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American cars living and dying in Poland

Kamil Kaluski December 20, 2012 Eastern European Cars 48 Comments

US cars in Poland

In the early 80s there were just about no American cars in Poland. Growing up in the capital city I may have seen one random American land-yacht and perhaps a van near the embassy row, but that’s about it. The cars seen in movies and TV shows were the typical, and almost-mythical, big police cruisers and smaller, but still big by Fiat 126p standards, sports cars. Think Smokey and the Bandit, Bullitt, Blues Brothers, Hill Street Blues, Kojak, and similar.

From behind the iron curtain, a kid such as myself had no idea what cars in North America really were. I really did not know that vehicles such as the F-series pickups or Suburbans even existed, never mind the fact that they could be so popular. Same thing with big family station wagons and their amazing tailgates and OMG rear-facing seats. The idea of non-American cars in America did not even cross my mind – why would it, when you have all this awesomeness, right?

In the late 80s and early 90s all hell broke lose. Communism was out and people of Poland were finally able to buy whatever cars they wanted. Importing cars from the United States meant huge shipping costs and tariffs, but so what? Who wouldn’t want a big, comfortable, Chryler or Chevrolet over a crappy Audiwagen? It was a lot more than a car however; it was the idea of choice, it was TV Land becoming reality, it meant, in some far-reaching but realistic way, freedom.

I have introduced to Redusernab before: We looked at cars around my old neighborhood, the country as whole, and even a junk yard in Norway. Today we look at the North American market cars that were imported to Poland in the late 80s to mid-90s, or so. They’re interesting choices to say the least. Next time we’ll look at the French cars. As always, checkout ; use google translate or just look at the pictures like I do.

Why bother with a VW van when an Astro conversion comes with h captains’ seats?

Big American land-yachts, it’s the stuff dreams were made of.

I have no idea why anyone would import that.

Conversion vans, minivans, sometimes conversion minivans. They’re becoming scrap now, victims of poor part supplies, non-metric tools, and poor gas mileage.

This was once a dream, while a Lada Niva was reality.

The bigger, the longer, the better.

Station wagons! Stretch limos were the thing to get married in, as opposed to a Maluch with two baloons and a bow.

Headlights were changed to meet some weird Euro spec.

Judging by the plates, it’s someone who works at an embassy or a consulate. Weird choice to ship overseas, but during my travels last year I saw a newer Chrysler Sebring with Minnesota plates – WTF Americans?

Back then few would know the difference between the 4-cylinder and the V8 – it was a Mustang and roads it was on were crappy at best, 70mph was fast.


 “Ford Aerostar is the best vehicle ever made”

Why anyone would import this is beyond me. The same car could have been had in the domestic market, perhaps without the leather seats. Note the required add-on rear fog-light.



Again… I don’t even…

Why bother with a common Nissan when you can have an exotic like this American Mercury Villager?

Note the color of the taillights. Turn signals must be amber.

 Bad-ass looking.

One reason any big American cars don’t work well in Europe, parking. It’s not uncommon to see cars parked at a 45-degree angle on sidewalks. The van fits, the American coupe, not so much.

Why was this car packaged and shipped 5000 miles to live there?

  • fodder650

    In Poland isn't the Pacer considered a sports car?

    • No… it's considered "that car from that movie with the two idiots…"

      • fodder650

        Party on Kamil.

        • Party on, Wayne!

          • dukeisduke

            Party on, Garth!

      • Devin

        The Polish arm of Paramount really didn't put in a lot of effort into their movie titles.

          • Devin

            There's something deliciously passive-aggressive in a lot of the Chinese titles.

    • Irishzombieman

      Was thinking maybe someone misread "Pacer" as "Racer".

      • That's a good place to share the only ticket I've ever received that made me laugh:

        <img src=";

        • danleym


          I once got a campus parking ticket in my AMC Spirit. Whoever wrote it had no clue what he was looking at- both vehicle make and model had "unknown" written in, even though the AMC and Spirit badges are still on the car.

          • marmer01

            Audi drivers often get tickets where the "Make" field reads "oooo" or "0000."

        • Irishzombieman

          HA HA HA HA HA!

  • MVEilenstein

    I guarantee you that Blazer is one junkyard trip away from running again.

    • Depends on how far the nearest junk yard with a dozen GM trucks is.

    • Also, if that's an exhaust downpipe on the ground, under the Blazer, then chances are that this is already a donor vehicle.

      • danleym

        Yeah, that's definitely the y pipe. Hopefully the 350 (305?) found it's way into some tiny European car, like a Fiat Panda.

      • MVEilenstein

        OK, two trips to the junkyard. Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

  • Manic_King

    In the USSR, sailors were basically the only group of people who could import an car from behind the iron curtain. Before sailor was allowed to do that, he had to work couple of years on a cargo ship without escaping to the west or doing anything else which would be bad for his chances to get that "licence to import an single foreign built car". So it was really big thing to get this licence, problem was of course that those sailors weren't rich enough to buy OK cars in the west, even with artificial exchange rate and their side business of selling things at home they got free abroad (old magazines, cheap electronics, car brochures etc.).
    So they bought crappy cars, old Euro Opels and Fords but also some Barges from US, which later got nickname "Sailors dream". No spare parts available inside iron curtain so when they couldn't bring spare parts from their travels, communist made parts went in.
    A bit like those fifties cars in Cuba.
    So I remember seeing American cars only in foreign magazines (bought at second hand book store, imported by those sailors) and 1-2 IRL before first visiting the west (Finland, Sweden) when 15 y.o.

    PS. Any Hungarians here who could say what was the name of HU car mag which during communist times had mostly stories about western cars, I had subscription 1980-83 or so. I even understood some written Hungarian back then from studying these…

  • jeepjeff

    I have no idea why anyone would import that.

    You take that back. That is awesome. 😉

    (I might occasionally daydream about owning one of these, and the market is small enough that I'd probably have to transport it across most of the country…)

    EDIT: I also have easy access to Jeep 4.0 parts to upgrade the engine a wee bit.

    • You must consider the fact that Eastern Europe in the late 1980s had the best small shitty cars in existance!!!
      The Pacer would have been considered a just a slighly bigger, slightly less shitty car, at a price ten times of small shitty "West German" car.

      • TurboBrick

        Yeah… but for all we know that could be a V8 Pacer which would really make some heads ekxzplowde when they saw that.

        • Not really. People in Poland, even back then tend to be very conscious about fuel costs… and power/speed did not really matter as the first real highways opened up only within the last dozen years or so.

  • I've always been fascinated by US spec cars that were sold by the factory overseas which required lighting changes to meet the local rules. The Corsica and Cutlass Supreme coupe both appear to be examples of this due to the sealed beam headlights and amber rear turn signals.

    • Note the extra lights on the Astro, above the taillights.

      • Right, but they are clearly aftermarket add on, not OEM.

        • Oh, I see what you mean.
          In the case of the Astro they had to be added because the turn signal and brake lights need to be different colors, and therefore they can't use the same [single] bulbs, like USDM cars do.

          I wouldn't be surprised if the Oldsmobile light lenses were some home one-offs – I don't think GM exported any of those cars to Europe… Maybe?

          • I think it'd be difficult to make your own tail lights like that.

            I have seen several early 1980s GM cars with amber rear signals for export.

            <img src=";
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            • Van_Sarockin

              We that Sierra…

            • TurboBrick

              You can get factory E-code headlamps for bathtub Caprices and Fleetwoods, I'd imagine many others too.

          • mseoul

            Most US cars it seems have Euro export tailights available. Too bad they are only for export. I see new Caddys here in Korea with nice yellow LED turns built into the same tall, thin and bright elements used in all-red in the US. On this topic too, for any USA residents, have Audi, BMW and Mercedes stayed with the red turn signals they started using around 2009? I saw a US market S5 Audi here in Korea and its rear turn signals had all the visibility and effectivenes of an old American car. Can't understand why only the high-end Germans went with the red turns for the US…to hurt gray exports is one idea thrown around….

    • mallthus

      I remember seeing a decent number of Euro spec GM cars back in the 70s and 80s. My Dad used to work at a GM plant and there was a whole little section just off the line for fitting things like E-spec lights, etc. Later, he was at Van Nuys when they were building Camaros. They had not only that section for doing E-spec lights, but a whole secondary QA line for export cars, where the quality checklist was 20x as long as for domestic cars.

      I remember from traveling in Europe in the 70s and 80s, that most of the American cars I saw had Swiss plates. Given their lack of a domestic auto industry, the number of NGOs there, etc, it sort of made sense.

      And then, of course, some American cars are just plain cool enough to be appealing in Europe.
      <img src=",!lYE-dW6LJt%29BQJsnVFG6Q~~_19.JPG" width=600>
      <img src=",!jIE2LTqfYVkBNyRNcgMUw~~_19.JPG" width=600>

  • RichardKopf

    I'd love to find a set of amber-turn signal tail lamps for my Caprice.

    • And every US BMW owner wants clear Euro lights on their car… funny how that works. 🙂

  • Synchromesh

    I was in Poland last year. Of course I was far more interested in finding Ladas after not seeing one upclose for 20 years and I found a few (a 2107, a very beat up 2109 and few more). But I did see a few American cars. Most were from mid 80s – early 90s era. square Camaro, a Dodge Daytona and some more. Made no sense to me either but there they were.

  • Rover1

    That Australian made Mercury Capri has probably done more miles sitting on ships than it has driven.

  • Van_Sarockin

    What a bizarre assortment of cars. It's always a surprise to see things through the eyes of others. You don't mind if I pop by to put things right with that Toronado, do you?

  • kush

    You should loook further on zlomnik becouse i cant see the 6 wheeler van conversion. Named cobra jet or smth. I know zlomnik is reading this . Help.

    • There's a lot of stuff there, easy to miss. It's really become one of five favorite car sites…. and I don't really read it, just look at pics.

  • Jay

    I think a lot of these seem to be survivors of the "first wave" of American and western cars that came into Eastern Europe, rather than stuff that was brought in recently. There's hardly anything here from the 2000s and later, which is not that unusual. Still, very cool to see the stuff that was brought in.

  • mseoul

    Where were the Poland pics taken? Is that a Poznan registration? I see Warsaw too, right? Anyplace else?

  • Goodwin

    After the fall of the union it was cool to have any foreighn car, weather it was a Fiat or a BMW. An old Pacer would turn just as many heads as a brand new Mercedes back then.
    Back in 92 my dad bought a Peugeot 309, it wasnt any more reliable or better looking than a Lada and the spares were hard to get hold of, but it was the joy of owning something different. I can still remember people looking back at his car as he went by…

  • Age_of_Aerostar

    ”Ford Aerostar is the best vehicle ever made”

    I've been away too long… didn't get to comment on this. 🙂

  • tcotrel

    <img src=";

  • James Seabolt

    I was watching a news segment back in the early 1990s on 60 minutes I think, about all of these American cars showing up in Poland. Apparantly all or most were stolen cars in the US and shipped to Poland. How Poland became a destination for stolen cars from the US I don’t know. Love your website by the way. Check out my rides!

    • James Seabolt

  • Hubba

    The Mercury Capri is a US market car, but it’s Australian.

    • James Seabolt


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