Why This Little Polish Car is Big With Cuban Motorheads

Car clubs in Cuba have embraced an iconic Eastern Bloc machine in recent years, and it’s becoming more ubiquitous than the 1950’s era American cars we’ve come to associate with the little Communist island off Miami.

We’re talking about the Fiat Polski; a two cylinder auto built since 1932 in Poland, also known as the Fiat 126p. The micro car with 24 horsepower made its way to Cuba in the 1960’s, and after the fall of the Berlin Wall sort of fell into obscurity.

And anyway, we all understand the streets of Havana to be filled with ’56 Fords and ’60 Chevys. But times are changing in Cuba.

Now that travel and trade embargoes have opened again with the U.S., a strange irony is that, due to bus and taxi shortages and dwindling subsidized oil from Venezuela, the little cars — which sat essentially idle on the island — are making a comeback.

There’s an estimated 10,000 Polskis on the island, reports the Associated Press , and mechanics there have found a niche in not only resurrecting them, but overhauling them as well. With only 24 horsepower, there’s nowhere to go but up.

The cubans are giving the Polskis stronger suspensions, larger engines and running water cooled systems rather than the notoriously inefficient air-cooled design, which likely works great in Eastern Europe but in tropical Cuba is a disaster.

Many Polski enthusiasts will drive with the rear hatch open in an attempt to suck the hot air out of the engine compartment. But with the upgrades, and at only around $5,000 each, the Polskis are gaining iconic status on the island.

“(This year) has been the year of the Polski 126p,” said Friends of the Car (a Havana car club) president Henry Coba to the AP. 

Who knows? Maybe the little Polskis will find their way over to Miami, and then start catching on in a small way here in the states. 

Photo credit: Wikimedia