Taking a trip down communist lane in a Nysa 522
Driving through Warsaw in an old Nysa 522 is a rather rugged experience. Being spoiled by modern technology and features devised to make any ride as comfortable and safe as possible I needed to adjust a tiny bit and lower my expectations of travelling in comfort. Whilst the rest of my group hunkered down on the low seats in the back (aligned to the left and the right side of the vehicle) I was lucky to be named co-pilot and awarded the seat next to the driver. This gave the advantage of the full view of my surroundings, but forced me to pull my legs up to my shoulders as there was hardly any legroom. However, by the end of the tour, approx. 4 hrs. later, I had mastered the rather intricate way of boarding and un-boarding. I had also learnt how to fold my legs just right to fit inside.
First things first: the Nysa we rode in was painted in pink. Bright pink. Miss Piggy pink. Anyone even remotely familiar with any products built during the Soviet era will now be uncomfortably aware that this might not actually be it’s original colour. Then Nysas were produced solely in grey, green and blue, I was told. And this somehow rings true.
Also, Nysas are a dying breed. Produced in the town they were named after (Nysa in Poland) from 1958 until 1994 they are now considerably gaining in value as the demand for them is growing steadily whilst their availability is decreasing at the same rate. Most vehicles still available have either been lovingly restored and painted in strangely unsocialist colours or are in such a derelict state that many hours and probably even more Zlotys need to be invested to make them driveable again.
Today they are used mainly as tourist attractions, since the average Pole prefers any German car over their Yugos, Ladas, Wartburgs or Trabats, judging by the numbers of BMW X5 and Porsche crowding the city centre of Warsaw. In former times however, during the communist era, Nysas were mainly used as ambulances or police (Militia) cars (the blue ones!) and sometimes (if you were a good communist) even as family cars. I was told, that the build quality of the Nysas was rather poor and they basically began falling apart from the day the left the factory. Little wonder thus, that after the communist era ended in 1989 the ready availability of western cars was the beginning of the end for the Nysa.
As I initially mentioned, passenger comfort was in no way catered for. As far as I could figure our pink Nysa 522 had a heater, which, and I am not sure if I heard this correctly over the engine noise and the screeching of the gearbox, was running constantly and not to be turned off which made the ride on a warm day even warmer. The only “fans” available were the open windows and two small roof openings, which could be slightly tilted for increased airflow. To be honest, I was rather glad to be sitting up in front with my nose sticking out of the passenger window. I have no idea how the rest of our group managed to stay alive in the back of the van. But at least they had legroom. Or they opened the back door. Who knows.
According to our guide our car has a Mercedes diesel engine. I never managed to find out if this was the original engine or a replacement. He also told me that it has something around 75 horse powers and was the most unreliable part of the car. See, now why I hesitate accepting that Mercedes would be the original engine? The gears were changed with an old-fashioned 4-speed stick shift. A reverse gear is also available. An interesting feature was the PDC (park distance control). You may now ask yourself what on earth I am talking about. No fans, a constantly heating heater, but PDC? Aha… yes. Human PDC. Every time our driver needed to reverse the modern “beep” and “beep, beep” was replaced by “Guys, have a look how much room there is.” And my co-passengers would oblige and direct him out of the sparking bay without hitting any car behind him.
There is little more to say about the Nysa 522. It is equipped with the most basic features a car needs to be called a car and work as one. At times I could see the street rushing by underneath us as the base of the stick shift would move about in its “fitting” and allow for quick glimpses of the road underneath.
How fast does it go? Since the seatbelts were merely two useless sad bands of frayed old fabric hanging in the doorframes we spluttered about Warsaw at about 30 to 40 km/h. There were moments of acceleration though and at one point I watched the speedometer needle climb to a staggering 60 km/h. I could not take a picture of that because firstly I was hanging on for dear life and secondly the moment was over before I could get my camera ready.
But whilst you may attract the wrath of your fellow road users, bystanders and pedestrians in say an Audi R8 or a Ferrari or even a Mercedes you will most certainly be applauded and smiled at when driving by in this rattling old communist machine. At least we were smiled at, perhaps it of pity, perhaps for nostalgia, I guess I’ll never really know.
7 additional images. Click to enlarge.