The Fiat 126 (Type 126) is a city car introduced in October 1972 at the Turin Auto Show as a replacement for the Fiat 500. Some were produced in Bielsko-Biała, Poland as the Polski Fiat 126p until 2000. It was replaced by the front-engined Fiat Cinquecento in 1993.
Polski Fiat 126 test in Hungarian:
The 126 used much of the same mechanical underpinnings and layout as its Fiat 500 rear-engined predecessor with which it shared its wheelbase, but featured an all new bodyshell closely resembling a scaled-down Fiat 127.
Engine capacity was increased from 594 cc to 652 cc at the end of 1977 when the cylinder bore was increased from 73.5 to 77 mm. Claimed power output was unchanged at 23 PS (17 kW), but torque was increased from 39 N·m (29 lb·ft) to 43 newton metres (32 lb·ft).The 594 cc engines were still available in early 1983 production.
A subsequent increase took the engine size to 704 cc in new "restyling" model Fiat 126 Bis (1987–1991), with 26 PS (19 kW) of motive power.
In Italy, the car was produced in the plants of Cassino and Termini Imerese until 1979. By this time 1,352,912 of the cars had been produced in Italy.
The car continued however to be manufactured by FSM in Poland, where it was produced from 1973 to 2000 as the Polski Fiat 126p. Even after the introduction of the 126 Bis (a 126p with water-cooled 704 cc engine of indigenous Polish construction), the original model continued to be produced for the Polish market. The car was also produced under licence by Zastava in Yugoslavia. In 1984, the 126 received a facelift, giving it plastic bumpers (for all versions) and a new dashboard. This model named Fiat 126p FL. In 1994, the 126p received another facelift, and some parts from the Fiat Cinquecento, this version was named 126 EL. The 126 ELX introduced a catalytic converter.
Despite clever marketing, the 126 never achieved the frenzied popularity of the 500. The total number of 126 produced is: 1,352,912 in Italy, 3,318,674 in Poland, 2,069 in Austria, and an unknown number in Yugoslavia.
Polski Fiat 126p
The car was produced in Poland under the brand Polski Fiat 126p (literally in English: Polish Fiat 126p) between 1973 and 2000. At first it was almost identical with the basic model: differences included a higher chassis, a modified grille on the back, and the front blinkers that were white in Italy but orange for other markets. To distinguish it from the original Italian car, the letter "p" was added to its name. It was produced by Fabryka Samochodów Małolitrażowych (FSM) in Bielsko-Biała and Tychy under Italian Fiat licence. Throughout 1980s the 126p was continuously modified. First it received upgraded brakes and new wheels from Italian Fiat, hazard blinkers were added to meet new law requirements, in 1985 tail fog light and factory back-up light were added to then standard plastic bumpers, an electronic ignition system and alternator replaced undersized generator around 1987. The factory battery in 126p had only 35 Amp-hour capacity which combined with undersized generator resulted in never fully charged battery unless someone drove the car without stopping for extended time period. Some owners upgraded to a 45 Amp-hour battery from Fiat 125p (1.5 Liter engine) to improve the cold start reliability. Due to a relatively low price it was very popular in Poland and was arguably the most popular car there in the 1980s. Its very small size gave it the nickname Maluch ("the small one","small child", pronounced [ˈmalux]). The nickname became so popular that in 1997 it was accepted by the producer as the official name of the car.
It was exported to many Eastern Bloc countries and for several years it was one of the most popular cars in Poland and in Hungary as well. It also found market success in Australia between 1989 and 1992, under the name FSM Niki. During that period it was Australias cheapest car. There was a convertible version developed for Australian market.
Throughout the 1980s there were several experimental prototypes developed in Poland. A cargo version called "Bombel" ("a bubble") for its fiberglass bubble shaped cargo enclosure, an off road version propelled by caterpillar tracks and a front wheel drive, front engine, with longer front end and flat cargo area in the rear where the original 126 had engine. The rear of this prototype was similar to the 126 Bis which also had a rear hatch for accessing the cargo space above the flat water cooled engine hidden in the floor. There was also an attempt to use a small diesel engine (due to gasoline rationing) in the classic 126p body.
History of PF 126p
The global production of this amiable car was 4,673,655 units: 1,352,912 in Italy, 2,069 in Austria by Fiat-Steyr and 3,318,674 in Poland.
The PF 126p has special meaning for Poles and its story had a connection with Polish politics during the communist period (Polish Peoples Republic, up to 1989). In a communist system, a private car was considered a luxury good, due to limited availability and low salaries. In 1971 there were only 556,000 passenger cars in Poland. In a socialist planned economy, decisions on whether a state-owned factory could produce a car were taken on political and not just economic grounds. The authorities themselves initially did not find the idea of private cars attractive. The first relatively cheap Polish car was the Syrena, but its production was limited. Limited numbers of cars were also imported from other Eastern Bloc countries. It was difficult to buy a foreign car because the Polish złoty, like other currencies in communist states, was not convertible to western funds and there was no free market in the country. The PF 126p was supposed to be the first real, popular and affordable car, to motorize ordinary families. The licence was bought after the rise to power of a new communist party leader, Edward Gierek, who wanted to gain popular favour by increasing consumption after the Spartan period under Władysław Gomułka. Despite the fact that it was a very small city car, it was the only choice for most families, playing the role of a family car. During holidays, it was common to see four-person families driving PF-126s abroad with huge suitcases on a roof rack; sightings of PF-126s towing a small Niewiadów N126 caravan specially designed for the PF 126 were also occasionally reported. PF 126p production, however, was not sufficient and the PF 126p was distributed through a waiting list. Often families had to wait a couple of years to buy a car. A coupon for a car could also be given by the authorities based on merit.