Polski Fiat 126p
FSM (Polski Fiat 126p, 1973-1992)
Fiat Auto Poland (1992-2000)
|Also called||Zastava 126|
|Body and chassis|
|Class||City car (A)|
3-door hatchback (PF 126p Bis)
594 cc Straight-2|
652 cc Straight-2
704 cc Straight-2
|Wheelbase||1,840 mm (72.4 in)|
|Length||3,054 mm (120.2 in)|
|Width||1,378 mm (54.3 in)|
|Height||1,302 mm (51.3 in)|
|Curb weight||580–619 kilograms (1,279–1,365 lb)|
The Fiat 126 (Type 126) is a rear-engined, small economy or city car, introduced in October 1972 at the Turin Auto Show as a replacement for the Fiat 500. The majority of 126s were produced in Bielsko-Biała, Poland, as the Polski Fiat 126p, where production continued until year 2000. In many markets Fiat stopped sales of the 126 in 1993 in favour of their new front-engined Cinquecento. At a vehicle length of 3.05 metres, the Fiat 126 is almost exactly the same size as the original British Mini, and although it came to market 14 years later, production ended in the same year (2000), and its total sales of almost 4.7 million units were in close range of the Mini's 5.4 million. In Poland the car became a cultural icon and earned the nickname Maluch, meaning "The Little One" or "Toddler".
The 126 used much of the same mechanical underpinnings and layout as its Fiat 500 rear-engined predecessor with which it shared its wheelbase, but featured an all new bodyshell resembling a scaled-down Fiat 127, also enhancing safety.
Engine capacity was increased from 594 cc to 652 cc at the end of 1977 when the cylinder bore was increased from 73.5 to 77 mm. Claimed power output was unchanged at 23 hp (17 kW), but torque was increased from 39 N⋅m (29 lb⋅ft) to 43 newton metres (32 lb⋅ft). The 594 cc engines were still available in early 1983 production.
A subsequent increase took the engine size to 704 cc in new "restyling" model Fiat 126 Bis (1987–1991), with 26 hp (19 kW) of motive power.
Despite clever marketing, the 126 never achieved the frenzied popularity of the 500 in Western Europe. The total number of 126 produced is: 1,352,912 in Italy, 3,318,674 in Poland, 2,069 in Austria, and an unknown number in Yugoslavia. For a brief period in the early 1990s, a German company called POP also offered convertible versions of the 126 BIS. Two models were offered: a lesser equipped one called the "POP 650" and a more luxurious model called the "POP 2000".
Polski Fiat 126p
In Poland, the car was produced under licence by Fabryka Samochodów Małolitrażowych (FSM) in Bielsko-Biała and Tychy under the brand Polski Fiat 126p (literally in English: Polish Fiat 126p) between 1973 and 2000.
Due to a relatively low price it was very popular in Poland and was arguably the most popular car there in the 1980s. Its very small size gave it the nickname maluch ("the small one","small child", pronounced [ˈmalux]). The nickname became so popular that in 1997 it was accepted by the producer as the official name of the car.
At first it was almost identical with the basic model: differences included a higher chassis, a modified grille on the back, and the front indicator lenses that were clear white in Italy but orange in other markets. To distinguish it from the original Italian car, the letter "p" was added to its name.
Throughout the 1980s the 126p was continuously modified. First it received upgraded brakes and new wheels from Italian Fiat, then hazard warning lights were added to meet new lighting requirements.
In 1984, the 126 received a facelift, giving it plastic bumpers (for all versions) and a new dashboard. This model was named the Fiat 126p FL. In 1985 a single rear fog light and reversing light (on opposite sides) were added to the standard plastic bumpers; an electronic ignition system and alternator replaced the undersized generator in around 1987. In 1994, the 126p received another facelift, and some parts from the Fiat Cinquecento; this version was named 126 EL. The 126 ELX introduced a catalytic converter.
In 1987 the 126 Bis went into production, featuring a water-cooled 704 cc engine of Polish construction. However, the original model continued to be produced for the Polish market.
The factory battery in 126p had only a 35 Amp-hour capacity, which, combined with undersized generator, resulted in the car never having a fully charged battery unless driven for an extended time. Some owners upgraded to a 45 Amp-hour battery from the Fiat 125p (1.5 Liter engine) to improve the cold start reliability.
The 126p was exported to many Eastern Bloc countries and for several years it was one of the most popular cars in Poland and in Hungary as well. It also found a minor market in Australia between 1989 and 1992, under the name FSM Niki. During that period it was Australia's cheapest car. There was a convertible version developed for the Australian market.
Throughout the 1980s, there were several experimental prototypes developed in Poland. A cargo version called "Bombel" (literally "bubble", but also a colloquial term for "small child") because of its fibreglass bubble-shaped cargo area; an off-road version propelled by caterpillar tracks and a front wheel drive, front engined model, with a longer front end and a flat cargo area in the rear where the original 126 had its engine. The rear of this prototype was similar to the 126 Bis which also had a rear hatch for accessing a cargo space created by mounting its flat water-cooled engine under the floor.
There was also an attempt at installing a small diesel engine (due to gasoline rationing) in the classic 126p body. It is also a popular platform for electric engine and motorcycle engine swaps.
History of PF 126p
- 1972 – the FSM car factory was built in Bielsko-Biała.
- 6 June 1973 – the first Polski Fiat 126p constructed from Italian parts. The official price was 69,000 Polish złotys with PKO Bank Polski accepting pre-payments on savings books starting 5 February 1973.
- 22 July 1973 – the official opening of the factory's production line (by the end of that year over 1500 Fiats were manufactured).
- September 1975 – production started in a factory in Tychy.
- 1977 – engine capacity increased from 594 cc to 652 cc. Engine power increased to about 24 horsepower (18 kW).
- 1978 – production of types with engine capacity 594 cc ended.
- 1979 – production of Polski Fiat 126p continued only in Bielsko-Biała.
- 1981 – 1,000,000th Polski Fiat 126p produced.
- December 1984 – technical changes in the construction and body. Type FL introduced.
- 1987 – beginning of the production of the water-cooled Polski Fiat 126p Bis version – a three-door hatchback with 704 cc capacity.
- May 1993 – 3,000,000th Polish Fiat 126p produced.
- September 1994 – body improvement, creating type "el" with parts similar to those used in Fiat Cinquecento.
- January 1997 – introduction of a catalytic converter.
- 22 September 2000 – production ended after a production run of 3,318,674 units. All Fiats of the last limited Happy End series were yellow or red (500 cars in red and 500 cars in yellow).
The global production of this amiable car was 4,673,655 units: 1,352,912 in Italy, 2,069 in Austria by Fiat-Steyr and 3,318,674 in Poland.
The PF 126p has special meaning for Poles and its story had a connection with Polish politics during the communist period (Polish People's Republic, up to 1989). During the absolute rule of the PZPR, a private car was considered a luxury item, due to limited availability and low salaries. In 1971 there were only 556,000 passenger cars in Poland. In a top-down planned economy, decisions on whether a state-owned factory could produce a car were taken on political and not just economic grounds. The authorities themselves initially did not find the idea of private cars attractive. The first relatively cheap Polish car was the Syrena, but it was outdated and its production was limited. Limited numbers of cars were also imported from other Eastern Bloc countries. It was difficult to buy a western car because the Polish złoty, like other currencies in communist states, was not convertible to western funds and there was no free market in the country.
Thus, the PF 126p was intended to be the first real, popular and affordable car, to provide mobility for ordinary families. The licence was bought after the rise to power of a new PZPR leader, Edward Gierek, who wanted to gain popular favour by increasing consumer spending after the austerity period under Władysław Gomułka. Despite the fact that it was a very small city car, it was the only choice for most families, fulfilling the role of a family car. During holidays, it was common to see families of four driving PF-126s abroad with huge suitcases on a roof rack; sightings of PF-126s towing a small Niewiadów N126 caravan especially designed for the PF 126 were also occasionally reported. PF 126p production, however, was not sufficient and the PF 126p was on sale with a waiting list. Usually families had to wait a couple of years to buy a car. A coupon for a car could also be given by the authorities based on merit.
In Poland it is called Maluch, which literally means "small one" or toddler, as well as mały Fiat ("small Fiat"), in contrast to Fiat 125p, called duży Fiat ("big Fiat"). In some regions, it is also called Kaszlak literally "cougher" (derived from kaszel meaning "cough", as its engine's sound resembles a cough when it is started).
In Hungarian, it is known as kispolszki ("Little Polish", while the 125p is the nagypolszki, meaning "Big Polish"), kispolák ("Little Pole") or kispók ("Little spider"); also, the car was nicknamed egérkamion, meaning "a mouse's truck".
In Germany the Fiat 126 was known as the Bambino, the Italian word for child.
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