The Birth of the Fiat Jolly

In 1957 famous Italian playboy Gianni Agnelli was faced with a challenge.  He wanted to add a "land tender" to his 82 foot ketch, Agneta.  It had to be a vehicle that could take on the steep roads that were on the shore of many popular Mediterranean ports, but it had to be light, and even more important was that it had to be fun.  He had just the vehicle design in mind.  As Chairman of Fiat, the great Italian car builder and conglomerate, he was able to bring the vast resources of his car company to bear on the challenge.  He sent one of the current air cooled two cylinder 500 models over to the Ghia Carrozzeria, where his company had a long standing relationship.  His instructions were to cut off the top, remove the doors, and install a folding surrey top and wicker seats.  But cutting so much structure out of the monoque bodyshell meant that some sort of a subframe would have to be added.  Ghia solved the problem by incorporating a series of pipes under the skin, and then added chromed exterior pipes for style and even more support.  Lead filler was used under the paint to smooth out the modifications.  The resulting car was named the "Jolly de Plage", which loosely translates to "Joker of the Beach".

That season in the Med, Agnelli's creation was an instant hit with the "in" crowd.  His friends were clamoring for them, so Agnelli had Fiat & Ghia go into limited production.  But many were custom "hand made to order" creations.  A very pricey yachting trinket, 1957 Jollys sold new for $1760, almost double the standard 500 model price of $998.  Soon Jollys were found on the streets of Monaco, Cannes, and other major Mediterranean yachting centers.  Then the richest man in the world, Aristottle Onassis owned three of them.  Yul Brenner, John Wayne, Grace Kelly and even Mae West all reportedly owned Jollys.  US President Lyndon Johnson used his model 500 Jolly on his Texas ranch:

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   (photo and following text from US Park Service)

President Johnson takes daughter Luci and grandson Lyndon Nugent for a drive

"The Jolly 500 Ghia apparently was a gift to President Johnson from the Fiat Company. It is a very rare automobile. In fact, during his retirement,and after the establishment of the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, the park curator encouraged the President to restore the vehicle to its original condition, but the restoration effort ended when the President was unable to find any replacement parts. The car was often used as transportation between the various outbuildings and was especially enjoyed by the children of those that worked for the President, giving them a chance to practice their driving skills."

Overall, about 400 Jollys were reportedly produced over a span of about 15 years, but due to the salty environment that most lived in, many collectors and auction houses estimate that fewer than 100 remain today.

Two more "500" models followed the "Jolly de Plage", the "Jolly de Plage 'Economique'" which had less of the body removed, and lacked the chrome bar accents, and the more utilitarian "Jardiniere de Plage" (Gardener of the Beach) which featured a miniature almost pickup truck type cargo space behind the rear seats.  Based on the Jardiniere 500 model, the engine was modified to fit in the smaller space under the cargo bed.  Jean Jacques De Galkowsky produced a wonderful poster titled "Fiat 500 & Derives" (which we discovered are online at  http://carposters.net/9349.html ) which shows not only the 3 rare Jolly models of the 500, but literally dozens of other models of this popular platform.

This Fiat/Ghia brochure from the 39th Automobile Show illustrates both the 500 and the later 600 model Jollys, and touts them as being for golf, country, hunting & yachting!

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Two larger Jolly models followed, each with the more powerful water cooled four cylinder engine. The first one was based on the standard 600 model, and the second was made on the Multipla chassis.  The longer Multipla Jolly had the unique feature of an added third seat in the middle that faced to the rear.

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 Import Variations

While Jollys were originally built for the European market, some were delivered to US dealers.  Jollys made for the Italian market had amber side marker lights, and headlights that were set into the front cap of the body.  In comparison US delivered Jollys had raised headlights which were necessary in order to comply with US DOT standards.  Many (or possibly all?) that were purchased in Europe and shipped back to the US by their owners made it through Customs without having to make this change, and thus avoided the "bug eye" look of the US destined cars:

Two

The yellow Jolly on the left was a European delivered model with the lower inset headlights and the amber sidelights which are located just above the front wheel wells.  The white Jolly was a US delivered car with raised headlamps and no sidelights.

 East Coast Jollys & The Jolly Market Today

Jollys have been re-discovered by serious collectors over the last decade, and this has helped push prices to new records.  Ten years ago a Jolly in excellent condition might have brought $10,000 at auction (In comparison, in June 2007 a highly rusty inoperative 600 Jolly lasted less than an hour on an online auction when offered at $14,000, and a week later one that was even more of a "restoration challenge" sold for $15,750).  Five years later the same car might have gone for $30,000.  Last year (2006) several were sold between $42,000 and $50,000 at auction and in private sales.  In January 2007 a Jolly sold at the Barrett Jackson auction for $81,400.  Subsequent private sales have validated and even eclipsed that number.  Recently the new owner of an original 18,000 mile model 600 Jolly turned down $85,000 for his latest aquisition.  Are these crazy prices for little beach cars?  Five years ago I would have agreed.  But with the recent (April 2007) sale of a 1967 Morris Mini Moke for $29,700 at the Barrett Jackson Auction in Palm Beach, as well as the subsequent sale of a Mini pickup for $27,500, this really does help put current Jolly prices in perspective.  Literally tens of thousands of Mini Mokes were built on assembly lines in England, Australia, Spain & Portugal.  While we don't know how many still exist today, that number is certainly many times the total number of Jollys that were ever built!  Not taking anything away from Mokes (we currently own three) but of course there is no comparison to their assembly line construction versus the hand craftsmanship of a Fiat/Ghia produced Jolly.

So once again Jollys have become the ultimate status symbol of a group of people, now not the yachting crowd, but major car collectors instead.  Several have reportedly replaced their elaborate golf carts with Jollys for use at large shows and races.  A few years ago I was treated to a tour of a major collector's private "carisserie" (the size of a supermarket) and there in the middle of a sea of flawless cars made by Rolls Royce, Benz, Delahaye, Dusenberg and others was, you guessed it, a Fiat Jolly.  It turned out that this was his wife's favorite out of all of all of the cars in the building.

But the appeal of the Jolly isn't limited to just car collectors, Jollys are also enjoying a resurgence in popularity among estate owners in eastern resort towns.  Jollys once again are popping up on the streets of Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Jupiter Island and the Hamptons.  And as more waterfront land along the east coast is being developed, the demand for unique restored "beach cars" has risen right along with the number of new estates.  And until that demand wanes, look for the beach car market to remain strong.

West Coast Jollys, Past & Present

In Avalon on Catalina Island during the 1960's there once was a rental fleet of Jollys, and at least one ended up being sold to a private individual who still has it in his collection.  Sadly, many of the others were claimed by rust and were eventually buried in a pit outside of Avalon.  Jolly rental fleets also reportedly existed years ago in Hawaii and Palm Springs.  Today Newport Beach, California is home to numerous Jolly owners, and some have more than just one in their collections.  Also in California each year in early June there is a parade on Balboa Island that features several Jollys.  This year due to the efforts of Jolly mega-enthusiast Scott Sarkisian they managed to assemble a group of no less than 17 Jollys!  No doubt this must be the largest group of Jollys ever assembled in one place in this century, outside of Scott's garage that is!

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You can check out this year's Balboa parade on our "Balboa Jollys" page.

The Fiat Jolly's Future

With the rekindled interest in (and steadily increasing prices of) many of the classic small cars, some manufacturers have taken notice.  BMW successfully reintroduced the Mini brand which has helped continue the rise of the value of original Minis.  They have now committed to the reintroduction of the Mini Moke.  But what about Fiat?  They weren't "asleep at the wheel" either!  In the summer of 2006, Fiat tested a "new" concept car called the Panda Jolly 800 on the Isle of Capri, where several of the Agnelli family were reportedly vacationing:

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A well placed source has told us that Fiat will indeed be bringing this Jolly into production, but current plans are for European market distribution only.  While the new Jolly is cute, in our opinion nothing will ever replace the classic:

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Many thanks to "Jolly Fraternity Members" Jim Inglis, Vicky Rich, Don Rich, Bill Patton, Scott Sarkisian, Julie Pernworth and Parker Boggs, all of whom who contributed information to this page!

Revised 06/27/07

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