the origins of Polski Fiat

by Dariusz Piecinski

In the beginnings of the 30's the new strategic concepts of the co-operation of tanks, infantry and cavalry were developed in the Polish Army. In fact, the wider motorisation of the troops was considered, and the problem of the foreign licence obviously came in to the question. The plans assumed acquiring the technology of a modern means of transport which could eventually help in developing the own military vehicles by Panstwowe Zaklady Inzynierii - PZinz (National Engineering Works) - a conglomerate of the various factories related to the Ministry of Defence. In 1932, quite surprisingly, the Fiat offer was chosen from a vast selection of the bidders. One should know that Fiats were hardly known in Poland then, there was also a disadvantageous statement in the Fiat contract which claimed that PZinz had to abandon the construction of the own competitive cars. The basic model to be manufactured in Poland was Fiat 508 Balilla, a reliable and economical family car, powered by a four-cylinder, 995 cc, 24 HP engine. The manufacture of its powerplant was brought under full control in 1934. The whole automobile, which was slightly re-engineered by the team led by Zygmunt Okolow, went into production in 1935 as Polski Fiat 508, as well as the 2.5 tone lorry Polski Fiat 621. Later on, the bigger, 1900 cc, 45 HP, Fiat 518 was also introduced. Except the full-scale production of the above mentioned types, the limited number of the modern Fiat 1500 was also assembled (out of the imported parts) by PZinz. Other models, namely 1100 and 500 Topollino, were assembled by the Fiat Central Service Station in Warsaw at Sapiezynska Street. All those automobiles wore the Polski Fiat badge. The newly established Polish-Italian joint venture Polski Fiat SA took care about service and promotion activities.

photo by D. Piecinski

Polski Fiat 508 (standard coachwork)


Although, this licence agreement was unfavourable for the production of such original PZinz's designs like the CWS and Lux-Sport cars, it was very important for the Polish automotive industry. Polski Fiat 508 was the first Polish automobile made in thousands (2000 annually) from the home manufactured mechanical components. The standard saloon bodies were built from the the parts sourced from Italy, but there were also several bodywork variations (cabriolet, delivery van, etc.) available from the local coachbuilders. This kindly priced car obviously „brought the wheels" to many of the people, who could only dream about having of an automobile before. Indeed, the new, pro-motoring policy initiated by the Ministry of Transport in 1935 which granted the 20% tax refund (of the taxes paid in the last 3 years) for every purchaser of the new Polish made car, was very promotive. In fact, it made the Polski Fiat cheaper and encouraged other manufacturers for, at least, assembling of their products in Poland (like for instance General Motors). Annual sales of new cars (all brands) rose abruptly from a mere 1500 in 1934 to 14,000 units in 1938 (a rise to 20,000 was predicted for 1940). The PZinz crew grew from 300 in 1934 to 3000 emploees in 1939. The several military vehicles were also derived from the models 508, 518 and 621. After years of depression, prosperity seemed to be just around the corner.

Polski Fiat production, which totalled 10,000, was terminated by the WW II. Some of these automobiles survived the war, and were often seen (used as everyday cars) even in the 60's. Nowadays, the thoroughly restored vehicles can be seen at the classic car meetings. The automobiles of the brand Polski Fiat appeared again by the end of the 60's, manufactured by the FSO in Warsaw.

Polski Fiat And Its Competitors: 

Make & Model Engine Seating Capacity Max Speed (in km/h) Price (in zl)
Polski Fiat 508 1000cc, 24hp 4 85 4950
Opel Kadett 1080cc, 27hp 4 100 5200
Steyr 55 1160cc, 26hp 4 95 5900
Fiat 1100 1100cc, 32hp 4 110 6450
Polski Fiat 518 1900cc, 45hp 4 or 5 105 9000
Fiat 1500 1500cc, 45hp 4 or 5 115 9250
Chevrolet Master Sedan 3600cc, 85hp 5 or 6 135 7640
Chevrolet Master DeLuxe 3600cc, 85hp 5 or 6 135 9800
Opel Olympia 1500cc, 43hp 4 or 5 120 6200
Family Cars Manufactured Or Assembled in Poland in 1939

Passenger Car Sales In Poland
Year Quantity
1934 1500
1935 2000
1936 4946
1937 9969
1938 14000
1939 n/a
1940 20000 (a forecast from 1938)

Acknowledgements: Information was sourced from the Polish language books: Polskie konstrukcje i licencje motoryzacyjne by A. Rummel and Dzieje samochodu by W. Rychter. The archival photos and poster (1936) are copied from selected Polish pre-war magazines.

Copyright Dariusz Piecinski & BaRx Automobile Histories & Images, 1997.

BaRx Automobile Histories & Images