Meeting a Mermaid

The Syrena (Mermaid) was a very popular people’s car in Poland which remained in production for over 25 years. But as it was not exported, it is not so well-known elsewhere.

Gregorz Mazur with his wife and friends at the 2019 Balatonfüred Concours d’Elegance

After the Second World War Warsaw-based FSO (Passenger Car Factory) wanted to rekindle its pre-war relationship with Fiat, but it was not allowed to do so. It had to manufacture a local version of the Soviet Pobieda, under the name Warsawa. But this was too big for the average buyer. So the ruling communist party ordered the company to develop a small family car, utilising 30 percent of Warsawa parts. The first prototypes were completed in 1953. It was christened Syrena (Mermaid) after the symbol of the city of Warsaw. The first Syrena had a wooden frame and was powered by a 744 cc two-stroke engine. Serial production was launched in 1957.

Early cars had suicide doors

The Syrena was a simple car, which obviously had reliability issues. But for the vast majority of Polish people it was the only accessible car.

Over the years FSO engineers tried their best to update the car. The basic 101 was replaced by the 102 in 1962, followed by the Wartburg-engined 102S. The last version, called the 105 was kept in production until 1983

In 1972 the thoroughly updated Syrena 105 appeared on the market. It featured “normal” doors, new dampers and later dual circuit brakes. By the time the 105 came on the market, it was decided that production of the Syrena will be transferred to Bielsko-Biala

Not far from the new FSM plant, there was another new plant erected in Tychy where the Polski-Fiat 126p was produced. Though no longer the smallest and cheapest car in Poland the Syrena soldiered on for another decade. Altogether there were about half-million units produced.

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