Revenge of the Mermaid
A couple of years ago, I wrote a post on the Syrena Sport, a prototype sports car built in 1960 by the engineering staff at Poland's state-run auto factory. Named after the militant freshwater mermaid who is a symbol of the city of Warsaw, the racy and rakish Syrena Sport has been called "the Polish Corvette" and "the most beautiful car ever built behind the Iron Curtain."
A little too racy, rakish, and beautiful for its own good, as it turned out: the ruling Communist Party declared that "extravagant and imperialist" fiberglass sports cars had no place in the Worker's Paradise, and ordered it destroyed. The engineers who built the Syrena Sport refused to let their creation be destroyed, and managed to keep the car hidden for nearly twenty years before the government's goon squad finally caught up with it. Despite having been "disappeared" by the secret police, the Syrena Sport has a place in the hearts of Polish car enthusiasts on a par with how we in the US think of the Corvette or the '57 Chevy, with a touch of that bittersweet what-might-have-been feeling you get from the 1948 Tucker.
In the course of researching my original post, I learned that one group of Polish gearheads was then embarked on an attempt to build a street-legal Syrena replica. While that particular group seems to have gone out of business, the cause of bringing back the Syrena Sport lives on. Two Car Lust readers from Poland (going by the screen names "Pit" and "Kriz") recently provided us with some updates via the comments to my original post. After following up on the links they provided, I am happy to report that there is now a fully armed and operational Syrena Sport rolling on the streets of Poland, and two highly publicized (and well-financed) replica project cars under construction.
According to the "in progress" photos posted at a Polish car enthusiast website, Mr. Mazura started with a plain Syrena sedan and added his own custom bodywork. The result may not quite be an exact replica, but it certainly gets the point across. Władysław Skoczyński, one of the engineers from the original project, said, upon seeing the car for the first time, "Czarek"--the car's designer--"would be happy!" I can think of no higher praise.
The two high-złoty project cars are a study in contrasts. One is sponsored by the Muzeum Techniki i Komunikacji w Szczecinie (Szczecin Museum of Technology and Communications), the Muzeum Techniki Warszawa (Warsaw Museum of Technology), the Muzeum Motoryzacji w Warszawie (Warsaw Automobile Museum), and what looks like several technology firms, and its objective is to recreate the car as accurately as possible, down to the last nut, bolt, and lock washer. The project has a very slick website (syrenasport.eu) with a history section and a news blog, and also maintains a Facebook page where they post pictures of the work in progress.
The photo at the top of this post is from their gallery, but it's not a real car: it's a 3D digital rendering. They tell you right up front (in Polish) that it's CGI and not a photo, but if they hadn't...well, they sure could've fooled me. The real car is not quite that far along; as of August 7, the latest update to the Facebook page was a set of photos of the completed "1:1 model" (shown above) from which they will be making the fiberglass molds.
The other project is a promotional stunt by the makers of Żołądkową vodka. The distillers have given their Syrena Sport revival effort a fairly elaborate website (which you must be 18 to enter) with articles (in Polish, of course) on the history of the car and Polish popular culture of the early '60s, a vintage photo gallery, a work-in-progress gallery, and a (non-embeddable) documentary film featuring interviews (in Polish, of course) of surviving members of the original design team.
Though it seems the Żołądkową people are making a sincere effort at historical accuracy, the major objective of their project is, of course, to sell adult beverages. The car is prominently featured in the distillery's advertising, depicted in the company's trademark orange instead of the prototype's red. They've even gone so far as to Photoshop their 3D rendering into a New York City street scene as a joke. Well, I'm pretty sure it's a joke, anyway; doesn't "hahaha" mean the same thing in Polish as it does in English?
On the other hand, wouldn't it be cool to see a Syrena Sport rolling through midtown Manhattan? It's not beyond the realm of possibility. Once one of the revival projects makes the body components it needs, the fiberglass molds don't have to be tossed out--some enterprising person could use them to make body kits, or even put the car into limited series production.
But why stop there? Had the car gone into production, there very well could have been variations on the design such as a convertible, as imagined here by artist Tomek Albin:
Even better: how about a modern Syrena Sport retrocar in the showroom of your local dealership? A Polish industrial designer named Greg Bajorek has come up with a 21st-century Syrena concept. As you can see, he's worked in all of the original's styling cues.
It would probably be going too far to call the Syrena Sport affair a foreshadowing of later, more momentous events in Polish history. Still, one cannot help but think that something basic in human nature--a respect for art and craftsmanship, a love of liberty, an instinctive rejection of soulless conformity--had something to do with it.
One of our readers commented in response:
I like to imagine a NASCAR driver's boot stamping on the grave of [Polish dictator] Władysław Gomułka -- forever.
I agree with the reader's basic sentiment, but I don't think that's a boot print on the tyrant's grave. It's a set of tire tracks...made by a little red two-seater...and there's a mermaid behind the wheel.
--Cookie the Dog's Owner
The photo of Mr. Mazura and his car is from an article in the Kurier Poranny (Morning Courier), the local newspaper of Bialystok, Poland. The photo(shop)s of Greg Bajorek's concept car and Tomek Albin's imagining of a Syrena convertible come from their portfolios at art and design website Behance. The other illustrations are from powrotlegendy.pl (the distillery's project car site) and syrenasport.eu.