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“Six hundred for six declared” Autocar Road Test of the FIAT 600 Multipla, 1956.
Multipla translates literally as ‘Multiple’ which says it all really; multiple seats, multiple configurations, multiple uses and from our experience, multiple smiles whether you are on the inside or outside. The Multipla was built on the underpinnings of the rear-engined 600 saloon with the sophisticated coil and wishbone front suspension plus anti-roll bar from the 1100 model. With the engine located as far back as it would go and the driver and one passenger as far forward as possible, the gap in between was not that much smaller than the car’s total footprint. It was launched in 1956 with the desirable D specification arriving in 1960 sporting a bigger 767cc engine giving more power, up now to a heady 29 BHP though to be fair that was some 31% more than its 633cc predecessor. Available in Multipla configurations including a popular Taxi and, somewhat less sort-after from a passenger’s perspective, a hearse, the FIAT Multipla was a lot of things to a lot of people. As offered here, some eighteen square feet of stowage space was available behind the bench front seat or, with the two additional rows of seats popped up, a total people carrying capability of six, all in a vehicle just 50 cm longer than that shining beacon of packaging, the original Issigonis Mini. A Multipla is narrow too; we understand that one can pass between traffic exclusion bollards with ease though we obviously can’t confirm this from our own personal experience, honest Officer. As can be seen in the photo gallery, to prove the capaciousness of the FIAT, we consulted with a local expert who informed us that not only would his scooter fit in but he thought his bicycle would too. Given its size, weight and the number of people it can carry, we would wager it makes many a modern People Carrier never mind two-seater GT look positively profligate. To prove good, clever design costs effectively nothing, even as a utility type vehicle the Multipla is chock full of beautiful styling details from swage lines that appear and then disappear to nothing to the subtly raised roof profile to allow a layer of headlining beneath it and winding front windows with sliding versions for the rear passengers.
FIAT knocked out close to four million examples of its other 1950s darling, the 500, which puts the 130,000 odd Multiplas made clearly in perspective. They were rare then and as workaday machines that were simply disposed of when they reached the end of the proverbial road, are even rarer now making them amongst the most collectable of post-war FIATs.
Driving the Multipla is what can only be described as a unique experience that starts before you even climb aboard. Firstly, approaching from the rear one has to remember you need to be on the left to access the driver’s door and secondly, though it is pretty close to the front of the vehicle, the first door you reach is in fact for the passenger compartment and the one you want is a little bit further on, apparently impossibly close to the vertical front screen. Given that both doors hinge from the ‘B’ Post, you have to come back on yourself, step up, slide in and then thread your right foot past the steering column that disappears through the floor a foot or so behind the pedals. You are then sitting on top of the front axle line grasping the generously proportioned steering wheel and sharing cabin space with a bag for the screen wash and the spare wheel tucked neatly into a blister in the dashboard. In our opinion, increasingly the point of a Classic Car in 2019 is that it is so different to today’s offerings and before you have even inserted the ignition key, the Multipla has ticked that box many times over. A surprisingly normal twist of said key fires the willing little four with a bit of choke which can soon be dispensed with on a chilly August morning. The button sized accelerator pedal has very little travel and the engine seems to respond to pedal pressure as much as movement, doubtless due to the engine being somewhat distant resulting in a generous accelerator cable run; it does take a little getting used to. Given that the steering column has to double back on itself to allow the steering wheel to communicate with the front wheels, the system is admirably direct and obviously well set up. On the move the FIAT acquitted itself very well in the cut and thrust of Bury St Edmunds’ Thursday morning traffic and it is scientific fact that it is the quickest way to move six people through an urban environment with even the most heartless BMW or Audi driver happy to let you out of side turnings. The lack of any front overhang at all again takes some getting used to and you can swing the Multipla’s nose round impossibly close to objects making manoeuvres such as parallel parking a piece of cake. With the Cathedral area of Bury St Edmunds doing its best Italian piazza impersonation, we caused quite a stir in our photoshoot with barely a single passer-by able to resist well, not passing by. The most common comment, after just how remarkable a machine it is, was that it appears to be going backwards but in nature raindrops don’t fall pointed end first.
Having recently undergone a two year, full nut and bolt restoration in its native Italy, the Multipla is in lovely condition throughout. The bodywork, having been treated to new floors, sills and numerous repair sections, is in excellent order throughout with pin-sharp seams and factory spot welds everywhere you look. Though the owner decided the original ‘undercoat grey and rust brown’ colour scheme didn’t do the FIAT justice and chose its achingly period silver over mint green, we feel the change is entirely appropriate. Applied to a very high standard there are just one or two tiny imperfections that we have tried to highlight in the photo gallery. Underneath a good coat of protective paint has been applied though to be picky, if the Multipla now gets the sort of use it deserves we would recommend a further coating of something like Waxoyl be applied. Having been forced to live outside during an exceptionally damp English summer, some alloy castings such as door handles and the engine’s water pump could now do with a quick polish or wipe over with an oily rag. The body colour engine bay is similarly pretty much ‘restoration fresh’ and it is reassuring to see the original Chassis Plate (including spares ordering reference) and corresponding bulkhead stamping are present and correct.
Mechanically the engine, gearbox and running gear have all been stripped down to their individual components and once cleaned and painted they were rebuilt with reconditioned or new parts as required. A new wiring loom has been installed and switches, instruments, lights and so on checked so that everything now works perfectly.
The bright-work is part chrome, part aluminium and it is a mixture of new and where unobtainable, refurbished parts with the odd dink and dent a testament to fifty-five years of service.
The pure and simple interior is pretty much new throughout. Finished in baby blue vinyl with white piping and correct rubber mats, it is immaculate; Tardis-like in terms of space, it seems time travel back to 1963 is also possible. While the Multipla may have been a somewhat utilitarian machine, built to a budget, it features a plethora of nice details – cast door pulls, door handles and window winders and all are nicely finished without being overly or inappropriately polished.
The owner allowed himself a couple of small indulgences during the restoration process and the FIAT sports twin exhausts and a rather lovely set of Campagnolo alloy wheels which are in excellent condition and shod with new 155R12 tyres.
UK registered on 1st April this year, the Multipla comes with an extensive History File including current V5C and a Fiat Motor Club (GB) “Statement of build/manufacture” certificate. There is also a large bundle of invoices (in Italian) covering the restoration process along with a comprehensive photo record detailing the original rather sorry looking machine’s transformation into today’s gleaming finished product; please see the photo gallery for a small sample. Perfect for stealing car shows, trips to the pub or ‘Famous Five’ picnics (the sixth seat obviously for Timmy the dog), there is much to recommend this FIAT.
Given that time may well be counting down to free and easy movement of cars out of the UK, we will be happy to advise any buyer on export arrangements and transport.
Berlinetta have known this Multipla and its owner for the best part of three years, from rusty and dented project to the Gelato-esc delight it is today and we are delighted he decided to restore the FIAT rather than sell it on as a project. Now with the aforementioned lack of inside storage and having enjoyed the metaphorical restoration journey along with a few real life ones since, it is time to reluctantly find a new custodian for the Multipla and we can confirm that the reserve set is considerably below the sum invested. Charm personified indeed.