In this week’s ‘Throwback Thursday’ in which we take a look at cars from yesteryear, to coincide with the Fiat 600 Multipla staring at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London on 23 November, we revisit the first ever multi-purpose vehicle…
Inspired genius Dante Giacosa created one of the most original, versatile, functional Fiats of all time: the first mass-produced people-carrier.With the launch of the 600 in 1955, Fiat opened the way to mass car ownership in Italy. The car was a compact four-seater two-door saloon with rear engine and rear-wheel drive. In January 1956, the Brussels Motor Show saw the debut of the original “multipurpose” version designed by Dante Giacosa: the 600 Multipla.
It shared the mechanicals of the 600 sedan, with engine mounted just behind the rear axle, but the cabin was extended to include the whole of the front of the car. It is hard to envisage it without seeing it: instead of the front bonnet – covering a boot housing the fuel tank and spare wheel in the sedan – the Multipla had a two-seater bench. The front of the car was almost completely vertical, rather like a minivan. The result was a car which seemed to be travelling backwards, with the rear more streamlined and aerodynamic than the front, but which was able to accommodate three rows of seats and up to six people inside.
The 600 Multipla had four doors: two rear-hinged at the front, and two at the rear. This very basic but effective car’s versatility meant that one or both rear rows of seats could be folded down to produce a uniform load surface almost two metres long. This meant the car could also be converted into a tiny camping van by creating a “double bed”, as the advertisements of the time describe it.
The 600 Multipla was updated – together with the sedan – with the “D” version in 1960. The Taxi version spread like wildfire across Italian cities and became one of the icons of economic boom era Italy.
In 1960 Fiat updated the range, introducing the 600 D. The displacement was enlarged and performances improved without increasing fuel consumption: its low running costs continued to be the key to the Fiat 600’s success.
The upgraded performances also boosted sales of the Multipla in Taxi version: the front passenger seat was replaced by a luggage shelf, and a taximeter was installed on the dashboard. The external bodywork was unchanged, but the rear of the cabin was fitted with two seats and two jump seats to accommodate from two to four passengers.
The typical livery of Italian taxies in the Sixties was two-tone: black in the top of the bodywork and bottle green in the lower part. This two-colour livery suited the 600 Multipla very well, and many private owners also ordered their cars with two-tone paintwork, in the pastel shades popular at the time.
Its reliability and low running costs made the Taxi version a runaway success and it became widespread in Italy’s main cities, making it one of the icons of the economic boom. What’s more, the 600 Multipla also became the workhorse in the fleets of many Italian firms (no-one could ever forget the livery designed by Abarth advertising its famous exhausts ), and this actually inspired the later creation of the 600T van.