Words: Dave Smith, photography: Lukasz Sochacki
Daring to be different doesn’t have to mean a huge motor, fins, chrome and a massive bill. Good things come in small packages if you have…
A Maluch?! Yes, that’s the Polish nickname for Fiat’s tiny 126, and basically means ‘toddler’ or ‘little one’. They were a big deal in Poland, where FSM built them under licence from Fiat; in fact, the Polish factories turned out almost three times more 126s than the Italians, and carried on long after Fiat had switched over to the Cinquecento.
This one came over to the UK with its owner, Mirek Snihur, and now lives in Leeds. “My first car was one of these,” says Mirek. “I built this one with my Dad, who was a mechanic and worked on lots of these. I bought it in 2012, and we spent a couple of years stripping it down to the last nut and bolt, restoring it and rebuilding it. I’d planned to make a replica of the ones entered in the Monte Carlo rally back in the Seventies in white with blue stripes, but ended up making too many other modifications instead.
“The suspension came from an old Fiat 500 Abarth, and is very similar to that on the 126. It’s lowered by 10-15cm, which gives me 7cm of ground clearance so I can still clear most speed bumps! The front leaf spring has been lowered by 15cm, and the rear is as low as I could go and still have clearance for the banded steel wheels. The rear end uses a swing axle, like a Beetle, hence the camber.
“The steering and brakes are standard, apart from the larger Fiat Seicento drums on the rear. The engine is a 652cc air-cooled unit, which is a better engine than the later BIS model, but only has 24bhp as standard. I used a thinner head gasket to raise compression, used dual carburettors from a Fiat Panda, and the Abarth 555 camshaft. The rest is just smoothed and polished – the pistons, the intake, and inside the carburettors.
“I wanted to keep it close to standard to keep it reliable, because I will always keep the car, and I use it all the time. Not daily, because driving a tiny left-hand drive car in the UK is not easy, but at weekends, and I go to lots of shows. It has even won prizes! I go to the 126 Weekend, and last year I won the golden piston for Best In Show; it stayed with me this year, too.
“I have tried for 100mph, but made it to 98mph and gave up. The looks on the faces of BMW 5-series drivers as you pass them are priceless, though. It’s not a comfortable drive, but it is definitely a lot of fun. There are still some modifications to come, but it will stay looking mostly the same, and I’ll never sell it.”
1987 Polski-Fiat 126P
- 652cc air-cooled two-cylinder engine
- Raised compression
- Polished and ported head
- Abarth 555 cam
- Twin Fiat Panda carburettors
- Abarth 695SS suspension
- Lowered 4-6″ all round
- Stock front drum brakes; Fiat Seicento rear drums
- Cobra seats
- Steel wheels, banded to 6.5″
“Massive thanks to my father, Roman. We built this car together, the gearbox, the suspension, the lot.”