The people’s car

Mass motorisation played a major role in the social and economic changes of the 20th century. Between the two world wars, the automobile became widespread in the United States, making it possible to travel quickly across the country’s vast expanses. After the Second World War, it also became popular in Western Europe, where it became both an element and a symbol of the economic miracle of the 1950s and 1960s.

Photo 1.

It was in the United States that the car first ceased to be a toy for the rich, primarily thanks to Henry Ford and his Model T (1908–1927), which went into mass production in 1913. More than 15 million cars of this model, affectionately known as Thin Lizzy, were built. Pictured is a 1923 Polish press advertisement for the Ford T.

‘Gazeta Rolnicza’, Vol. 63, No. 23/24 of 11 June 1923 (collections of the Ossolineum Library / Periodicals Department)

Photo 2.

East of the Iron Curtain, the most motorised country was the German Democratic Republic, dominated by the Trabant, produced between 1957 and 1991 (successively the 500 and 600 models and, from 1964, the best-known 601).

‘Młody Technik’ 1967, No. 1 (collections of the Ossolineum Library / Periodicals Department)

Photo 3.

One of the flagship projects of Nazi Germany was the motorway construction programme and mass motorisation. Hitler entrusted Ferdinand Porsche with the task of creating a car for the people (German: Volkswagen). Mass production did not begin until after the war, in a completely different political reality. The car, called the Hunchback, became the most popular car in automotive history – more than 21 million had been built by 2003, when the last one rolled off the production line at the factory in Mexico.

‘Touring’ 1938, No. 7 (collections of the Ossolineum Library / Periodicals Department)

Photo 4.

The French recipe for a popular car was a minimalist but functional body, a suspension that allowed comfortable driving on bad roads and a small engine that placed the car in the lowest possible tax bracket. All these criteria were met by the ingenious Citroën 2CV (more than 5 million produced between 1949 and 1990) and the Renault models: 4CV (over 1 million cars between 1947 and 1961) and 4L (8 million cars between 1961 and 1992).

‘Młody Technik’ 1972, No. 11 (collections of Piotr Sroka)

Photo 5.

On the Italian mass market, there were the Fiats: 500 (1957–1975) and the slightly larger 600 (1955–1967). The 126p is derived from the Fiat 500, while the larger model was produced in Yugoslavia at the Zastava plants until 1985.

‘Młody Technik’ 1967, No. 4 (collections of the Ossolineum Library / Periodicals Department)

Photo 6.

For over 40 years (1959–2000) a British Mini was produced that combined a small size with a spacious interior and sensational handling characteristics that made the car a winner in many rallies and races.

‘Młody Technik’ 1967, No. 12 (collections of the Ossolineum Library / Periodicals Department)