is pretty modest, but a total vehicle weight of 1,323lbs is equally modest. The vehicle will cover the ¼ mile in 23.8 seconds, which isn’t fast, but it wasn’t what the 126p was all about. The Polish people needed a car that was both cheap to buy and cheap to run. The 126p fulfilled both criteria well and could easily achieve consumption figures beyond 45 mpg. This little Polski is in sound mechanical health. The engine was treated to a rebuild at the start of this year, and it is said to start easily and run well. I have included a walk-around video at the bottom of this article. You briefly hear the engine running, and it sounds extremely nice.

Life inside a 126p is pretty basic because the optional extras that we have become accustomed to in western cars had the words “Not Available” beside them on a Polski Order Sheet. What you got for your money was space to seat four people, a heater with a 2-speed fan, and 2-speed wipers. In this case, you also score an AM/FM radio/cassette player. Leaving the austere nature of the interior to one side, its condition looks to be extremely good. The cover on the passenger seat shows some stretching and minor wear, but I believe that an upholsterer might be able to fix this without resorting to a new cover. The carpet in the footwells shows some wear and fading, but it might be possible to clean and dye this to return it to its best. The alternative would be to replace it, and you might struggle to find a replacement carpet set in the USA. The rest of the interior is in good condition and would seem to need nothing.

I’ve made some pretty cheap jokes about the 1993 Polski Fiat 126p, and that probably isn’t fair of me to do that. For the people of Poland, the 126p was the right car in the right place at the right time. The early examples suffered some electrical weakness, but running changes that included a better battery and an increased charging capacity addressed these problems. They have proven to be incredibly robust, and the survival rate has been relatively high. They are a fantastic little car, and what they lack in outright performance is more than compensated for by the outgoing personality. I wouldn’t want to attempt a transcontinental journey in this car, but the owner says that it has easily traveled some significant distances since it arrived in the US at the start of this year. If you would like to own a little classic that will make you smile and put a smile on the face of everyone you meet, this could be just the car for you.

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Comments

  1. alphasud Member

    Cute car! Bring on the Abarth mods!

    Like 1
  2. OddBallCars Member

    I had one of these once and I will tell you they are a LOT of fun. They actually handle really well and believe it or not, with the weight and the gearing it scoots with those 24 ponies. A normal person can’t fit. But you can make it work. And it is worth it.

    Like 2
  3. Jerry

    $9,500??!!

    Like 2
    • princeofprussia

      Not a bad price for a superexotic with a blistering 24hp!

      Like 3
      • Jerry

        Ha, Ha!!

  4. Marc

    I owned 3 126 – 2 with 600 cc and one prototype 650.
    Attended several rally’s in Auto club in Radom and Kielce.
    Fun to drive – max speed on 600 – 70 mph and 650 with modified exhaust and carb aprox 85 mph top.
    First price of fiat 126 was 40.000 zlotych.
    On 650 I got 3.7 liters per 100 km –
    Which is 0.9 gallons / 65 miles

    Like 2
    • JERRY

      I bet u were holding on for your life going 85 in that thing! 😄
      Couldn’t have had the best suspension!

      Like 1
      • Mark

        You are correct
        Front suspension and front hub bearing was good maybe 5000 km
        But I purchased German bearings –
        This car was used in Argentina and Brazil rally’s by Sobieslaw Zasada really school driver . He was my instructor /
        After that I purchased Trabant and after that Fiat 227

  5. Willowen Member

    I’ve been mooning over the Fiat 500s that keep popping up on that other site, because that’s what my first car was (bought in Alaska my second winter there!), and I’ve kinda sorta wanted another for some time … but 490-some CCs and 17 hp is a tad hopeless here in SoCal, even around town, so I’ve gravitated toward the ones with the 126 engine. THIS, however, has both the better engine and a stouter build, and I even prefer the updated looks.

    Now my only problem (aside from money and stuff) is not finding one but sneaking it into the garage without HER noticing. So I guess I’ll just have to wish some more …

    Like 1
    • Mark

      Question is: you can purchase here parts for 126?????
      If I can make suggestion :
      Please look at 850 spider
      Or 124 fiat or Lancia beta
      Still parts available
      With 126 – I’m not sure here in USA . I can give you contacts in Poland

      • Elanguy

        If someone is worried about parts, just call up Chris Obert at Fiat Plus and check out the situation. Probably no problem.

    • Jerry

      Why would u want one?
      In a survey of initial quality of the 30 top auto manufacturers a few years agi FIAT came in dead LAST at #30!
      Most of the Chrysler products (which Fiat owns) were in the bottom 5 also…….I have to admit though I like the Challenger and 300 which are almost the same car underneath, both with the Charger r made in the Bramptin Ontario Canada plant.

  6. Willowen

    Mark – Fiat parts are fairly easily available in Italy, and there is apparently a fairly active trade in them. I’ve had luck over the years getting parts for my various Alfas from Europe and the UK, and in many cases the prices even with customs and shipping have been competitive. We have some shops here in SoCal that can do what work I can’t, too. Some of them are actually honest and reasonable … !

  7. Pietro

    The 126 greatly represents the Fiat industrial philosophy during the 70’s: lesser efforts to achieve the highest profit results. The idea was to make a little bit squared the 500 lines without any real improvements. That was also possible thanks to a market protection policy trying to keep out the European and Japanese competitors. Anyway 126 was a big success indeed. For a longer number of years the Polish 126 was sold in Italy the last ones rolled out of the eastern factory. Beside the quite good sales figures 126 never succeeded to be as iconic as the Fiat 500 was (and still is) in the soul of many people in and outside Italy.

  8. Willowen Member

    Oh, Jerry … I love the heck out of Consumer Reports, but almost all of my favorite cars have been labelled as unreliable losers at one time or another, my elderly Suby Forester being the one big exception. My take is that a reliable car is one whose needs and shortcomings I understand and can fix if necessary, or know a good shop that can. That attitude got two of us across half the US in an elderly Austin Mini wagon almost fifty years ago. FWIW, our other cars are both Alfas, mine an ’87 Milano and my wife’s a ’17 Giulia. Look those up for CR ratings! We’re keeping them anyway.

    Like 2
  9. JoeNYWF64

    Ridiculous intruding wheel wells inside the car. Hard to add a couple more feet forward of the firewall?

    Like 1
  10. Jerry

    I didn’t say it was Consumer Reports, I don’t remember who did the survey but I don’t think it was Consumer Reports.

    • Joe Elliott

      The point is that an “initial quality” survey conducted at a time when the Fiat brand’s US product line consisted entirely of one model built in a Mexican Chrysler plant has about as little relevance to a 126 built under license in Poland in the ‘90s as one could imagine. Apples and oranges, as the saying goes. (Also note the definition of “initial quality”—it’s about dealer visits in the first several months of ownership—so extrapolating it to pass judgment on a used car is especially inappropriate, and bringing it up with respect to a vintage car is downright laughable.)

      • Jerry

        Fiat made more than one model when the survey was done but it doesn’t matter.
        Anyone who knows anything about cars knows Fiats are NOT known for their reliability….period!

      • Jerry

        One more thing Joe……if a car isn’t reliable when its new do u really think its gonna be reliable when its a “vintage car” as u call it? So the initial quality is VERY relevant!
        I worked at a Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge/Ram/Fiat dealer for 3 years when they sold the Fiat 500. It was junk, terrible shifting trans, noisy, very cheap plastic (but colorful) interiors that fell apart and broke ect…….

      • Joe Elliott

        Well, I’ve never worked in a dealership or bought a brand-new car, so what could I possibly know about ‘initial quality?’ Well, I’ve owned an Alfa, a Ferrari, and a Ferrari-powered Fiat, none of which ever left me by the side of the road or failed to start (i.e. 100% reliable by my [correct] definition of the word), and which don’t require any more unscheduled maintenance than my BMW or my Porsche, regardless of what ‘initial quality’ surveys might imply. I’m also a licensed mechanical engineer who designs airplanes for a living, so I’m intimately familiar with the crucial distinction between what’s a quality control shortcoming vs. what can be traced to a design flaw, and how those different types of failure tend to manifest themselves over the life of a complex engineered product. I don’t realistically expect a lay audience reading blog comments to understand that distinction or to have ever seen a histogram showing when quality control problems are most likely to occur in the life of a component (hint: the plot peaks very early in the component lifetime), but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that having to make multiple unscheduled dealer visits for a sticky trunk latch or inop courtesy light in a brand-new car doesn’t really correlate in any way to whether the vehicle is reliable for that owner, or its second owner, or someone like me who chooses to drive a 30-yr-old car to work. But I would like to think that anyone who’s worked in a dealership understands that if your lazy/unskilled/poorly-trained technician requires multiple attempts to troubleshoot and fix a customer’s problem while the tech at the Honda store down the street resolves a similar issue in the first visit, that’s what makes or breaks your product’s ranking in an ‘initial quality’ survey. So, to answer your question–a car that’s genuinely unreliable when new may or may not prove to be reliable later in life, depending on whether it suffered more from quality control issues vs. design flaws–but whether it’s genuinely unreliable when new is largely unrelated to silly ‘initial quality’ surveys that don’t even bother to make a distinction between an unreliable car that makes two dealer visits via tow truck or a relatively reliable car that makes two dealer visits because a lazy technician couldn’t cure a squeaky belt the first time. So while Americans who “know anything about cars” smugly carry on extrapolating their unkind ’70s stereotypes vis-a-vis Fiat quality control, you’ll have to forgive those of us who know a little more about cars (and/or a maintain a slightly different set of cultural biases re: automobiles) if we don’t refer to back-issues of Consumer Reports when making our vintage-car-buying decisions. But we would like to thank you for all that you do to keep resale values of Italian cars artificially low in this country, so that we can afford to enjoy them after someone else has gone through the hassle of getting that squeaky belt resolved by an inadequately-trained service department! (Seriously, though: if you’re referring to *present-day* JD Power or CR surveys while considering the purchase of a 25-yr-old car, just stop; you’re probably not cut out for maintaining a vintage car.)

  11. Araknid78

    big step up from the 500 it replaced

  12. FOG

    Been reading some of the diatribe on this car. My wife just bought a 1967 CONY for me to put back on the road. I believe every motorhead should have at least one mini vehicle in their collection.

  13. KKW

    OK, so how many “you know who’s” does it take to change a light bulb in one?

  14. Jerry

    Good point about the lazy/bad tech, didn’t think about that aspect.
    But FIATS have had a bad rep since the 60s so I think its a little more than that.
    Thanks for the input…..I’m out.

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