I was forwarded an article titled Historia polskiej motoryzacji – jak powstał Żuk by Zdzisław Podbielski some of nuggets of knowledge regarding Żuk, worth being archived in English, including the story of the cactus growing in the hand of an important guy that thought the Żuk would never be produced :
Today’s Lublin is the largest Polish city to the east of the Vistula River. It has almost 400 thousand inhabitants and has become the capital of our country’s agricultural region in the consciousness of its compatriots. However, it is worth mentioning, or perhaps only reminding, that this charming city has industrial traditions dating back to ancient times. For example, already in the middle of the 16th century there was the largest paper mill in Poland.
Other manufacturing plants were also established, such as scales factories, eternit factories and an extensive industry working for the needs of agriculture. At the turn of the 1920s and 1930s, there was an airplane factory, initially as Zakłady Mechaniczne E. Plage i T. Laśkiewicz (Mechanical Works E. Plage and T. Laśkiewicz), and later as the Lubelska Wytwórnia Samolotów (Lublin Aircraft Factory, LWS). It is with it that the automotive traditions of “Goat’s stronghold” (Koziego Grodu) are connected (a goat is a symbolic coat of arms of Lublin). It is the place where the department dealing with the production of bodywork, built on imported car chassis of world-famous brands, such as American Buick, Chrysler, Auburn and Cord and French Hotchkiss, was created. The bodywork was also manufactured by Fabryka Maszyn i Narzędzi Rolniczych M. Wolski i S-ka (M. Wolski i S-ka Agricultural Machinery and Tools Factory) in Lublin, including buses on chassis of the German Henschel company.
Before World War II, within the framework of the emerging Central Industrial District, in 1938, the construction of a large factory began on the basis of a license agreement concluded by the Mechanical Plants Lilpop, Rau and Loewenstein with the American corporation General Motors. The factory was built in the eastern part of Lublin – in the Tatars district. Until the outbreak of World War II, a magnificent production hall was built, which testified to the great momentum with which the new factory was planned to be used after the war as a car assembly plant for Lublin GAZ-51 and Żuk.
Before Żuk was created
In 1948, the authorities of socialist Poland decided to build a car factory in Lublin on the areas designated for this purpose before the war, using the already mentioned pre-war production hall. After the old factory equipment, only a trace remained, as it was taken first by the occupier and later by the “liberators” from the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was also the licensor of a car.
It was planned to assemble (from parts supplied from the USSR) about 12 thousand trucks per year according to the model GAZ-51, manufactured in Gorkowskie Zakłady Samochodowe. In December 1950, it was decided to increase production to 25 000 vehicles per year and the factory was appointed as a co-operator for the existing or constructed car factories in Poland. The so-called fasteners, i.e. bolts, nuts and other small products, as well as complex ones, such as forgings and castings, were to come from here.
The legal act establishing the Fabryki Samochodów Ciężarowych (heavy car factory) Bolesław Bierut came into force on 1 January 1951. The factory department, which started work the earliest, was the main assembly. On November 7, 1951, i.e. a day later than in the Warsaw passenger car factory, with the participation of a similar team of officers, the assembly of the first licensed car was celebrated in the Lublin plant. The ceremony was very solemn as it marked the 34th anniversary of the October Revolution.
The GAZ-51 licence was named “Lublin” and it quickly turned out to be of little use to the Polish economy. It was uneconomical to operate, excessively consuming fuel and had too little payload. Moreover, a lorry was manufactured in Starachowice, which better met the country’s transport needs. The assembly of Lublin’s licences did not develop as planned. Delivery of licence documentation and elements for the assembly of Lublin was delayed. This aroused the reluctance of the crew towards this vehicle, as demonstrated by the opening after a small political thaw in 1956. Therefore, the plans concerning the number of produced vehicles were not fulfilled and during the more than seven-year period, until June 1959, only 17 479 vehicles were manufactured.
Creation of the Żuk
The bad decision to purchase a licence for GAZ-51, the production of which did not develop, made the fate of the Lublin factory as a car manufacturer uncertain. The huge factory complex, built with a large financial outlay, was not used for its intended purpose. The factory was even called a “sleeping colossus” („drzemiącym kolosem”). Its management undertook the production of various products, e.g. caravans, manure spreaders and even dough rollers, because a large woodworking hall (for the production of GAZ’s licence boxes) was available.
The ambition of the Lublin crew was to produce cars. However, not such as it was imposed from above. They wanted to produce a vehicle that was more useful to the Polish economy, which after the war was very much destroyed and needed means of transport. Already in 1956 it was proposed to develop a delivery van with a load capacity of about 1000 kg. Construction assumptions, first work schedules and the construction of three prototypes were prepared. The research programme was discussed and approved by the Biurze Konstrukcyjnym Przemysłu Motoryzacyjnego (Technical Council of the Automotive Industry Construction Office, BKPMot.) in Warsaw. Therefore, important arrangements were made, as BKPMot. decided at that time on the development of new car structures. The deadline for completion of the works was also adopted.
It seemed that these works would not be difficult to carry out, because in the construction of the new vehicle it was necessary to use the already existing important components, and above all: engine, power transmission, control and suspension systems from the Warsaw passenger car factory model produced in Warsaw. However, these units had to be properly mounted on the load-bearing frame, and above all, the main task turned out to be the development of a new body.
The head of the FSC construction office in Lublin at that time was Stanisław Tański, an engineer who managed all the works on the new delivery van and was considered to be the father of Żuk. He was not only a professional, but also a modest man with a large culture. He did not like this term and explained that it was the team that created the car. After the factory there was a humorous term taken from the Lublin dialect: “It’s hard to find out who’s the dad” („kto jest ociec, trudno dociec”). And indeed, the team developed the car, and the body was not without difficulty developed under the direction of a young engineer Julian Kamiński. He told me about the difficulties in creating a basic measurement grid for the design of the body, and later about the metal car body.
The press shop in Kielce refused to accept orders for making extrusions to the body. Frequently bent panels and “covered” panels, corners and cab roof were made up to three prototypes at WSK Świdnik. Not only for the prototype series. For the first few years of serial production in FSC Lublin, the body was made by hand. It was troublesome to make longitudinal belts along the body, characteristic for Żuk. They were needed because they stiffened the walls of this body. Kamiński dreamt of a one-piece bent windscreen, but none of the glassworks wanted to take on this task and as a result, the front window was made of three-part tempered flat panes. The driver’s cab door was also made using a simplified method. Instead of two full-pieces – the exterior and interior – it was necessary to design two parts of the door, with an upper “frame”, i.e. with sliding windows instead of lowered ones.
In 1957, despite many difficulties, the construction works on Żuk were carried out very quickly and after seven months, in the following year, the construction of three prototypes was commenced. During the development of the vehicle’s construction, its name was established. From among several proposals, the one proposed by J. Kamiński was selected. “I justified this by the foreseeable future circulation of such a car on the streets of cities and settlements, similarly to the movement of various types of beetles and beetles, which also move for delivery purposes and are often striped,” said Kamiński.
The first pre-prototype copy of Żuk in March 1958 was sent to the factory road research department, and in June of the same year the car was shown at the Poznań International Fair. It aroused great interest and the factory received numerous orders from potential domestic and foreign buyers, mainly from socialist countries.
Before serial production started, the superior body of all car factories, i.e. the Automotive Industry Association in Warsaw, had great doubts as to whether the Lublin plant would be able to launch this production. When Władysław Kwiatkowski, General Director of FSC-Lublin, during his visit to ZPMot. in Warsaw, declared the launch of serial production of Żuk, he heard from one of the important directors of the Association: Here (pointing to an open hand) the cactus will grow if you manage to do so. By the end of 1958, 50 Żuk were made, and a year later, on 17 December 1959 to be precise, Director W. Kwiatkowski and the crew celebrated the production of the thousandth Żuk. It was then that the crew presented Kwiatkowski a cactus in a pot – not in the palm of the hand – with a request to hand it over to the unbelieving director from the Union (unfortunately, we do not know if this happened).
Żuk was produced for 40 years, modernized, but not as we would have expected – e.g. a diesel engine appeared at the end of production, when the competition from western used vehicles was already high. However, it fulfilled an important task in delivery transport, it was used in trade, services and crafts. It was also a good export commodity, mainly to the countries of the so-called socialist camp, and the Russians said: “We sold to Poles a licence for a passenger car, whose elements were used by delivery trucks, and now they are selling these to us”.
The Lublin factory produced various bodywork varieties of Żuk. In total, 587,500 of these cars left the road, and the last one left the assembly line on January 30, 1998.