Fiat 125p: The big Pole was comfortable, although from the beginning a bit outdated car

Since the interwar period, the Polish automotive industry has relied mainly on cooperation with established manufacturers, among which the Italian Fiat has played an important role. The Turin carmaker later stood behind the two most famous Polish cars during the socialist Poland – the Fiat 126p and 125p.

While the first, nicknamed the Maluch, was virtually indistinguishable from the Italian model, the second was a hybrid between a modern body and older technology. Both types had a common longevity, the last Polish “one hundred and twenty-twenty” came off the production line on June 29, 1991, almost a quarter of a century after the start of production.

The majestic Fiat 125p sedan thus suffered a similar fate as most Eastern European cars. While at the beginning of production it was a relatively high-quality car, which, despite the older chassis and engine, kept up with the times, the last decade was hopelessly outdated despite all the efforts of designers. Thus, the Fiat 125p could only compete with Western cars at a favorable price from the 1980s. Similarly, the production of cars from the entire Eastern bloc was at the time, whether it was cars made in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, Romania or Yugoslavia.

At the beginning of the 1960s, the Polish automotive industry decided between two options. He could try to improve the Warsaw Wars at the time – a licensed version of the Soviet Victory of the mid-1940s – and the smaller Syrena, think of a completely new domestic model, or go the foreign license chosen in Belgrade at the time of international tensions. , Bucharest, but also Moscow. The Warsaw Communists initially decided between the French Renault and the Italian Fiat, and the fact that there were relatively strong communist parties in both capitalist countries also played a role. In the end, priority was given to the car manufacturer from Turin.

At that time, an offer for the production of the Fiat 1300/1500 model, a classic sedan with a front engine and rear-wheel drive, which had been produced since 1961 and whose licensed version was produced by the Crvena Zastava factory in Kragujevac, Yugoslavia, was on the table. Polish negotiators, however, caught the eye of his planned successor Fiat 125, among other things with a better engine with OHC distribution with two camshafts and a more modern square body. The final agreement, signed shortly before Christmas 1965, was ultimately a compromise. According to her, a car with a modern body, engine, chassis or dashboard was to be produced in Warsaw, but they came from a run-out type (which, however, was produced in Yugoslavia until 1979).

The new car not only meant a change on the production line in the factory located in the Warsaw district of Praga, but also brought a significant modernization of the entire Polish automotive industry. As stated by the authors of the TV series Legends PLR, which deals with the history of Polish motoring during the communist regime, at the same time as the preparation of the production line in Warsaw, adjustments were made to individual subcontractors. Following the example of the Western European automotive industry, the aim was to produce only the necessary car parts, such as the body or engine, directly in the carmaker, and to buy the rest – from tires to batteries to interior parts – from specialist factories.

The first car officially named Polski Fiat 125p rolled off the line in November 1967, about half a year after the Italian Fiat 125. It was almost indistinguishable from it at first glance, but the second but careful observer discovered round headlights in the Polish variant instead of square ones. Italian, on the other hand, the Fiat 125p also had a filling hole in the tank (located under the luggage compartment instead of its first side at the “Italian”). The most important difference, however, was under the hood, where the Poles had to place a rather old thirteen engineer with 60 horses (a re-drilled version with a capacity of 1500 cc came in 1969) instead of a modern engine with a capacity of 1600 cubic centimeters and 90 horsepower in the Turin version.

Nevertheless, the Polish sedan was once one of the most modern cars produced behind the Iron Curtain – for example, the Romanian Dacia 1300 (Renault 12 license) came on the market in 1969 and the Soviet Vaz 2101 (licensed version of the Fiat 124) a year later. And it was also used in the West, where the Poles were allowed to export it only after they stopped producing the Italian version in Turin in 1972. First, the Fiat 125p was exported to the GDR, Hungary and the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (in December 1978, the stronger model cost 71,500 crowns, ie as well as the less practical but much more charming Škoda 110R coupe).

The car, nicknamed the “big Pole” in Czechoslovakia for distinguishing it from the tiny Fiat 126p, was also produced abroad. In the 1970s, they assembled about 22,000 cars from the supplied parts in the Egyptian company Nasr, which also produced other cars based on Fiat. Between 1970 and 1982, over 100,000 Zastava 125 PZ cars were also produced in Yugoslavia, which in turn supplied some parts and disassembled Zastava 1100 to Poland. By 1991, almost 1.5 million Fiat 125ps had been produced (but the last decade from Fiat named FSO 1300 and 1500), of which about a third went to exports. In addition to sedans, there were also station wagon or pick-up versions.

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