FSO Polonez 2500 Racing

While Brendan McAleer's tale of a Peugeot prototype gave you a healthy dose of box flares yesterday, I realized there was one old race car that may give you reason to forget all about the Group B machines from the world's best automakers, and instead bow down at the magnificence that is the FSO Polonez 2500 Racing, affectionately known as the 'Stratopolonez'.

It's a tale of ridiculous ingenuity, the sort that seems to manifest after the Polish Premier's son crashes his Lancia Stratos rally car. 

Andrzeja Jaroszewicz, son of Piotr Jaroszewicz, was a rally driver who competed in Poland, other Eastern Bloc countries, and Europe through the 1970s and 80s. His nickname? The Red Prince. Famous for, well, being famous, I'm not sure he's as cool a figure as Steve McQueen—but then again, McQueen didn't have a Stratos with "POLSKA" written across the fog lights. The parties, movie premiers, famous friends, and women outlived the Stratos, which met its fate in the 1977 Rally Poland as Jaroszewicz was leading.

The tree was, as always, unhurt, but like a Ferrero Rocher's delicate wrapper, his Stratos' bodywork was peeled away to reveal the sweetness within: its Ferrari-designed V6 engine.

I'm not sure who made the decision to chop up the Stratos and place the good parts into an FSO Polonez, but I have an idea that someone decided the Red Prince would have to start driving Polish cars during his racing career. In his piece on this car, my friend Kamil said, "This set of circumstances created a marketing opportunity for the new car (even if there was a ten year waiting list for it) and a new source of potential national pride (call it propaganda)."

Completed in 1978, its translated-from-Polish Wikipedia page describes the first race to feature the 'Stratopolonez': "…run by Andrzeja Jaroszewicz made three uncontrolled rotation around its axis but still won."

In a country where the police- and government-issue FSO Polonez had just 112 horsepower and was quick enough to outrun most vehicles, a more than 240 horsepower race car presented an interesting way to tip the scales in favour of the home team. 

That said, it was still a bit foreign. Reports say that locals kept calling police to complain about the noise, and by all accounts its suspension settings and roll cage were rudimentary at best. Any one of the three other drivers besides Jaroszewicz to take its wheel in competition must have been brave, patriotic souls. 

I guess box flares didn't make it past the Iron Curtain, but I find the 'Stratopolonez' cycle-style fenders to be oddly fitting as a solution for covering 330mm-wide rear tires. With a radiator plucked from a STAR heavy truck and other modifications done, I'm sure, to just make it all work, its small design differences over the standard Polonez are fun to spot.

By all accounts, the car would have given any driver a thrill with its 2.4-litre V6, reportedly reworked to deliver as much as 285 horsepower, as if the engineers in FSO knew tricks that Ferrari and Lancia didn't. Zero to 100 km/h (62 mph) was in less than six seconds, if you believe the hype, with all accounts saying it was well-known as displaying extreme oversteer during races.

Now sitting, functional and restored in the Museum of Technology in Warsaw, it's a star attraction that draws many admirers—a cursory search for the car on Google will give you pages of fan photos of the Red Prince's unruly steed.