Here's something you don't see everyday: a Polish built pickup truck based on Fiat mechanicals. Built from 1967 through 1991 by FSO under license, the Polski Fiat 125p was derived from the Fiat 1300/1500 line. It took almost two years to modernize the production facilities, and in the first production year, only 75 cars were produced. A sedan, estate and this light duty pickup truck see here were offered. This pickup for sale in Minnesota is the lone survivor brought to the US in an attempt to federalize these vehicles for sale.
1976 Polski Fiat 125p Pick-Up Truck. The Sole Surviving DOT-Approved Model in the USA.
In 1975, aiming to extend their sales network beyond Europe, FSO (Fabryka Samochodów Osobowych) officially exported three Polski Fiat 125P vehicles to the USA: a sedan, a station wagon, and this pick-up. These three vehicles were sent over to be modified to conform to American DOT and EPA standards, so that type approval could be granted and durability testing done in American conditions. Any modifications were done primarily in the USA, by Olson Engineering in Fullerton, California. San Francisco super-dealer (and super-enthusiast!) Martin Swig was the primary mover and shaker of the project on this side of the Atlantic, but in the end he and FSO were incompatible partners and the deal fell apart. This unique American-spec 125P Pick-Up that you see here is the sole survivor of the three, having full DOT and EPA approval.
At one time, as many as a dozen 125p sedans or wagons were in the US, used by Polish diplomats at embassies or the UN; all long gone. Of the three cars officially exported by the factory to the US, one was reputedly crash-tested into a barrier. The other did not end up fully conforming to US safety and pollution codes before its 90-day federal waiver was up, and it was subsequently scrapped (as required by law at the time), making this pick-up absolutely unique.
This Polski Fiat is a genuine low-mileage collectible, with almost entirely original parts and trim. The odo stopped rolling at 20,029, but the owner is confident that the actual mileage is not much more than this (and going by the overall condition, and the fact that the original tires were replaced because of weather checking, rather than tread wear, this seems very realistic). The body was repainted in a slightly brighter hue than the original green. The owner has done fluid changes, cleaned the fuel tank, and added an electric fuel pump. Rear brakes were rebuilt too. The interior is 100% original. The seat covers are torn, and need to be replaced, but there are decent looking slip covers in place. The interior is otherwise in good shape for its age. The owner even has one of the original Polish “Stomil” tires as a spare, and original Polish filters in boxes.
The body and frame are clean and solid, except for the floors, which have perforations and could use new panels welded in. Otherwise, the wheel arches, fender wells, valance panels, outer sills, sub-floor below the pick-up bed, and corners and crevices underneath are impressively clean and solid. Even behind the bumpers is clean and nice. Body is straight, with a few minor dings and small dents. Panel fit is decent, although the passenger side door needs adjustment at the hinges to fit better. This door also has a cracked window, which is still solid and rolls up and down without issues. Chrome bits show some light pitting on a few pieces. One tail-light is cracked. The bumpers are undented, although the he front one is slightly askew. No major defects or accident damage are evident. Amazingly, the cargo bed remains un-dented, and the tailgate nearly so, showing no signs of hard use. Under the hood, most everything is in its place and tidy looking. At the curb, the overall impression is quite good, being that of a nicely preserved original rather than a sterile museum piece. It can be presented anywhere with pride.
What is a POLSKI Fiat, anyway?
FSO built Fiats under license in Poland for many decades, crafting over a million Polski Fiats of various models, and many more Fiat-based Polonez cars. In Europe, Fiat sold a “de-luxe” version of the basic 124 sedan, called the Fiat 125. FSO tended to tailor their Fiats for Polish conditions, and their version, the 125p (“p” for “Polish”!), used the push-rod engine from the old 1500 and four-speed transmission, instead of the twin-cam and five-speed of the Italian home-market 125 (and most US 124s). Confused? It’s pretty simple, really: This is a Fiat 125 sedan, factory redesigned into a pick-up truck, using the engine and transmission from the old 1500 Spider sold in the US in the 1960s, and built entirely in Poland with love!
This Vehicle and its History were featured last year in a cover-story by the excellent Polish magazine Classicauto (Issue #58, Lipiec 2012). All Polski Fiats are becoming rarer. The pick-up trucks in particular: There were fewer of them built, and they tended to get bashed to death as beasts of burden, making them quite scarce today. Finding one in this condition is nearly impossible, which is one reason that news of this little pick-up created enough of a stir in Poland to merit a six-page magazine feature.
I’m happy to send an English translation of the original magazine story to anyone interested enough to ask (leave a note with your email address). It tells a more complete story of this individual machine and also the adventures of trying to sell Polski Fiats in America back in the 70s.
Can I Get Parts?
Tune-ups and maintenance can use standard, inexpensive Fiat parts. Major components are all related to Italian Fiat, but built in Poland. Example: The “Polmo” dual-throat carburetor looks like a Weber built under license (34DCMP). Body panels and glass from the doors forward are standard Fiat pressings, etc.
One idea bounced around for this machine is to transplant the 1500 pushrod drivetrain to a deserving Fiat 1200/1500 Spider (or 1500 Ghia coupe!), and to drop-in a “regular” Fiat twin-cam engine, five-speed trans, and rear axle with disc brakes and Cromodora wheels for a really super-sporty sleeper. We’re told these are common hot-rod mods in Poland, and very straightforward changes. In fact Polski Fiat 125p sedans were rallied extensively in Europe with these features. Of course, this would forever alter this little truck’s originality and its unique place in history...But it’s a free country: The new owner will have these options to mull over.
This vehicle will be sold with a very rare English language, hardcover, official factory workshop manual. It covers every facet of the vehicle, and is in clean and perfect condition. Also included will be several plastic bins of extra parts (detailed below).
Can I Drive it Home?
It runs and drives, but it hasn’t been driven much in decades. The furthest the owner has driven it in recent years is a 30 mile round-trip to a car show in 2010. The motor starts quickly and idles without stalling. We were unable to find first or second gear without first shutting off the motor and then using a concerted effort to slot it in…Third, fourth and reverse presented no problems. Our opinion is that this could mean the clutch slave needs bleeding or fine adjustment, or the shift forks could be bent or need fiddling with. Otherwise, the truck ran nicely for us, before becoming progressively rougher due to a clogging fuel filter. With a fresh fuel filter, the little Polski felt eager and fun, with nice steering and firm secure brakes.
So, can you drive it home? As it sits today, we wouldn't try. Long-term storage hasn't done the little truck any favors, and although we believe it is essentially mechanically sound, right now it is better suited for a trip around the block than a trip across town. Bring a trailer. In all honesty, the next owner will have to be ready to sweat the details to get this little truck whipped into shape to be a daily driver. There shouldn't be any major hurdles: Lining the gas tank and getting the shifter sorted will work wonders.
The seller said this vehicle was appraised at $7,500, but there is no mention of who conducted the appraisal. While it is rare in the US, does that equate to high value? Time will tell in this auction, as there is a reserve and this car does need some mechanical attention. It's a truck like this, however, that has me pining for a manufacturer to bring a modern compact pickup back to the US market. Even the smallest of pickups on the market currently are much larger than the Volkswagen Caddys and Ford Rangers of yore. Anybody out there listening?