This Fiat Jolly 600 was sold at the Barrett Jackson Auction in 2006 for over $43,000. Photo credit Barrett Jackson.
By Pete Vack
If, like Luigi in the movie CARS, a Fiat Jolly could talk, it would probably tell you, with a good hearty chuckle between each breath, the reason Jollys are so Jolly is that they have increased in value from less than nothing to considerably more than $50,000 in an amazingly short period of time.
They might also mention that their worth has doubled in the last four years. Not a bad return on investment for a car with an acronym that meant “Fix It Again Tony” to many people.
Luigiâ€™s cousin might also tell you that it was always expensive. For a car that had no doors or windows, and equipped with wicker basket seats, it cost a lot of money, even in 1958. When Road & Track magazine test drove one of the first 500 Jollys to come to the U.S., they were constantly approached by people who wanted one. When told the car cost â€œjust under $2000â€, the curious couldnâ€™t believe it. In those days you could walk out of a showroom with a brand new Chevy for that kind of money. And it had doors. Performance, for the 500, couldnâ€™t even begin to compare with the average car of the period–R&T clocked the 500 sedan with a 0-60 time of 37.2 seconds and the quarter mile in 25 seconds. Maybe vacations were longer in those days! Fuel consumption was 36 around town and 44 on the highway, but the 600 version was significantly less. But it was cute, and R&T reported that even in car crazy Los Angeles, people â€œhad never seen anything like this latter-day surrey-with-a-fringe-on-the-top.â€
Pininfarina built this beach car on the Fiat Multipla chassis in mid 1956, so the coachbuilder may have preceeded the Ghia/Agnelli 500 concept. Pininfarina Archives.
The origins of the Jolly concept are unclear. It has been written that the idea was that of Gianni Agnelli, the grandson of Fiatâ€™s founder. Italy is sometimes a very understanding country. Shortly before his death in 1946, Grandfather Giovanni realized that Agnelli needed time to grow up before taking the reigns of one of Italyâ€™s most important countries. â€œHe told me to have a fling for a few years, to sow my wild oats..â€œ recalled Agnelli. While Fiat prospered Agnelli played. During the 1950s, one of his favorite toys was an 82 foot yacht (a mere motorboat in todayâ€™s world of 500 footers). What Italy, or Agnelli needed, was a good very light open car to put on the yacht and bring from beach to beach across the blue Mediterranean. Having access to everything Fiat, he had the company send a 500 to Ghia, where the coachbuilder created the first Jolly in either 1957 or 1958.
There is probably much truth in that story. However, in mid 1956 and ready for the fall Paris Auto show, Pininfarina, presented a beach car on a Fiat 600 Multipla chassis, and it was sold to a good friend of Agnellis, Henry Ford II. During the Barrett-Jackson Auction in 2006, his son Edsel Ford II was there and when asked which car heâ€™d buy if given the choice, the answer was a Fiat 600 Jolly which sold for $43,000. There is probably more than a bit of nostalgia behind that desire. In a further bit of irony, Ford had bought the house of Ghia in 1970.
In any event, Jollys were built to accommodate the desires and needs of the rich and famous. Reportedly Aristotle Onassis owned at least one, as did Yul Brynner who might have opted for a more secure top. Other reputed owners include John Wayne (weâ€™ll have to wait for a photo of that!), Mae West (and that too!) and somewhat more likely, Grace Kelly.
Well documented but little known is the fact that Lyndon B. Johnson was given a 500 Jolly by the Fiat Company. Apparently he used it at his ranch, and later the Park Service â€œencouraged the President to restore the vehicle to its original condition, but the restoration effort ended when the President was unable to find any replacement parts.â€ Now we know for sure the President really did own one!
Proof that President Johnson did have a Fiat Jolly was provided by the U.S. Park Service. This is the 500 version of the Jolly.
From 1958 to the mid sixties, a Fiat Jolly was simply the thing to have for the well heeled, knighted or royal yacht owner. The allure passed through the ages. Or maybe, cute is always cute.
Ironically, all Jollys were based on the low end Fiats, which put Italy on wheels during the fifties and sixties. The typical Jolly owner wouldnâ€™t be caught dead driving a plain 500 or 600 sedan, but the Jolly was another matter entirely. It was far too expensive for the average Italian, and the cheeky, chic appeal was undeniable. One just couldnâ€™t take the Jolly–which means â€œjokerâ€ in Italian, too seriously, hence its name. But the name also reflected that among the European countries to have benefited from the Marshall plan and an economic miracle, perhaps Italy was actually enjoying the fruits of their newfound prosperity.
Ghia built this version on the Renault 4cv until 1961, and the result was even more pleasant than the Fiat 600. Ghia Archives.
Jollys were built in at least three different versions of Fiats as well as on the rarer but even cuter Renault 4CV chassis. The Jollyâ€™s were first built for production by the firm of Ghia in Turin, using the two cylinder rear- engined 500 chassis. Jollys were made out of Fiat 600s as well—a slightly larger car with a 600 cc rear engine. At the same time, Jollys were constructed on the Fiat Multipla platform, providing space for six people. Almost all were designed with the same options–chrome rails, a fringed top, and most had actual wicker basket chairs.
The total number of Jollys of all types built between 1958 and 1965 is anyoneâ€™s guess. The best number is NVM (not very many). Ghia made most the most. Pininfarina made a few, and other smaller coachbuilders such as Boano and, Fissore often concocted themes on a Jolly for shows or customers. What is more certain is that few remain around today–more than 50, less than 500, and that would have take into consideration the replicas built to cash in on the ever-growing popularity on the action scene.