Production of iconic FSO Warszawa car stopped 50 years ago today
Fondly regarded as one of the most iconic cars of the PRL period, the last FSO Warszawa was rolled-out on this day fifty years ago.
Described by car collector Robert Brykała as “a permanent element of the streets” up until the 1970s, the first FSO Warszawa M20 rolled from the production line on November 6th, 1951, a date that had been purposefully coordinated to coincide with the October Revolution.
With Poland’s automotive industry in ruins after WWII, the debut of this “simple, solid” vehicle was a propaganda coup, and its name chosen to hint at the capital’s own post-war rebirth.
Of course, it was far from perfect. Speaking to PAP, Brykała – the founder of the National Treasure Museum – said: “Sophisticated technology was out of the question.”
Even so, engineers specially adapted it to take into account the poor quality of fuel that was available, as well as the dismal condition of the roads.
Perhaps difficult to understand now, in its heyday it was widely coveted and users included the poet Władysław Broniewski – who enjoyed his own chauffeur – and the actor Adolf Dymsza.
On October 28th, 1958, one was also purchased by the Archdiocese of Kraków for Karol Wojtyła, the man that would later become globally known as Pope John Paul II. Receiving the number plate KR 9613, his vehicle would remain in use until 1977.
Produced in different models, one type was used by the ambulance service and had a specially fitted trunk into which stretchers could be hoisted. Another was produced for the militia.
Later exported to Hungary, Bulgaria, Cuba and other such Communist allies, it also became a favourite of Poland’s army of taxi drivers. “I’ve met some taxi drivers,” says Brykała, “who registered 600,000 to 700,000 kilometres on theirs.”
Its cost, however, remained formidable. “They were priced at PLN 120,000 at a time when average monthly earnings came to around PLN 1,000 to 2,000,” says Brykała.
With just over 250,000 manufactured, it eventually became obsolete after plans to “motorise” Poland became more developed.
Rolling from the production line for the final time in 1973, today only 1,000 are thought to have survived.
“A well-restored one can cost up to PLN 100,000,” says Brykała, “but I know some people who have invested up to PLN 300,000 on renovations.”
A warmly nostalgic throwback to the past, for many the mere sight of an FSO Warszawa is enough to elicit a misty-eyed look.
“Almost every citizen alive in the PRL era would have had contact with a Warszawa,” says Brykała, “even if it was just to go to hospital in… Today [at the museum], we want to save the most important vehicles related to Poland’s automotive industry… and the Warszawa is one of them.”