Poland, which found itself behind the Iron Curtain after the war, saw its pre-war motoring industry in ruins. Polski-Fiat disappeared, other assembly operations ceased functioning. But people still wanted to own a car or a motorcycle. And just like in other countries, this prompted a wave of microcars in the 1950s. The Mikrus was one of those.
The idea of making a small vehicle was coincidental. In the Autumn of 1956, government authorities considered the use of free production capacity after local assembly of the the Soviet MIG-15 military aircraft of type was stopped at the WSK (in Polish “Wytwórnia Sprzętu Komunikacyjnego”) factory in Mielec. In the meantime another WSK subsidiary in Rzeszów, launched the production of motorcycles. The cooperation of these plants yielded a new project concerning automotive production.
During the preparatory period, WSK Rzeszów dealt with the developmnet of a new engine, while WSK Mielec focused on designing the chassis and body. The development of the Mikrus prototype had been entrusted to a group of young workers led by engineers Jerzy Dębicki and Stanisław Duszkiewicz from WSK Mielec. According to the assignment, the vehicle should be able to carry two adults and two children, along with a small amount of luggage. This small car was supposed to be simple, easy to use and economical, and its comfort was certainly not a priority in its design.
Jerzy Dębicki, one of the authors of the project, later admitted that the chassis of the Polish vehicle was inspired by the West German Goggomobil T250, produced by Hans Glas GmbH in the Bavarian town of Dingolfing (about 60 km from Munich) from 1955 to 1969. , although it also resembled Goggomobil in certain features. It was probably due to shortage the lack of time designers had to develop within limited project budget.
The prototype was completed in early 1957. The car was then officially presented to the public in Warsaw on July 22, 1957, during the “National Automobile Meeting” in the presence of Józef Cyrankiewicz (1911-1989), the Polish Prime Minister. The new car was called Mikrus MR-300. Mikrus means miniature or midget, while MR-300 refers to the production sites and the capacity of the engine.
The Mikrus was a two-door four-seat sedan with dimensions of 3 025 x 1 315 x 1350 mm. The engine was located at the rear and was a two-stroke double cylinder with a size of only 296 cm3 and with a power of 10.5 kW (14.5 hp) at 5,100 RPM. Called MI-10A, it was designed in the WSK Rzeszów plant in a record time of only two months. It was a motorcycle engine, which corresponded to a maximum speed of only 87 km / h. The vehicle weighed 472 kg, and had a load capacity of 228 kg.
By the end of 1958, pre-series production was under way, with the first customers obtaining the car directly from the factory. The new people’s car caused enormous interest. Period newspaper reports suggested “… the price of a new car should not exceed the price of a motorcycle with the same engine by more than 25-30 percent.”
However, high production costs resulted in a very high sticker price. A Mikrus costed around 50,000 zlotys, which equalled four years’ of average salary. It was then out of reach for many.
It is interesting to note that the much larger and more comfortable “Warszawa” (a Soviet GAZ M20 “Pobeda”, produced under licence) costed even more, equal to 120,000 zlotys.
Engineers try to gauge reactions on the car. Initial customer feedback was positive, particularly praising the quality of the bodywork, produced by workers who had a great experience in the construction of aircraft fuselage. The quality of the anticorrosive coating was also positively admired. Negatives and weak points were mainly the car’s engine, its poor performance and piston failures. Owing to the lack of repair shops, the owners had to rely on themselves for spare parts and smaller repairs. A lot of people took the matters to their own hand and improved the car.
Serial production was scheduled to start in July 1958, but it was delayed due to the lack of engines. That is why the distribution of the Mikrus MR-300 began only on December 12 1958. The small vehicle met its basic minimum transport requirement, but certainly not the affordable price expected by the population. The production, but also the sale of Mikrus, therefore grew very slowly. In June 1959 the car was again exhibited at the international fair in Poznan, where it attracted great interest from visitors. The high price, however, turned customers away. The optimistic expectations of the project’s leaders who wanted to produce at least 5,000 cars per year were not met. Higher production would certainly reduce the price of the vehicle.
They also tried to find ways to make the project viable, by designing a small pickup truck, but it remained a prototype.
However, the project also had many enemies within the Polish Ministry of Industry and those who decided the fate of passenger car production. Even an evaluation study was carried out to prove that the production of Mikrus is unprofitable and therefore, loss-making.
According to Stanisław Duszkiewicz, the fate of the Mikrus was sealed after it was shown in Moscow. Even today, it is difficult to say whether the decision to stop Mikrus production was initiated by the Polish government, Prime Minister Cyrankiewicz himself, or was a “recommendation” from the Soviet “ally”.
Production was halted some time in 1960. Some say Mikrus could have been a competitor to the Zaporozhets, but in reality the two vehicles were born under different circumstances.
Today only a few Mikrus cars survive out of a production run of 1728 units, including 17 cabriolets.
We would like to express our thanks to VeteranSK magazine, its editor, Lenka Mondočková and to the author of the original article, Miloš Segeš. Archive photos: Bolko Rawicz. Colour photos: Łukasz Rossiennik/Auto Świat Classic.