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Homepage. This page: The launch of a new, small, two-door sedan at a trade fair held in Poland, 1955.

FSO Syrena.

The search for interesting and unique old car photos continues, and the car shown below - while not immediately familiar to most western eyes I suspect - caused a ripple of excitement when it made its debut at the Poznan Trade Fair, held in Poland, 1955. For this was the new FSO Syrena 100, a car whose genesis began in 1953, its designers under instruction to create a car for the people, in a similar vein to what the Volkswagen did for German motorists, and the Model T for those Stateside and beyond. Translated, FSO stands for "Factory for Passenger Automobiles". This photo, and others that came with it, all date to 1955, and I believe were taken at the 1955 trade fair referred to above, so this could well be one of the first FSO Syrena ("mermaid") prototypes. A car of simple design, this example benefits from enough chromium plate to give it a pleasant-enough look, although the rear-hinged "suicide" door arrangement was something of an anachronism for a car of 1950's design.
Behind the FSO is a large pickup - while not dissimilar to the Standard Vanguard light commercial, I think it is in fact an FSO Warszawa pickup.
The attentions of the couple in shot, or at least the chap's if not the lady's, are firmly planted on the small two-door saloon rather than the pickup, the crumpled advertising sheet tucked under the windscreen wiper (note: pair of wipers, not just one) proving to be of interest. This example is finished in a light colour, which could well be a pale blue, as elsewhere online I found recent shots of the prototype Syrena 100 in this colour, which could be the car shown here.
(Please click the thumbnail to view a full-size version of the Syrena photograph.)
A Syrena 100 saloon car
The cars that went into production in 1957 were a far cry from the original designs penned at FSO's design office. The initial plan had always been to produce a car of monocoque construction, fitted with a four-stroke engine. Unusually though, as a result of steel shortages at the time, the coachwork was planned to have been built from wood, covered by a leather/rexine-type material. By the end of 1953 two different hand-built prototypes - one in wood, the other in steel - had been designed and constructed for evaluation purposes, by two engineers in the factory tasked with dreaming up their own solutions to the brief.
Both cars were deemed to have their own merits, and a revised design drew on both for its inspiration. Five test cars were undergoing evaluation by early 1955, sporting steel bodies and - somewhat oddly - wooden-framed roofs, although the latter feature would soon be replaced by a steel version following a fatality in one test car that overturned, while taking part in a rally. The all-steel prototype went on show at the trade fair a couple of months later, and the positive feedback gained from this public debut saw a green light given for production. Alas the car was fitted with an antiquated two-stroke power unit (initially 690cc, but enlarged soon after launch to 746cc), rather than the hoped-for four-stroker, churning out a modest 25bhp.
Cover of a factory brochure
The front-wheel drive Syrena 100 would be available to the public in 1957 and remarkably continued in production (initially with FSO, and later FSM), with just modest revisions made, until 1983. Evolution of the model would see versions known as the 101 (introduced in 1960), 102 (1962-1963), 103 (1963-1966), 104 (1966-1972) and 105 (1972-1983) go on sale, while buyers needing more carrying capacity could opt instead for a light van (Bosto) or a pickup (R20) version, while larger families could perhaps have gone for the minibus. The rear-hinged doors remained a feature of the Syrena until the introduction of the 105 in 1972. Coupe Sport and hatchback versions were mooted in the late 1960s, but didn't get beyond prototype stage, the former two-door sports design looking similar to the hordes of fibreglass-bodied 1172cc Ford-based specials of the late 1950s and early 1960s in many ways. While quite stylish in its own way, perhaps it was too indulgent for its communist surroundings. In 1965 the two-cylinder two-stroke engine would be replaced by a three-cylinder two-stroke engine, as also used by Wartburg.

Syrena Laminat.

Between 1966 and 1971, a novel plan was hatched by factory engineers to enable owners of the early cars to upgrade their crumbling old cars, by fitting a replacement fibreglass bodyshell, the Syrena Laminat, to their old car's running gear. In style it was in some ways reminiscent of Reliant's Anadol. This was at a time when production of new Syrenas was looking like it might be coming to an end in the not-too-distant future. However, as new cars continued to roll out of the factory, and in fact did so into the early 1980s, the need for a factory upgrade applicable to earlier cars to keep them on the road became less of a necessity, and the plan was dropped.
Find more early motoring photos on Page 16 of the vintage gallery.

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