Some interesting automotive treasures have come from behind the Iron Curtain. The Lada Niva SUV, for example, is so tough, it’s still in production over 40 years later. And Fiat, with its history of economy cars like the original 500, similarly shaped the Eastern Bloc car landscape. There was one Fiat in particular that achieved icon status, especially in Poland: the Fiat 126p.
What is a Fiat 126p?
The Fiat 126 wasn’t only made in Poland, Motor1 reports. However, that’s where the vast majority of them were sold.
From 1972-1980, about 1.4 million Fiat 126s were produced in Italy. But over 3.3 million were produced in Poland during its 1973-2000 production run. It was so popular there, that the Poland-specific car has its own designation: Fiat 126p. But it’s also known as ‘Maluch’ (Polish for ‘toddler’ or ‘little one’) and ‘Polski Fiat’ (‘Polish Fiat’).
As you can likely tell by the nicknames, the Fiat 126p is not a large car. It was designed as a replacement for the 500, Motor Trend explains, like the original Golf was for the Beetle. Incidentally, the Fiat 126’s designer also designed VW’s Karmann Ghia, Hagerty reports.
As such, it’s sized like a vintage Mini or a modern Smart Fortwo. My older sisters once sat in one during a family visit to Poland in the late 80s. Allegedly, they then asked where the middle of the car went. However, while the ‘Maluch’ wasn’t exactly safe, it could seat 4 people.
Much like the Fortwo, the Fiat 126p is also rear-engine and rear-wheel-drive. And, in keeping with its economical city car design, it also has a fairly small engine. The biggest engine fitted to the Fiat 126p is a 704cc two-cylinder, rated at 26 hp.
The Fiat 126p wasn’t necessarily a great car, ClassicCarsForSale reports, and was prone to suffer from various mechanical glitches. But its extremely simple design meant you could literally mend it with a hammer, TechCrunch reports. And ever since its discontinuation, the little Fiat has become a beloved Polish icon. Some people even modify it for racing, as the video above shows.
And one even found its way into Tom Hanks’ hands.
Tom Hanks and the Fiat 126p
To be clear, Tom Hanks didn’t actually buy a Fiat 126p, The Drive explains. Instead, the movie star tweeted a series of photos of himself with several street-parked examples while in Budapest, Hungary. Each time, Hanks called the 126ps his new cars.
These tweets were viewed by, among others, Bielsko-Biała resident Monika Jaskolska. Bielsko-Biała is the Polish city where the Fiat 126p was built. Jaskolska decided to go along with the joke, and actually get Hanks his own Maluch. And not a random, broken-down one, either; the city got Hanks a restored Fiat 126p.
The car was delivered to LA via LOT Polish Airlines, where Hanks took delivery. And after snapping some photos, the movie star thanked Jaskolska and Bielsko-Biała for the gift. He also gave an undisclosed donation to the hospital where Jaskolska works.
It’s unclear where that Fiat 126 is at the moment. However, getting one of your own isn’t particularly difficult.
Getting one of your own
Bring a Trailer occasionally features Fiat 126p models. And even the restored examples aren’t particularly expensive. Most go for less than $7000. As of this writing, there’s a 1989 model listed at $2888.
In contrast, a restored classic Fiat 500, despite being arguably more bare-bones, is noticeably more expensive. The average BaT price is $10,000-$20,000. It’s possible to find a modern 500 Abarth for less than that.
As a car, the Fiat 126p is very basic. But getting an honest celebrity car for $7000 isn’t too bad.
Follow more updates from MotorBiscuit on our Facebook page.