Through his connections with Chrysler, Fiat, Volkswagen, and others, Luigi “Gigi” Segre built Carrozzeria Ghia into a powerhouse of the Italian coachbuilding industry. His partnership with Virgil Exner revitalized Chrysler’s staid image in the 1950s and provided Ghia the financial stability and confidence to add a volume manufacturing side to their operation. As with its Italian coachbuilding contemporaries, Ghia produced one-off showpieces and glamorous custom bodies for exotic sports cars, but they also produced more humble vehicles using Fiat, Renault, and Volkswagen chassis.
Ghia deserves the credit for creating one of the more memorable fads in motoring history. While on a beach holiday, Gigi Segre noticed big, awkward taxis lumbering around the island streets of Capri and couldn’t help but think they were out of place. He felt something more stylish and delicate would better suit the relaxed atmosphere on Capri. He sketched out some ideas, and upon his return to Turin, tasked his team with bringing his concept to life. Using the ubiquitous Fiat Cinquecento as a basis, Ghia craftsmen removed the roof and doors and sculpted “step over” sills for easy ingress. They ditched the standard interior trim for swimsuit-friendly wicker, added a fabric surrey top to shade occupants from the hot Mediterranean sun, and big chrome grab handles should rear-seat passengers have sandy shoes.
The name “Jolly” suited the little Fiat’s spirit perfectly. While the cheeky beach car was a fun exercise, buyers weren’t quite sure what to make of it at first. That all changed when Gianni Agnelli, the millionaire heir to the Fiat empire, was spotted by paparazzi driving one along the Italian Riviera. Once the Italian press published photos of the stylish playboy Agnelli aboard his Jolly, the public went mad, and demand took off. While the Fiat 500-based version was most prevalent, Ghia also offered similar treatments to the larger water-cooled Fiat 600, the Renault 4CV, and even a one-off Volkswagen Beetle. But as quickly as the beach car fad appeared, the appeal faded as the Jolly’s fair-weather nature limited its practicality. Or course, that hasn’t stopped today’s collectors from coveting these delightful coachbuilt cars, and examples are often found sharing garage space with much more exotic machinery.
While the Fiat 500/600-based Jolly is the most iconic and best-known of all the Ghia-produced beach cars, estimates suggest a total production of just 650 examples, making them a rare find today. This 1960 500 Jolly is a nice example presented with an older, amateur-quality restoration, finished in a suitably vivid pearlescent green livery. The coachwork is in good order and the paint is glossy and attractive, although the cosmetics do show signs of wear throughout. Brightwork is similarly good, with excellent plating on the bumpers and chrome cockpit rails combined with well-preserved original aluminum alloy trim. The color-keyed steel wheels wear dog-dish hubcaps and period-style Michelin tires providing the proper stance on the road.
One of the Jolly’s most endearing features is the distinctive wicker interior. On this car, the wicker work is in fair overall condition, although there are some areas that require repair, particularly on the driver’s seat. However, a set of custom-made vinyl seat covers accompany the car, allowing the next keeper the option to enjoy it as-is or restore the wicker as needed. The white and green vinyl surrey top matches the seat covers, and the material provides improved moisture protection over the original canvas in the event of a pop-up rain shower. The original instrument cluster is an exercise in minimalism, with just a speedo and a few warning lights. For a more accurate read on critical engine functions, the restorers added a trio of Stewart Warner auxiliary dials to monitor fuel level, oil pressure, and amps, in addition to a modern AM/FM/CD player.
At the heart of the Jolly is the same 497 cc air-cooled two-cylinder engine that powered the standard Nuova 500 lineup on which the Jolly is based. Nestled behind the rear axle line, the vertical-twin mates to a four-speed manual gearbox. Despite the tiny displacement, the little twin is surprisingly plucky, propelling the Jolly alongside the boardwalk with relative ease. This example runs and drives well, and the engine is quite tidy and reasonably well detailed. It shows signs of recent maintenance, and it runs and drives, though some additional sorting may be required.
This charming coachbuilt Fiat is suitable for enjoyment as-is with minimal attention, or for the purist, would serve as the basis for a very straightforward restoration to correct original specification. Few automobiles in history exude such pure delight quite like the Fiat Jolly. It is a truly unique car that excels at its sole purpose – to be fun.
Offers welcome and trades considered