FSO Polonez – Polish (in)famous car

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The FSO Polonez is a lower medium class passenger car produced by a Polish company. The first example left the Warsaw factory in 1978, but work on the vehicle had already begun much earlier. The first plans to create a successor for the Fiat 125p were already made at the end of 1972. 2 years later, agreements were signed with Fiat, which described the details of cooperation in the design of the car, the prototype of which became known as 125PN (PN – Polacco Nuova, which meant “Polish New” in Italian).

In 1976, the first car was delivered to Poland, assembled in Italy, while the factories in Poland were being expanded and developed. A year later, another 7 copies arrived. Since it had not been decided at that time what the vehicle would be called and production had already started in May 1978, the first units were called Polski 1300/1500 depending on the power unit used. The currently known name was chosen as a result of a poll conducted by the readers of “Życie Warszawy”.


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It should come as no surprise that in reality, the FSO Polonez was a Fiat 125p with a more modern and slightly larger body. Apart from that, Polonez was also slightly better equipped and safety issues were significantly improved, while only some mechanical components were modernized. Already after the start of Polonez production, it was planned to introduce a modern range of engines, but this did not happen. Instead, they tried to modernize the already outdated designs used in the 125p. Polonez was available only as a 5-door hatchback.


Although in retrospect the Polonez was a very outdated car, in one area it had an advantage even over western production – standard equipment. Most of the extras that you had to pay extra for in a BMW or Mercedes, the FSO Polonez had as standards, such as a tachometer, rear window heater, halogen headlights or adjustable steering column. Due to its appearance in the TV series “07 zgłoś się”, versions of the Polonez until 1987 earned the nickname “Borewicz”.


Between 1979 and 1981 the Polonez 3-door version was produced. The removal of the rear doors made the body more rigid It uses longer doors, different rear side windows and an additional spoiler on the tailgate.  About 300 were produced, of which about 8 have survived to this day.  In turn, a few dozen copies of the Coupe version were produced in 1981 and 1983. 


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In 1983, a modernized Polonez entered production – it had a rubber spoiler on the tailgate, an air-intake on the hood, new plastic hubcaps, a second leaf in the rear spring was added, and the engines got electronic ignition. 2 years later, more changes were made. 


Another facelift took place in 1986 (MR’86) and 1987 (MR’87). The first time, an extra window was added at the C-pillar, which greatly improved visibility, and the car earned the nickname “aquarium”. The following year, the rubber spoiler was ditched in favour of ribbing on the tailgate.


In 1989, a so-called adapter appeared, which was distinguished by a new tailgate extending to the bumper and composite rear lights, both of which were used on the later Caro version. From 1978 onwards, the Polonez could be powered by 1.3, 1.5 and 1.6-litre engines, which generated 60, 65, 75, 82 or 87 HP. In addition, short-run 2-litre 105 engines were also fitted (from Ford in 1990; interestingly, this required a minor interior change, as previously the gear stick had protruded at an angle from the dashboard centre console.


In 1991, the FSO Polonez Caro made its debut.  It differed from its predecessor mainly in the relatively modern body but above all meet the safety requirements of the time.  In total, nearly 300 modifications were made, but mechanically the car was very similar to the one from the beginning of production.


In 1993, the first facelift of the Caro was made. First of all, the suspension has been upgraded by increasing the track width by 59 mm, which has significantly increased the stability of the car.  In turn, the characteristic air intake disappeared from the bonnet.  In addition, the interior received a new dashboard and seats, the electrical system was improved, the offer of optional equipment was extended with, among others, air conditioning, and over the next few years smaller and larger upgrades were introduced – the Lucas braking system was improved, exhaust catalysts were introduced, the 1.5 and carburettor 1.6 engines were withdrawn, and a 1.4-litre K16 MPI engine from Rover was added to the offer, generating 103 horsepower. It was one of the few engines that provided satisfactory performance for the vehicle.


In 1996, a 4-door sedan debuted under the name Atu.  Thanks to a slight redesign of the rear suspension, more space was saved in the trunk and the body was more rigid.


One of the last passengers Polonez models was the Kombi, released in 1999.  It was based on Caro Plus/Atu Plus models and differed from them by adding a metal frame covered with fibreglass in the rear part of the vehicle. This operation made the car not look the best, but it was very practical. 


In addition, Polonez also released delivery variants – Truck and Cargo. The first one was a pick-up truck, depending on the configuration with either a built-in or an open cargo area in either a 2- or 4-door version. As for the Cargo, it was a variant of the Polonez Caro with a laminate superstructure.


Despite 24 years of production, the Polonez was never a modern car, which was explained by the limitations “from above” until the times of political changes, and in later times there was a lack of enthusiasm, as well as adequate financial means, which would make it possible to design some components from scratch.

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