Designed with resort towns in mind, the Fiat Jolly was built by Ghia in limited numbers as a response to a request by Fiat chairman, Gianni Agnelli. He wanted a small, lightweight car which he could transport on his boat for use in port towns and cities. With a chopped roof and wicker seats, it was rather remarkable that the Jolly cost almost double the price of a new 500. As a result, these cars were mainly popular with the jet set; a short list of Jolly owners included Aristottle Onassis, Yul Brenner, John Wayne, Grace Kelly and Mae West. Even US President Lyndon Johnson owned one. While they are purely a car with one purpose in mind, they have become quite collectable in recent times and always draw a crowd at auctions. This Jolly for sale in California was recently sold at Bonhams and Butterfields and has benefitted from a full restoration.
FIAT's Nuova 500, introduced in 1957, would prove to be an outstanding success for the company with some 2.9 million built. It spawned numerous variants, from sporting versions by Abarth to the ahead-of-its-time Giardiniera people carrier. Alternatives to the original were offered by many of Italy's finest carrozzeria, the best known of these being Ghia's stylish Jolly beach car, which transformed the 500 from basic transport to conspicuous indicator of wealth.
The origins of the Jolly can be traced to Fiat's own Chairman, playboy Gianni Agnelli, who wanted a tender for his yacht 'Agneta'. He commissioned Ghia to remove the remove the roof and doors and add a folding surrey top and wicker seats. Naturally, when Agnelli was seen driving his creation at popular Mediterranean ports, it became a must-have automotive accessory; famous Jolly owners included Aristotle Onassis, Grace Kelly and even Mae West. As redolent of la dolce vita Italy as the immortal Vespa scooter, the Jolly was quintessentially Italian. A small number of Jollies were based on the extended platform Giardiniera estate version of the 500, with the engine under the boot floor, affording a generous luggage area to carry your Louis Vuitton suitcases.
We acquired this Jolly Giardiniera from a broker who bought the car through Bonhams and Butterfields. According to them, the car was purchased in Italy by a Californian Italian ex-patriot and was thoroughly restored there over the past several years. Photos documenting the restoration show the Jolly completely stripped for paint in the attractive ivory color it wears today. Mechanical systems were refurbished as needed, including a rebuild of the engine and transmission.
The Giardiniera was in Italy as recently as November 2011, at which time it was certified in Torino by the Carrozzeria Ghia Club Italia; the homologation certificate and plaque is included. Additionally, in 2011 the Jolly was registered with the Registro Storico Fiat, and issued a plaque bearing its number in the Fiat Registry. An appraisal report in the file dated August 2012 describes the car as "performing with no operational malfunctions".
This exceptionally rare Giardiniera retains the Jolly's hallmark wicker seats and surrey fringe top, with the greater usability of the more practical Giardiniera body style – a model perfectly suited for that St. Barths beach house – or even on the decks of your yacht!
Offered with a California Title, I initially bought the car to use for a promotional event in Santa Barbara. While I buy and sell a high volume of European classics, I’m admittedly far from being an expert in Italian marques and I recommend that buyers do their own due diligence before bidding or purchasing on any car we have to offer. I’ll gladly forward all of the documentation that we have on the car upon request and welcome in-person inspections.
A Fiat Jolly will typically bring somewhere between $25,000 and $45,000 at auction. Given the documentation and condition, I'd suspect this car will wind up fetching somewhere around $35,000 for a high bid. These are perfect cars for someone wanting a little runabout for the beach who may not need full on four-wheel drive like that other popular beach car, the Jeep Wrangler. While it might seem pricey for a 500, you'd be hard pressed to garner this much attention with even a Ferrari or Lamborghini. Everyone will want to know what it is, so be ready with a little history lesson if you happen to be an owner of one of these vehicles.