While Poland’s auto industry consists mostly of manufacturing facilities owned by outside interests, the country’s industrial history does include some attempts at home-grown car companies including WSK which briefly produced this little gem, the Mikrus MR300.
In the aftermath of World War II, Poland had a number of unused but still serviceable factories that had been part of the war effort. Officials anxious to put this capacity to good use developed plans to build a small, inexpensive car for the masses.
A fleet of 17 prototypes was produced in 1957 with an additional 100 in 1958. (The name Mikrus was taken from a genus of spiders and the model designation comes from the cities in which manufacturing took place, Mielec which assembled the car and Rzeszow which produced the engines with ‘300’ denoting engine displacement.)
The car was tiny, weighing in at around 1000 pounds and was devoid of amenities. The 2-cylinder, 2-stroke engine was mounted in the rear and delivered power to the rear wheels through a non-synchro four-speed transmission. Rated at only 15 horsepower, the Mikrus could reach a top speed of 56 mph.
Tiny as it was, the Mikrus could easily carry two adults and two children, though climbing in and out through its small door openings might be a challenge. A trunk lid was a luxury that owners had to do without so cargo was loaded through the front passenger compartment under the dash.
Between 1958 and 1960 production of MR300s continued at a trickle but never reached full production and only 1728 of them were ever built. Production came to a halt in the fall of 1960 and speculation continues today as to why. Conventional wisdom has it that central planners in Moscow looked unfavorably on upstart industrial projects in the Soviet satellites but other factors were also at play including high production costs which would have made it difficult to price it affordably.
The Mikrus proved to be quite durable and many of them are still on the road. The one pictured is the only one known to exist in the U.S. Its owner claims that it still contains 90% of its original parts, which would be no small feat.