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What Is The Fiat 126, And Why You Can’t Buy One

The Fiat 126 might look like a child’s toy car, or maybe something haphazardly built in a private garage, but in fact, it was a full-scale production passenger car created by Fiat and produced in Italy and Poland. They never became legal in the United States, and even though they are unique and do have some pretty interesting features, you probably wouldn’t want to own one anyway. The 126 was in production from 1972 all the way up to 2000 with not much development or change, and over time almost 5 million of the cars were built

So, what even is the Fiat 126?

The Fiat 126 was a compact car produced at the Italy and Poland Fiat facilities over several decades. They might not look like they are large enough to, but they had back seats that increased the overall capacity of the car to a total of four people, though it might not be too comfortable.

If you were surprised to learn that the 126 had back seats, you might be even more surprised to hear that it was also a rear-engine car. There were three engines offered over the production years, with all of them being a straight-two engine, also called a straight-twin engine or a parallel-twin engine. If you’ve never heard this type of engine in a car under any name, we wouldn’t be surprised.

A blue Fiat 126 seen arriving for the occasional birthday meeting | Attila Husejnow/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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The Fiat 126 might have had a motorcycle engine under the hood – or rather, the trunk – but it didn’t handle like a motorcycle or a rear-engined car. In fact,

It was designed to be a car affordable to the average family, and in making it affordable Fiat sacrificed every luxury and feature they could possibly spare. It wasn’t uncommon to see them with roof racks to support any amount of luggage or cargo that they very limited front trunk of the car could not hold.

But, you can’t buy on in the US

As easy as these cars were to work on, they were just as easy to break. They weren’t terribly reliable, and they were relatively unsafe to drive or ride in.

The interior was nothing to sneeze at either, with very basic material in anything except the higher-end versions of the car – which still weren’t that nice. In most of the 126s, you would find exposed metal that wasn’t even worth covering with plastic trim apparently, but it did have a dashboard that was padded, which is the only redeeming quality.

The US NHTSA didn’t have an issue with the car’s lackluster interior, however, but it’s safe to assume that the Fiat 126 would likely not pass safety standards or emissions. The cars were of mostly poor build quality and they were in such high demand in their country of production that families were left waiting for years before they could purchase their own.

1974 Fiat 126 | National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

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You’ve probably never seen a Fiat 126, and unless you travel abroad, you probably never will. They aren’t desirable enough to attempt to bring up to US safety standards, and they aren’t worth enough to import even if you could. They do have some charm, and even though they aren’t fancy or fast, they were a great option for many families in Europe over the decades.