I’m in Warsaw right now with the fam and I just discovered that the original smart city car, the Fiat 126p or Maluch (“Little One” or “Little Kid”) is 35 years old. The first ones were introduced in 1972 but they took off in Poland in 1973. These amazingly tiny cars – manufactured until 2000 – weren’t just city scramblers. For years you could see hundreds of these death traps rolling down Polish highways and my wife even had one with alloy wheels and racing stripes. She used to have to hit it with a hammer to start it in the morning.
Unlike the Trabant, a car whose engine was encased in a leather pouch, the Maluch was the workhorse of its day. It has two doors, a steering wheel, and not much else but you can still see them driving the streets after a production run of 3,320,000 units in Polska. I believe it also hit Ireland as the Bambino.
The Maluch was one of the first family cars available in Communist poland. In a thriving, modern country that looks more like Connecticut than Novosibirsk, the Maluch is a testament to the growth potential of free markets and the effort people will put into making one of the dumpiest cars in the world look like a hot rod.