What was Cuba’s best selling car of the early ‘90s?

OK, so probably not a question likely to come up at the pub trivia night, but it’s a cracking piece of trivia nonetheless.

The Fabryka Samochodów Małolitrażowych (FSM) Polski Fiat 126 was not only a huge seller in República de Cuba, but for a while the little Polish Fiat was also Australia’s cheapest car; on sale locally between 1989 and 1992.

Basically a rebodied and stretched Fiat 500, the 126 was styled by Sergio Sartorelli from Italian style masters Ghia and was powered by a two cylinder air cooled rear mounted engine – like half a Beetle – and pumped out a heady 17.7kw. Let’s be clear. Not 177kw. Seventeen point seven kw!

Despite a good chunk of research, I couldn’t find any reason who thought that it would be a good idea to subject the Australian motoring public to a tiny, Polish built Fiat copy; a big night on the Krupnik? Who knows! Regardless of the reason, I sure am glad that they did. There is nothing I love more than absurdity in cars and the little Niki has it in spades.

The 1989 Australian brochure celebrates that “the Niki is not overburdened with superfluous gadgetry”. An understatement, surely. I mean, they listed the heater as a feature! The Niki was blessed with “Porsche-like road holding” due to the rear mount engine… as long as the Porsche in question had 17kw, primitive suspension and four-wheel drum brakes. Considering that 1990 was the year that Porsche released the 911 Turbo 964 with a healthy 235kw, the FSM Niki was comprehensively nothing like a Porsche.

What no one could deny about the Niki was that it was Australia’s cheapest car, by a long way. With a Nissan Pulsar Q pulling $17.5k (and even the Budget rent-a-car spec Pulsar GL at $14239 on the road), cars in 1989 were relatively expensive given the $27,284 average annual income. Enter the Niki at around $8k on the road.

So, how does the Niki compare with the current title holder for ‘Cheapest Car in Australia’; Kia’s Picanto (about $14140 plus on-roads – or about $2k less than the FSM Niki given inflation). Firstly, the 1.25 litre engine delivers 62kw (nearly four times the power of the Pole). Secondly, while no mention is made of any sort of warranty in the FSM brochure, Kia is happy to back its little Picanto for 7 years and unlimited mileage. The Kia even has Apple CarPlay! While the Picanto scored a ‘relatively low’ four-star ANCAP rating, it still has all sorts of airbags and autonomous braking and in a minor crash, you’re unlikely to die, unlike in the Niki, which has the crash protection of a shoe box.

Still, despite all of this, I really, really want one! Check out this one currently on CarSales.