Fiat’s 126 was never the most natural of rally cars. The 700cc engine offered little in the way of power or torque and suspension travel… well, there really wasn’t a lot of that either.
But 20 years ago it was one of these Italian inspired, but mainly Polish built, cars that helped now WRC 3 frontrunner Kajetan Kajetanowicz find his feet in rallying.
“It was cheap,” Kajetanowicz explained. “That was the reason I chose the 126. When I bought the car, my father and I worked on it. My father is a great guy, but he wasn’t a specialist mechanic for rallying – neither of us knew so much about what we were doing.”
With a tweak or two to the engine and suspension, the Fiat 126p was launched at Rally Cieszyńska Barbórka. And Kajetanowicz was an immediate hit with the sport, running fourth after the first super special of his life.
Unfortunately for him, he was in for an even bigger hit on the next stage. He crashed off the road and damaged the Fiat extensively.
“It took another six months to fix the car,” he said. “We didn’t have the money to fix it straight away. But one year after Cieszyńska Barbórka, I went back to this rally and competed in the same car again. This time I won the class.”
That result was hugely impressive, given he was in the same category as superior and more contemporary machinery – there was no end of Fiat Cinquecento and Seicentos ranged against him. But he beat them all.
“They had 120bhp,” he said, “but we had 40. The difference was the conditions on this rally. It was a winter rally, so you didn’t need so much of the power. That’s how I could make the win. I was very happy for this.
“My memories are good for this car. I tried to find the Fiat to buy it back, but I think it’s not possible. It seems to have gone. Even when we had it, we went through three engines.
“It’s nice memory to think back to that time. The car was fun to drive and there was no pressure from the sponsors or the media or the fans. OK, I put the pressure for myself, but not much from the outside. It was like a unique and specific time in my time in the sport.”
After using the 126p on a handful of events, Kajetanowicz moved up to join the more modern Fiat drivers using both a Cinquecento and Seicento.
The Pole moved away from his home rallies to win three back-to-back European Championship titles from 2015 – 2017 before his move up to the world championship, where he currently competes in WRC 3, driving a Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo.