What is it about communist officials that they hate everything beautiful? The dreary grey buildings that littered Eastern European countries during the postwar period are a perfect example of this and so, too, is the sports car shown above. Very attractive and potentially affordable, the 1960 Syrena Sport prototype was designed by the Polish auto manufacturer FSO (Fabryka Samochodow Osobowych, which literally translates as Factory of Passenger Cars). It was tested and then secreted away in a research facility until the early 1970s where it might have remained had the government not heard about the car and ordered it destroyed. Worse still, the single-minded, emotionally impaired, red-faced idiots then sent an envoy of officials to see that the order was carried out.
Many Western journalists considered the Syrena Sport to be the most beautiful car ever built behind the Iron Curtain. It certainly ran well, reaching 120 kph in tests with only a 750-c. c. four-cycle, two-cylinder boxer engine. Even factory test driver Joseph Miachalik was amazed by its straight line speed.
FSO is the formerly state-owned enterprise that produced various cars under license, beginning with the Soviet GAZ-M20, which FSO called the Warszawa. An in-house team of engineers led by Karol Pionnier began developing a small car for "the people" in 1953. The Syrena 100 (named after the famous statue of the mermaid at the bank of the Vistula River) was unveiled at the 1955 Poznan International Fair and went into production in 1957. Over the next 26 years more than half a million of these smoke-belching two-stroke cars (similar to the East German Trabant) moved the Polish masses.
According to our colleague Colin Hefferon, who visited Poland many times on business trips, some of the models built by FSO were reasonably decent for their time, including the Polski (Polish Lada) and the Polish Fiat 125 and 1300/1500. In the 1990s, Daewoo took over an FS0 plant in Warsaw and modernized it, after which GM bought out the Korean company and began producing Opel Astras there. It currently builds the Daewoo-based Chevrolet Aveo in Poland. GM praised the plant as their most efficient, going so far as to suggest that the Polish workers were better than those at the Korean factory. Volkswagen says its plant in Poznan delivers the highest quality of all its factories.
[This blog was based on an article in the Vancouver Province by Nigel Matthews, with additional reporting from Colin Hefferon]