The little Fiat Panda 4×4 was recently launched here, as the brand’s only crossover 4×4 for the local market. It could have all turned out so differently, though, if a Polish-Soviet central planning committee had given the green light to producing a Fiat 125 Kombi 4×4, back in 1977.
In 1943, the IBM company’s president Thomas Watson said of a new innovation called a computer: “I think there is a world market for maybe… five computers.” Well, Mr Watson’s calculations were a little bit off, we reckon. Fast forward to 1977, and a Polish boardroom, filled with a bunch of Soviet suits who, like Mr Watson, maybe did not quite have the future vision of some of their peers. State-owned vehicle manufacturer Fabryka Samochodow Osobowych (FSO) had apparently presented a cunning plan to the committee to produce a Fiat 125 station wagon, fitted with Russian Lada Niva 4×4 parts.
They called it the Fiat 125SP Kombi 4×4, and it would have been a new mix between a wagon and 4×4, and it would have been highly capable off-road, too. Essentially, it could probably have been Mother Russia’s first mainstream foray into the SUV/crossover market. It was not to be. The committee declined the request, and the 125SP Kombi 4×4 prototype was relegated to the chronicles of motoring history. But let’s take a closer look at the 125SP Kombi 4×4 nevertheless. The licensed Polish version of the Fiat 125 was not quite the same as the 125 produced in Italy. Basically, the Polish offering was a cheaper version of the original 125, running a more basic drivetrain, less kit and (some would claim) more shoddy quality.
While the Italian Fiat 125 came with a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine that produced up to 93kW after being fettled with by some tuners, the Polish version was based on outdated underpinnings and old 1 300 or 1 500cc motors. There were other differences, too. Most notable are the round headlights used in the Polish version, instead of the square ones in the original Italian jobs. Other styling discrepancies include simpler body sheet metal stampings, more basic bumper and grille, orange front turn signals. The interior was also not the same as the Italian 125. Instead, it was the same as used in the old 1 300 and 1 500 Fiats the mechanicals were based on. Production of the Italian Fiat 125 ended in 1972, but the Polski Fiat 125 was produced until 1991. That’s right, 1991.
Over the years, the Polski 125SP was turned into a pick-up and a station wagon, and it was the latter model that formed the basis for the ambitious 4×4 project in 1977. In time more modern engines and drivetrains were fitted to the Polski 125 range, too, with the biggest being a two-litre petrol engine combined with a five-speed manual gearbox. The 125s were exported all over Europe, and was even sold in Britain.
Polski Fiat 125SP Kombi 4×4
Engine 1 481cc four-cylinder petrol
4WD system Part-time (2H, 4H & 4Low)
Gearbox Four-speed manual (transfer, with centre diff lock)
Suspension Independent with coil springs front, multi-link with coil springs at back
Top speed About 100km/h
0–100km/h Quite a while
Price Not for sale