The first series was produced from 1978 and it became the first Eastern European car capable of withstanding the very tough USA crash tests, which meant it could be exported all over the world.
Poland is not famous as a car manufacturing nation and we only know it as one through the Fiat models built mainly at the FCA factory in Tichy, where the 500 and Lancia Ypsilon models are made today. Part of the history of Polish cars, however, includes FSO (Fabryka Samochodów Osobowych), which started activities as a manufacturer of the Fiat 125 under licence from Fiat and renamed 125P, then later, on the same mechanical base the Polonez, designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, was developed in 1978.
The car’s lines were very modern but not particularly streamlined and were combined with out-dated mechanicals including a front engine and rear wheel drive. As for the engines, the intention was originally to use the 2000 engine, but financial difficulties associated with FIAT brand licences rendered that impossible and there was no choice other than to use the robust 1500. The 2000 cc engine was eventually adopted in 1979, also derived from the Turin cars, and was used in most of the Polonez cars used by the Polish government. The same engine was also used in the rally version of the car.
The first series was produced from 1978 and it became the first Eastern European car capable of withstanding the very tough USA crash tests, which meant it could be exported all over the world. In 1983 the first update to the styling arrived, adding the third side window. The Polonez coupé prototype also arrived in the same year, with much improved styling compared to the saloon. It was made for a short time and still remains the rarest version of the Polish car.
In 1990 a much more substantial re-style arrived, clearly changing the looks of the car, especially around the front, which appeared far more modern albeit not awfully original; it was partly inspired by the second series of the Lada Samara. The pick-up version of this model was particularly successful in Italy, where it was marketed under the FSO-Daewoo brand. The second series of the Polonez gained the Caro or Atu nomenclatures according to the level of equipment and type of bodywork.
During those years Daewoo took over control of FSO, with the intention to expand its production lines in Europe and, starting from 1998, began production of the Lanos model at the Polish factories, to which, over the years, other models of the Korean brand were added.
Production of the Polonez range continued up to 2002 when, after 24 honourable years, production of the historic model finally ceased. The FSO-Daewoo Group was subsequently involved in the scandal surrounding the Korean parent company, which was absorbed by General Motors, production of cars in their Polish factory continuing until 2100 when even the American company, in deep crisis, decided to halt production of all vehicles at the former FSO headquarters, which remains derelict to this day. Traces of the brand’s recent history can still be found on the company’s official website, which remains operational.
Text by Tommaso Lai
Translation by Norman Hawkes
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