Bielsko-Biala - Poland, Grand Rapids Sister Cities

Bielsko-Biala mentioned in New York Times

Following is text from a version of this article which appeared in print on January 26, 2017, on Page A9 of the New York edition with the headline: “A Cult Car From Poland for a Hollywood Star.”

Detroit has its Mustang. Munich has its Bimmer. Bielsko-Biala will always have the Maluch.


The Maluch, or little one, is officially the Fiat 126p hatchback. Drab and cramped, it lacks either girth or pretension. But it has a perversely special place in Polish hearts.

“The Maluch was the beginning of an automotive revolution in Poland,” said Jacek Krywult, the mayor of Bielsko-Biala, Poland.

Before the Maluch appeared, cars meant for ordinary Poles were rare, expensive and difficult to get. That changed in 1973 when the Polish manufacturer FSM began to churn out its version of the Fiat 126 under license from the Italian carmaker. Poles snapped them up, and they were soon exported throughout the Soviet bloc.

“This is a car that has a soul,” said Monika Jaskolska, who runs a clothing store in the city.

FSM kept on building and selling the Maluch — 3.3 million in all — before it was finally discontinued in 2000. The car developed a cult following in places as far away as Australia. But even so, city officials were rather stunned recently to stumble across evidence that the humble minicar had attracted an unlikely and highly prominent fan: Twitter posts from Tom Hanks that show him posing beside Maluchs.

Delighted, Ms. Jaskolska started a drive to buy a Maluch, put it in good condition and ship it to the actor as a gift. Local companies have kicked in $2,005 for a 1974 model and another $7,250 to spiff it up. When it is finished in about four months, the car will be flown to Mr. Hanks with an invitation to visit Bielsko-Biala.

“And I don’t want him to stay in a hotel, either,” Ms. Jaskolska said. “He should have a full Polish experience, and he can stay with my family.”

The mayor, Mr. Krywult, finds the whole thing a bit humorous.

“I’m happy that Mr. Hanks took a liking to our Maluch,” he said. “But it’s also a sign of the times: Poles now want to drive a Cadillac, and Americans want to drive a Maluch. That’s one crazy turn of events.”

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