Recently we were asked a question about how Mario became part of the family and realised that I’ve never blogged his story…
A Fiat 600d Multipla had been on my ‘wish list’ for a while and although we kept a look out on an Italian holiday there weren’t many around and in those days it wasn’t as easy to source vehicles without such extensive use of the internet and ebay as there is today. We already had ‘Regie’ a 4cv convertible which I used to drive as a taxi at the Goodwood Revival. Every year I used to take a Dutch magazine publisher out round the track perimeter, in 1999 he gave me a copy of his latest magazine and I spotted a Fiat Mutipla advertised in the small ads. The car was in Holland at a Classic Alfa Romeo dealer, who had acquired the car as part of a ‘job lot’ of Alfa’s. James went on a rally in Northern Europe in January 2000 and on the way back made a detour to ‘kick the tyres’. On his return we decided to buy the car and set off on the 5 Feb 2000 with a car and trailer on a ferry day-trip to Eindhoven to buy it.
Arriving at ‘Alfa Mario’ I was really excited to see the Multipla for the first time and it was my first opportunity to sit in one. It was a little daunting as the ‘project’ needed a lot of work – there was an awful lot of filler in the doors, half of the seats were missing and the engine was hardly running, however I loved him on first sight and as the car was mostly complete and it wasn’t much money we loaded it on the trailer and set off for home. Mario was an obvious name, we brought him from ‘Alfa Mario’, he was Italian and we discovered it used to belong to a plumber just like Nintendo’s ‘Super Mario’. James was still working for Kodak so this was to be a ‘spare time’ project, although this spurred him on to take up restoration as a career. Mario was installed in the workshop and the mountain started to be climbed. The engine was removed, stripped down and rebuilt, that was the easy bit! The body was sanded, the rust removed and metal repaired, all the filler removed and the bottom half of the doors fabricated and some structural welding done. The rear seats were used as a pattern to create a full set.
At last it looked like something was happening and the engine was complete the engine bay painted and the engine installed. The suspension and brakes were completely overhauled, painted and rebuilt. The dashboard was restored and new wiring fitted. The inside and underneath was painted – we chose the colours by colouring in lots of black and white drawings until we got a combination that we liked, it is not an original Multipla colour scheme but they are Fiat colours from the era and it suits him.
The job was far from over though, all the glass had to be fitted, the old windscreen had cracked when it was removed and we had to source one from Switzerland. Luckily we had most of the trim pieces and we managed to source the few missing pieces including a reproduction badge from California at great expense. From Italy we sourced door rubbers and a complete reproduction set of rubber floor mats – such a practical car never had carpets. The seats pads were made and trimmed with some period style vinyl and we made and trimmed all the door panels and parcel shelf. we had a lot of assistance from a Multipla owner in the states who sent us a series of photos and detailed measurements of the seats and fittings so everything could be replicated perfectly. The final touch was a bit of Italian Bulls*** some wonderful checkered trim around the roof. As this work was all being done in our spare time it took about 18 months to compete. In the mean time we had to get Mario registered in the UK. In Italy the paperwork is all returned to the government when a car is sold and so we had very little to go on, not helped by the fact that lots of Fiat’s own records were destroyed in a Turin flood many years before. Initial searches gave us a manufacturing date of third week of March 1963, very exciting as I was born on the 23 March 63 so we could share a birth date! Unfortunately good old DVLA didn’t like this date, they must have had a Multipla with an older chassis number registered before then, then after some correspondence with Alfa Mario with managed to produce some translated documentation and DVLA agreed to register Mario as November 1962 and issued the period number plate BAS 521.
Taking Mario on the road for the first time was amazing, we couldn’t believe the attention he attracted and that hasn’t changed 12 years on. We managed to finish the restoration just in time for the 2001 Goodwood Revival where he was a great hit as press car, especially with Jan the publisher who had given me the original ad, he was delighted that his ‘gift’ had resulted in ‘Mario’s’ creation and to this day he still enjoys a ride around the circuit!