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Syrena Sport – Poland’s automotive icon

phot: NAC, Zbyszko Siemaszko

It was more than half a century ago that the Warsaw-based Fabryka Samochodów Osobowych (“FSO”, the now non-existent Passenger Automobile Factory) saw the birth of a prototype of the car which has mesmerized thousands until this day. One of the key people on the team working on the Syrena Sport sports car was Cezary Nawrot, a graduate of the Warsaw University of Technology. 

He graduated from the University in 1956. Then he joined FSO. Working there, he was assigned with a bold task: to design a sports version of the Syrena car. It was to be Poland’s response to that type of cars manufactured elsewhere abroad. The FSO team had got so committed to the assignment that they even worked on the car after hours.

A real beauty from the Eastern Bloc

The look and feel of the car is to Nawrot’s credit; he was the chief designer. In his 1980 story published in “Metalowiec”, a metal industry magazine, Zbigniew Skoczek wrote: “In terms of its form, the sports ‘Syrena’ was well positioned to compete with vehicles made in the West.” Nearly three decades later, Przemysław Rosołowski of autogen.pl strikes a similar note in his piece. In his feature, the author praises not only the beauty of the chassis but also its innovative quality. The chassis was built entirely of plastic materials (including the windows). “The body panels were manually crafted from laminates (synthetic resin having the texture of honey which requires the use of a hardener to keep the molded shape) and from fiber glass based on a 1:1 plaster model and the windows (the angled windshield and rear window and the flat side windows) were made of acrylic glass,” writes Rosołowski. Some of the solutions deployed were indeed well ahead of their times, but Syrena was also noted for similarities to the existing models: Ferrari 410 and Mercedes 190SL.

The grand unveiling of Syrena Sport took place on 1 May 1960. The car was an instant hit, both in Poland and beyond. Foreign press featured stories about the car. One line was particularly well remembered; “Il Giorno”, an Italian nationwide daily, dubbed the new Syrena Sport “the most beautiful car built behind the Iron Curtain.”

What happened to the car?

At this point, the history starts to blend with the legend. At FSO, the vehicle had never been intended for mass production and was only a test platform for new solutions. What was built was a prototype, or come to that, even a prototype of a prototype. Performance tests on the factory test track and on public roads also revealed a number of issues with the daily use of the Syrena. As diagnosed, it was largely because of the plastic materials used for the structure. Nawrot himself was well aware of the shortcomings. However, the interest in the project was so huge that questions kept coming, time and time again, when Syrena Sport was going to hit the streets. Allegedly, the idea to manufacture further specimens of the car was indeed given some thought. But the budding project is said to have been blocked by the government. Yet, it is hardly possible to prove beyond a doubt that this is the true story.

Following the tests, Syrena Sport was transferred to the Research and Development Center of Fabryka Samochodów Osobowych in Falenica, Warsaw. It was discarded in 1978 or 1979. Several (more or less successful) attempts have been made to build a replica of the iconic car ever since.

Syrena Sport is probably the most widely known but certainly not the only work of Nawrot. He designed various automotive bodies, from cars to tractors to machinery equipment. He was a long-standing associate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. He died in 2004.


Agnieszka Kapela

Office for Promotion and Information





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