Govt. hunts Maluch buyers cheated by communist system

Almost 200 Fiat 126p descended on Łódź for the 17th anniversary of the end of Maluch’s production. Grzegorz Michałowski/PAP

The Polish Ministry of Finance is looking for 263 people who during communist times bought iconic Fiat cars known as the Maluch (which translates as the little one) but never received them.

The government now plans to reimburse them, the total sum amounting to 3.5 mln PLN (800,000 EUR), if they still have the special bank accounts they had to open in order to pay for the car. 

The scheme was simple. In 1981 the communist government of Gen. Jaruzelski was looking for a way to fix the drained state finances.

At the same time, citizens, struggling under the rationing of goods, dreamt of owning their own cars.

This dream was usually realised in the form of Polish Fiats 126p (colloquially ‘Maluch’) or the bigger 125p also known as FSO 1500.

Tychy 02.1986. Car factory in Bielsko-Biała, producing new models of Polish Fiat 126p, ‘the little one’.Stanisław Jakubowski/PAP

The cars were produced under a licence agreement with Fiat in the Fabryka Samochodów Osobowych (Passenger Automobile Factory), commonly known as FSO and another factory in Bielsko-Biała.

Very quickly the ‘Maluch’ Fiat 126p became an icon and a symbol of wealth of the communist times in Poland.

The cars still have a loyal following. American actor Tom Hanks is a fan and an owner of one.

In accordance with the absurdity of the system in 1981, where even if you had a ration card, you couldn’t buy a product, which was unavailable, the government was not able to deliver the promised cars.

During only a month of 1981, 1.5 mln people paid for what they hoped would be their desired car.

In the next 3 years the factories were capable of producing over 600,000 cars, far below the demand.

To choose the lucky ones to receive the cars, the government organised a draw. 

What happened to the money paid for the other cars remains a mystery.

Communist reality: grey, tedious, surrounded by never ending blocks of flats.Mariusz Szyperko/PAP

After the transformation in 1989 the new authorities were left with sorting out the mess. 

In 1996 they adopted a bill, which stated: “Persons who in 1981 made advance payments for the purchase of passenger cars Fiat 126p or FSO 1500 and have not yet received the car, have the right to reimbursement with interest and to receive compensation.”

Back then compensation for the vehicles was 5,930 PLN (1,370 EUR) for the Fiat 126p and 8,400 PLN (1,940 EUR) for FSO 1500.

Up until 2001 most of the people received the reimbursement.

Now only 263 of them remain and the Ministry of Finance wants to close the case.

The incentive is quite strong, the cars that never came to be cost 3,000 EUR for Fiat 126p and 4,250 EUR for FSO 1500.