The sun is finally shining so time for the long awaited post on Beach Cars.
Beach cars are what were essentially small inexpensive production cars that were heavily modified to produce bespoke and individual vehicles. Used initially by the rich and famous in the 50’s and 60’s, as land tenders to their yachts on the Italian or French Riviera. With cutaway roofs and doors, wickerwork seats and fabric sunshades they were only practical as leisure transport and thus confirmed their owner’s status as someone who could afford a car ‘just for fun’.
Later on more models were developed and some went on to have small production runs. Many were used by expensive hotels and golf clubs as courtesy vehicles. The small numbers produced has resulted in them being as desirable and expensive today.
Nobody seems to know for sure how the first beach cars came about but this converted Fiat Topolino/Belvedere ‘Mare’, believed to be unique must be a strong contender for the title of ‘first beach car’. Thought to be converted in 1954 when Italian’s could barely afford a bicycle – a fun car to go to the beach in would have been a wild extravagance, only available to a few very wealthy individuals. It is thought that it may have been created by Fiat’s in-house special bodies department, the Carozzeria Speciale and was possibly owned by Fiat Chairman Gianni Agnelli who was certainly wealthy enough and had the influence to have had it made, this also fits in with the development of the beach car in later years.
Later in the 50’s, it is known that Gianni Agnelli sent a Fiat 500 to Ghia Carrozzeria, the brief; to cut off the top, remove the doors, and install a folding surrey top and wicker seats. The result was the first Fiat Jolly (Jolly in Italian means Joker).
Agnelli’s car created a lot of attention and soon a limited production run was underway but many were hand made to order and specification. Aristottle Onassis owned three of them, Yul Brenner, John Wayne, Grace Kelly and even Mae West all reportedly owned Jollys and US President Lyndon Johnson used one on his Texas ranch.
Further models were produced based on first the 500 and then the 600. Considered a success, the model had a production run from 1958 to 1966. It is believed that more than 400 ‘Jolly’s’ were made but the seaside conditions they were kept in meant that fewer than 100 survive worldwide today and each one is pretty much unique.
The cars’ specification included cut-down sides and windshield, a striped and fringed surrey top, and chromed body-pipework. They were available in pink, coral, white, pale yellow and sky blue. Mechanicals were standard Fiat. An “economical” version was available from 1964 to 1966 featuring normal bumpers with no pipework and solid plastic seats embossed with a fake wicker pattern.
In 1956 Pininfarina designed special version based on the Multipla for the Agnelli family to use in their personal home the Villa Leopolda – The special 600 was called the ‘Eden Roc’ or ‘Marine’ after the promontory overlooking Cap d’Antibes on the Cote d’Azur where the villa is situated. The little Fiat was used to shuttle guests around the 20-acre villa and town. In the late ’60s, this car was taken to Turin and used by Fiat President Prof. Valletta for guests to visit the Fiat factory.
The Eden Roc has a beautiful ‘boat like’ wrap around slatted wood seat and is cut lower than many beach cars. A surviving example is owned by the ‘Cord’ family in America and has been displayed at the world’s great Concours competitions. It has been reported that Henry Ford II also owned this model. The first picture is an original Pininfarina press photo which we found at auto jumble many years ago.
A similar car has been used as a ViP course car at the Monaco Historic Grand Prix. We were lucky enough to see it and sit in it. I believe it is known as the Fiat Torpedo Marina, there seems some confusion as to who made it but Felice Mario Boano may have designed it when he had his own company but then he went on to establish the styling department for Fiat and passed the rights to produce the Torpedo to Carrozzeria Savio. There is one in a Paris Museum and one might have been owned by Prince Ranier, possibly the one still being used in Monaco?
Fissore designer Giovanni Michelotti came up with a remarkable open-topped Multipla prototype called the “Marinella”. Only a handful of the prototypes were made but at least one remains and was at the Goodwood Festival of Speed a few years ago.
Fissore designed a very similar vehicle, this 1957 Fiat Marionella 600M was shown at the 1957 Turin Salon a one off and hence one of the rarest beach car built on the Multipla Chassis. The unique roof allowed water skis to be carried above the passengers. The car was in Rome for many years before being restored and sold at auction in 2005 for €57,500.
Elio and Emilio Basano were young brothers who started up a small prototype shop in Torino about 1960 In 1962 Pietro Sibona, a master at metal working, left Ghia and became the brothers’ main partner in Carrozzeria Sibona-Basano. In 1964 at the Turin show they exhibited a little beach car based on the Fiat 500 with a moulded plastic body called the Decathlon.
Beach cars continued beyond the 500 and 600. In the late 60’s Giovanni Michelotti in collaboration with yacht designer Phillip Schell went on to design the Fiat Michelotti Shellette Beach Car, based on a Fiat 850 spider with dramatic and areo styling. Only 80 were built, one was used by Jacqueline Onassis on the island of Skorpios. Ten are still known to exist.
Moretti designed their own cars but due to costs went on to produce several special bodies for Fiats. In 1970 they launched the Fiat 500 Moretti Beach Car known as the MIni Maxi, only 90 where produced. The design was quite different and more ‘Jeep’ like. The company went on to produce similar models based on the Fiat 126 and then the Midi Maxi 127 in 1971.
Although the small Fiat’s were perfect and popular for conversion to Beach Cars, other manufacturers vehicles also had the same treatment.
The Renault 4CV Resort Special. In 1960, fifty (consecutively numbered) 4CVs were dispatched from the Renault Billancourt factory in France to Ghia in Italy to be built as Resort Specials. There was only the single batch of fifty cars built, with all of the finished vehicles originally being sent to the States for sale. Apparently only eleven of them are now thought to have survived.
The Renault 4 Plein Air is a beach car conversion of a regular Renault 4 R1123 by Sinpar, a Renault subsidiary for special products. Only about 500 R4′s were converted to Plein Airs between 1968 and 1970.
Designed by Moretti, this BMW 600 has hardly been used and has recently been restored. It is being auctioned at the end of this month with a guide price of €30-40k. On it’s registration documents it is known as a Isetta Moretti Open Car.
In Italy a coach builder called ORO built the Mini Mare on a Innocenti Mini base, only a few were made and one was used as a private tender to Ferdinando Innocenti’s private yacht. The cars retained their roof but lost the doors, fitted with wooden surrounds and wickerwork seats, grille, boot lid and bumpers.
Back in the UK, BMC built a small number of ‘Beach Wagons’, designed by Chief Stylist Dick Burzi around 16 were made for use in luxe hotels around the world. There were two versions, one on the traditional Mini shape and one with a boot based on the elf/hornet. The third picture shows Alec Issigonis in his design.
Sir Alec Issiggonis also designed a more rugged version of the Mini in a ‘jeep’ style but it failed to catch on as a military vehicle as was intended, however in the 60’s the Mini Moke caught on as a Beach Buggy and became a popular cult vehicle being used as beach cars all over the world.
While not strictly fitting the beach car description of a converted small inexpensive car this 1965 Alfa Romeo Giulia was converted for Alfa Romeo by Colli into a limousine beach car. Apparently it was used to ferry ViP’s especially the Italian President around the Alfa Romeo factory.
Or Swiss car visionary Frank M Rinderknecht’s concept the Rinspeed Bam Boo, a modern beach car paying homage to the Citroen Mehari. Now Frank says he will show his concept at the Geneva Motor Show. “This open-top vehicle awakens the longing for sun, summer, for lightness and easiness, the desire to be at the beach,”cries his press release. “It is a reminiscence of the Seventies, of the south of France and St. Tropez. One expects to find Brigitte Bardot behind the wheel with playboy Gunther Sachs at her side heading towards Tahiti beach.”
Note: I’ve really enjoyed putting this post together but it has grown as I’ve been researching it! Information is rather hard to find and the fact that at the time many of the designers were moving between companies and that many of the cars are unique has made it difficult to find out accurate information, especially regarding names, dates and designers. Hopefully most of the info here is correct, if you know differently please let me know!