Tom Hanks and his Polski Fiat 126p

“Run, Forrest, run!” Few film sentences are as closely associated with their corresponding actor as this one. Tom Hanks embodied Forrest Gump, a man with limited intelligence, in 1994. A second sentence is also familiar to every film fan: “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” This quote can also be found on a metal plaque in a small car that is currently being auctioned. It still belongs to Tom Hanks and was a gift from the Polish town of Bielsko-Biała, where the car came off the production line. Hanks has a weakness for Eastern European small cars like the Trabant or the “Maluch”. Maluch is Polish and means “little one”. It is synonymous with what is probably the most frequently built automobile in Poland, the Fiat 126p. Originally, the history of this model series began as the 126 in Italy. There, the newly developed vehicle replaced the classic Nuova 500 from 1972, retaining the rear-engine design and two cylinders.

23 hp rear-engined small car

Italian and Polish Fiat employees worked together on the design. They created a very angular body. The Nuova 500’s wheelbase of 1.84 meters was retained. On the other hand, the car offered more space inside due to its greater exterior length. In addition, the fuel tank was now located under the rear seat instead of in the front luggage compartment. A two-cylinder, four-stroke engine with 17 kW/23 hp from a displacement of 595 cc worked in the rear. Power was transmitted to the rear axle via a four-speed gearbox with an unsynchronised first gear. From the end of the 1970s, Fiat Germany marketed the 126 as the Bambino. Steyr-Puch in Austria built the 126 under license until 1975 and in Italy it was produced until 1987, when the 126 BIS, a further development with a horizontally mounted, water-cooled engine and an additional boot above it, made its debut. The 126 BIS was produced parallel to the normal 126 in Poland. Production began there in 1973 and continued until 22 September 2000.

3.5 million copies

Interestingly, the Polski Fiat was never officially available in the GDR and some other countries in East Europe. After the end of the Cold War, Polish-produced cars also made their way to Western Europe. Actually, the 126 was supposed to be retired in 1991. At that time, a modern small car, the Cinquecento, appeared, which Fiat again had manufactured in Poland. But the “Maluch” was so popular on the Polish market that production simply continued. In the end, the angular small car reached a total of around 3.5 million units. Many of them can still be seen on Polish roads today. In other countries, the number of cars has declined dramatically, even though the 126 is very cheap to run. In Germany, for example, it is in the lowest insurance classes thanks to a low frequency of claims.

Gift for Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks didn’t know the “Maluch”, as the Fiat 126 was never exported to the USA. While filming the movie “Inferno” in 2016, he discovered such a vehicle by chance and posted a selfie on Twitter. This picture went around the world and also reached the town hall of Bielsko-Biała. There, about 100 kilometers southwest of Krakow, the 126p had rolled off the production line. In 2017, Tom Hanks received the car shown here as a gift from the city. The small car, built in 1974, had previously been extensively restored at BB Garage. The body and the 12-inch wheels were repainted white. Fresh 135/80 whitewall tyres, new chrome bumpers and refreshed add-on parts were also added. Something very special is the interior by Carlex Design from Czechowice-Dziedzice. With green leather, black inlays, wood and aluminium, the 126 is more luxurious than ever from the factory.

Auction for charity

On the dashboard is the aforementioned metal plaque with the film quote from Forrest Gump. Leather pockets are attached to the backs of the front seats. They are embossed with the words “Bielsko-Biała for Tom Hanks”. The actor himself signed the left door panel. The one-off was up for auction at Bring a Trailer. In the end it fetched US$ 83,500. All proceeds from the sale will go to the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. Through the Hidden Heroes Campaign, it supports families of American soldiers injured in wars.

Images: Bring a Trailer