It’s not just modern minivans that offer cool features. Mercedes once made one with 500 hp, and Toyota had a mid-engine supercharged minivan. And decades before the 500L and 500X, Fiat even had one, the 600 Multipla. While it didn’t have sliding doors, it was used as the base for some delightfully charming classic cars. Including, as Jay Leno recently discovered, chauffeur-driven transports for VIPs.
The Fiat 600 Multipla
Before the classic 500, there was the four-seat Fiat 600. Jalopnik reports the 600 was actually the first rear-engine Fiat, as well as the first unibody Fiat. It was even tuned by Abarth as a rally car. The 600’s primary goal, though, like the Vespa scooter, was to get people moving after WWII. And it was certainly up to the task.
Even in civilian guise, the Fiat 600 was fairly advanced. It had fully-independent suspension, the Lane Motor Museum reports. It had a water-cooled 633cc four-cylinder, Petrolicious reports, unlike the original Beetle, which was air-cooled. With a four-speed manual, the Fiat 600 wasn’t fast. But, since it only weighed about 1000 lbs, it was fuel-efficient and affordable. Fiat would eventually produce 2.7 million 600s from 1955-1969.
There were even some specialized versions, like the wicker-seated, open-air, no-doors Jolly. The Jolly is actually something of a desirable classic: RM Sotheby’s sold one at the 2020 Amelia Island Auction for $151,200.
There was also a panel-van-like version, which Icon turned into an EV. However, Fiat wanted to expand the 600’s capabilities even further. Literally, in this case.
So, in 1956, Fiat turned the 600 into the 600 Multipla, moving the cabin forward over the front axle. And even though it was less than 20” longer than a classic Mini, Motor1 reports, it could carry 6 people. The rear seats were removable, for extra cargo space, and Stuart Pratt Collection reports the middle row could even fold down. And later models also got a larger, 737cc four-cylinder, though top speed remained just under 60 mph.
1958 Fiat 600 Multipla Mirafiori
The ones Stuart Pratt brought to Jay Leno’s garage, though, were special, Hagerty reports. To show VIPs around Fiat’s Mirafiori complex, Fiat CEO Gianni Agnelli commissioned 5 modified 1958 600 Multiplas.
These 600 Multipla Mirafioris were longer and wider than the standard van, with custom bodywork and specially-made oak bumpers. Being 1958 models, they have the 737cc engine. And to improve guests’ visibility of the Fiat manufacturing complex, the Multiplas got removable Plexiglas roofs. These roofs actually raised the height of the Multipla by about 7”.
These were used at the factory for about a decade, Pratt claims. Unfortunately, these customized early minivans didn’t all survive. Pratt’s two cars, #4 and #5, are the only two left.
What was Jay’s impression?
As with the Jeep Wagoneer Roadtrip, he drove recently, Jay Leno was very taken with the Fiat 600 Multipla Mirafiori vans. He remarked that they “looked like something from the Jetsons,” odd-looking and yet somehow futuristic. And he also appreciated the effort Pratt went through to make sure the cars were properly restored.
He and Pratt also got a kick of how every passenger had their own ashtray, and how the two cars are slightly different from each other. Pratt’s recently-acquired one, the blue one, has a side indicator that the green one doesn’t, for example.
Getting the two proto-minivans going, it is a bit tight upfront, with a non-adjustable seat. But headroom is excellent. Jay found the Fiat 600 Multipla very civilized, and he also liked that it had a sense of a distinct national origin. And at the end of the drive, he and Pratt both had smiles on their faces.
If you want one, too, know that the Fiat 600 Multipla is something of an appreciating classic. Bring a Trailer reports most are priced from $20,000-$40,000. And yes, a modern minivan would definitely be safer. But the 600 Multipla shows that, even in the beginning, minivans had their charms.
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