FSO Polonez MR'87

It's snowing; bitterly cold, wind whipping at your face with icy shards. You turn up your collar, hunch your shoulders against the wind, and wait. Maybe you'll light a cigarette and let the hot acrid smoke warm you up. You're frozen inside, and not just from the winter. You're waiting. Watching, and waiting. This is the reality of the Cold War.

The spy movies of that era would have us believe that for the Communists it was all quaffing vodka, slurping caviar and bedding women. And for Lieutenant Slawomir Borewicz of popular Polish show "07 Zglos Sie" (07 Report In), it was. Especially the women. Borewicz was the no-nonsense dry-humoured cop, the lover and the fighter who floored thugs and ladies in equal measure; eloquent, dapper and handy with his fists. The comparison between 07 and his obvious namesake, 007, are manifold.

He was the quintessential Polish hard man, and he drove a Polonez. The two go hand in hand. When other policemen were charging around in smoky old Fiat 125p's, Borewicz could cruise up in his angular Polonez, with its distinctive sharp lines and elegant whiteness, step out of the driver's door and shoot a stony glare that stopped men in their footsteps and undid women's bras from 50 paces. What a hero. What a machine.

That's what's great about TV. That wonderful two-dimensional screen can gloss over all the cracks and tarnish that lie on the surface, and never have to show the murky, cold and often harsh reality that lies underneath. The Polonez wasn't glamorous, wasn't glamorous at all; far from it. But that doesn't mean that the cameras can't take something rotten to the core and try to make it a sex object. Which is how the first edition Polonez came to be known as the "Borewicz."

Both "07" and the Polonez were government-commissioned projects to tart up something for public relations. In the former case, "07" was an attempt to make the Militcja, the Polish Polish Force, more appealing to the population following incidents where striking factory workers had been shot at and killed by the forces. For the Polonez, the groundwork was to make the stolid Polski Fiat 125p look like a modern machine, something in line with its Western contemporaries.

So time to call in that master of sharp lines, Giorgetto Guigiaro, for another square-peg-in-the-round-hole solution. This is the man whose folded-paper technique had already created such iconic machines as the BMW M1 and the Volkswagen Golf, as well as Bond's aquatic automobile, the white Lotus Esprit of The Spy Who Loved Me fame. What Polski Fiat received from such an accomplished designer was one of the cast-off prototypes for the first Volkswagen Passat. Underneath, everything was the same as the car it was intended to replace. Same Fiat 125 chassis, same Fiat 125 engines, same Fiat reliability, only now dressed up in a pretty hatchback shell riddled with crumple zones to pass American safety tests.

That's not to say the Polonez couldn't have been a James Bond car; it too was a self-destructive chain-smoker with a drink problem, primarily thanks to the 1.5litre carbed engine. For those who did manage to secure themselves an FSO Polonez (not a Polski Fiat, as the Italians weren't prepared to lend their name to such a product), the feeling was heroic. You were in the most modern car available in Poland. Yes, the horizontal gear stick did protrude straight through the dash into the engine bay, but if you arrived in one, women would open their hearts (and their legs) to you. But it was all a ruse, a clever disguise. Under the sharp cut of that white jacket was something tough and brutal and crude, something that couldn't be trustd. It's therefore rather apt that this abandonned example should be found on a street called Twarda, or Hard.

The first Polonezes were churned out of the Warsaw FSO factory just a few kilometres upriver from here in 1978, with the name plucked from a readers poll in a popular newspaper. Despite the antique mechanicals (the Fiat 125p was already ten years old at this point) there were some modern touches, like foglights, seatbelts and a rev counter. But most of this was just gloss; in actuality, because of the strikes and period of Martial law, the 125p was produced alongside the Polonez for thirteen years, until being phased out in 1991, which meant that an awful lot of part sharing had to be done to make production efficient and, of course, cheap. But despite having that shadow of an older brother looming over its shoulder, the Polonez did benefit from a few periodical upgrades. The rear quarterlights on the C-pillars mark this one out as an MR'87 or "Aquarium" model, the first major body revision for the car in eight years. Well, that and a tiny little flick at the bottom of the tailgate, to glue the "1.5 SLE badge onto.

In the end, the Polonez proved to be more Bond than Borewicz. While the tough Lieutenant retired from our screens in 1987, the Polonez instead went through a transition (a la Sean Connery to Roger Moore), with the bodyshell refaced in 1991 to become the Polonez Caro; a slightly smoother, softer version (with Ford, Rover and Peugeot engines to choose from) that continued on until 2002 with essentially the same 125p floorpan. Far more of those more modern Daewoo-subsidised Polonezes can still be seen on the roads today, but for this grizzled old stalwart, the road is run; rust is a major issue, and FSO workers were often not given gloves whilst handling body panels. This is 07, Reporting Out.