(first posted 7/7/2013) Lately we’ve had quite a lot of mini-van discussion hereabouts. So no, I’m not going to really try to argue or defend the headline, as it’s essentially a semantic argument. But there’s no question that in Italy and other parts of Europe during the late Fifties and early Sixties, the Multipla certainly played that role. The VW Bus/Samba–very much a full-size van–was largely a commercial vehicle, so ardent adherents to the Church’s stand on birth control who needed something to haul their brood on weekends and get them to their own workday livelihood, the Multipla was pretty much the obvious choice –if you could afford one, that is. If not, you could always hail a Multipla taxi. Just don’t be in a hurry.
The Multipla may look like a ridiculous little toy car, the kind you’d expect Goofy and his pals to be driving in some circa-1959 cartoon adventure, and so it is; there’s just no getting around it. It’s a classic cult-mobile that always attracts attention–in fact, it received a steady stream of cheers of approval at this street-corner parking lot where I found it posing for a photo shoot. No, this is not the typical Eugene daily-driver CC, but sometimes we like to stretch the mold a bit.
Joe Potter, who is associated with The Sports Car Shop, is a master restorer of all manner of vintage iron and alloys, but little Fiats have become his specialty of late. And in our regular walks by his shop, we’ve had the pleasure of watching this basket case transform into a…rolling basket. Here’s their full write up with the “professional” shots (including this one of his daughter), but I’ll try to add a little color and commentary since I did spend some seat time in one of these long ago.
By seat time, I mean rear seat. Multiplas, like the 600 sedan from which they derived, were quite common in late-Fifties Austria. They had no competition; if you needed something cheaper than a VW bus or its ilk, the Multipla was the way to go. These were especially loved by tradesmen and small-shopkeepers able to haul their baskets of goods or tools and materials in the back, especially in the version with fold-flat seats, pictured above. This arrangement was one of two rear-seating options, and indisputably the precursor of the Stow-and-Go seats of today.
There were two versions of the Multipla: a three-row six-seater; and a two-row 4/5-seater that had a proper bench in the rear and lots of storage space behind it. Quite similar to the original Caravan, actually. And yes, these were imported into the U.S., but not in large numbers.
The Multipla arrived in 1956, fitted with the sedan’s 633 cc, 21-hp water-cooled four. A Motor magazine test at the time measured a top speed of 57 mph, 43 seconds for the shuffle to 50 mph, and a recorded 32 mpg.
The key to hauling a family of nine or so (don’t forget grandma and grandpa) up to a mountainside picnic was in the gearing: The Multipla sported a 6.11-to-one axle ratio, and that’s driving tiny 12″ wheels. I’m actually surprised at Motor’s 57 mph; must have been a tailwind. Those little Fiat fours will rev, given the chance.
This Multipla has been rebuilt–not to original specs, but with the idea that its future owners, who may well pay some $50k for their latest toy, will actually be able to take it out into modern traffic. A Fiat 850 engine has been built for the task, but it sports a compression ratio suitable for today’s fuel, an Abarth 30/70 grind cam, a Weber two-barrel carburetor and those nice, swept headers sported by 850s. This allows the engine to drive a transaxle from a 600 sedan with a more reasonable axle ratio.
The bark from its dual pipes is lively, like an angry chihuahua. Even with the sedan’s ratios, first gear will get you a couple of car lengths before it’s time to start rowing the gears. And in the case of the Multipla, a car length is all of 139 inches, or 3.5 meters. That’s a half-foot (200 mm) shorter than today’s basic MINI. Never has space efficiency been practiced more successfully.
Of course, a few compromises are necessary to make that possible. The driver has to keep a bit of a wide stance, as the shaft for the steering is right there between the legs. I suspect women were not assumed to usually be Multipla drivers. But once seated, the position and room are not bad; I was able to get situated reasonably. The suicide front door helps one to slide over the front-wheels hump. And if you’re worried about crush zones and such, please note the carefully placed “air bag” in front of the front passenger’s legs.
Stephanie, who loves the current 500 but has decided it’s too small for hauling stuff in the back, was all over the Multipla when we first ran into it at the shop. If it had an automatic, she’d have snagged it. Plenty of room for plants, or our only grandchild (my son’s big dog).
Once you’re ensconced, the visual rewards are well worth the effort of getting there. Has there ever been a more delightful scene in one’s lap? No wonder the neo Fiat 500 made a very deliberate effort to recapture the 600’s toy-like IP.
And this steering wheel even has the sign of the Scorpion, Carlo Abarth’s logo. Appropriate, too, since if Abarth had done a version of the Multipla, it would probably have been fairly similar to this one.
Time to go; this Multipla has some hauling to do.
What a hoot! Buy that, and you might be the only guy in the Pacific northwest to own one, not just the only guy in town.
I know where there a two, in the Pacific Northwest, in the same garage actually…
No, They are not interested in selling either of them. And No, I’m not at liberty
to say exactly where, lets just say “The Puget Sound Area”
What a beaut! Joe Potter must be immensely proud.
One question though Paul – “That’s a half-foot (200 cm) shorter than today’s basic MINI” – either a “half foot” means something else in the states (and your MINIs are huge!) or you’re muddling your metric units?
Wikipedia (not always accurate but the only source I have on the matter short of stalking the streets of Edinburgh with a tape measure) reckons the 600 Multipla is around 200mm shorter than today’s basic MINI – a typo perhaps?
Typo! will fix.
Love way the interior can rearrange to suit any purpose, with a full load even a 500 nuova must have looked fast, looks much nicer than later Multiplas do and it lasted long enough to become classic not many FIATs do that.
Wait, I thought you had proclaimed the DKW Schnell-Laster as the ur minivan?
Just kidding. Neat car/thing. I don’t know if I could wedge my fat ass into it, though.
It always throws me when I see one of these (granted I’ve seen three) but I can’t tell if it’s coming or going. This look more like an egg than the 600 did.
The multipla was featured on HDNet ‘s ‘Chasing ‘classic cars’ last season… i believe it wound up selling for 24k in auction. It was a very basic looking resotration— that is not the ‘abarthed’ version we see here. very nice, IMO.
I can hardly believe my eyes when I look at this. European design has always intrigued me as being really quirky – not only the cars but trains and planes too. Quirky or not, it works there and that Fiat is downright charming and a magnificent restoration job. Now, please find a Morris Minor. I used to see those a lot in the St. Louis area back in the 60’s and early 70’s. When in the air force in NoCal, a guy on base had a gray one – weren’t all of them gray? Anyway, he had fun with it – he put old USAF star-and-bar decals on the doors and put a large red propellor from a gas-powered model on the nose of the hood and when he drove it, the prop would spin. Absolutely hilarious!
How did Eugene end up with so many cool cars. I know you can find more MG’s the closer you get to a college town. Buy one as a freshman sell it as a senior.
A very cute and very evocative vehicle- reminds me of Fellini films…..but why fiddle with the thing? Firstly those alloy wheels look lousy (the engine and drive train changes are just about acceptable), secondly why does every Fiat 500 or derivative have to pretend it is an Abarth tuned model? A regular 850 camper would be the option if you want a practical vehicle.
Dare I ask if it is the same reason everyone puts rally wheels on their restored or modded Chevrolet, no matter the year or model?
Normally I’d agree, but I’m a Minilite fanatic and think that style wheel looks good on everything, including this.
You have a beautiful car and very well restored!
We just picked up a multiplex 600 to restore, but don’t know the year and a good source for parts.
Here are the numbers on the plates:
Body number: 100 141 * 031401
Plate number : 100 008 * 365678 *
Auto Chassis number: 100 141 * 031401
Other number: 031389
Any help would be appreciated.
The following site will give the answers to your questions: http://www.vespaape.com/body_mymultipla.htm .I own the same car (type 100.141) and I am restoring it. I need some parts too so if you find a good source please contact with me.
Hello Thanasis ,
Sorry that I am late getting back to you. Thank you for the lead.
I will talk to Rick and find out who he has dealt with for parts so far.
Right now the car is on hold, because of an urgent restoration of another car.
I’ll be intouch.
Check out the following lead for parts:
They have delivered on just about everything we have needed so far.
If you need bright metal trim pieces, we have a suplier that can remanufacture any pices that you need.
I was on vacations and I saw your message this morning. Thanks a lot for the informations about the parts. I will need for sure the trim around the car (9 pieces) but in case I’ll not find the original ones (from a nautical metal not really alluminium). I will inform you to send me the suplier’s email.
I know the suplier of the rear lenses L523 If Rick’s multipla has those rare engish oval Lucas rearligths. Better than the original ones.
Love these Mutlipla cars. I want one hopefully a 1960 the year I was born. I live in San Diego and want one to restore so I can use for my daily driver. Wondering if anyone knows of how to find one? Also has anyone ever tried to see if the new Turbo motor can be used in the older cars?
I doubt the engine would fit, either transplanting the fwd driveline complete (too wide) or adapting the engine to the original gearbox (too long). Plus a modified engine such as in this examle will make the Multipla as fast as you are likely to want to go given the steering, suspension and brakes.
I went for a ride in one of these not too long ago…It was quite possibly the most fun I’ve ever had in a moving vehicle.
Coolest. Car. EVAR! I didn’t know these existed.
What a little cutie!There’s no chance of me getting in one comfortably being 6″ one and a half even with hair down!
6 and a half inches? You should be ok.
I’m blonde i meant 6′ 1 and half inches
You might be surprised! I am 6 ft. and I can get in comfordably. We have seen 5 fat guys in one and they fit. Car would only go 45 Miles an hour!
Back in the day, a family friend who was 6’4″ or something had a thing for Fiats. Only cars his family owned. If he wasn’t driving his 500, he was driving his Multipla, and claimed to be quite comfortable in them.
I think he must have enjoyed the amazement of bystanders when he climbed out.
I’m like Jim Grey, never knew about these. Fascinating vehicle that is sucking me into its orbit of fans. But I would like one with a stock powerplant, if for no other reason than to be Mr. One-up to every old VW owner who wants to talk about how slow his car is. 🙂
Oh lordy, let’s not go down that path again. 🙂
Paul I don’t know what engine are you referring to when you talk about the “sedan”.
If it is from the 500, that car had an air cooled 2 cylinder. In any case, open to learn something new.
The Fiat 600. Which was a totally different car than the Fiat 500.
I haven’t yet done a CC on the 600 sedan, so I’ll have to send you here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiat_600
Go figure. The (very) few bits I knew about the 600 is that they make them wickedly fast in Argentina. I was once near that Fiat factory named in the W site.
What a funky car. Makes the new 500 look, dare I say, normal.
I don’t think I could ever get used to sitting in those front seats. Sitting over the front wheels, sandwiched up against the windshield wouldn’t work for me.
Brendan, you really should see one in the metal.I was not sandwiched against the windscreen in my two Multiplas.Photographs don’t really show the fishbowl curvature of the windscreen.Both mine were the two bench seat models and with the rear seat folded flat I could walk a large recliner armchair straight into it with ease.When I left Adelaide for Sydney,I sold a lowback seven seat modular lounge suite to a couple with a Holden Kingswood station wagon,they folded their rear seat but couldn’t fit the seven pieces in and had to return to collect two pieces.They were incredulous when I told them that I fitted all seven pieces in my Multipla.Men,women and children would point and laugh at the Fiat and the usual comment shouted out was that you are going back the front.Upon the release of the Toyota Tarago in 1991,Toyota paid tribute to the Multipla as the very first people mover.The Multipla was very space efficient for a small van and people over six feet tall had plenty of leg and headroom in the rear seat.They were very slow,633cc and 767cc engine capacity,but they were fun cars.I owned Multiplas from 1981 until 1995 when I sold the blue/white 1963 600d.
That is a gem of a vehicle!
A total toy.
I have always thought the rear end of these would make a better front end than the actual front end does. With all due respect to “cuteness”, had the designers squared off the rear (ala xB) they could have added a huge amount of usable space in the same footprint.
This has to be the nicest Multipla in existence.
Agree about the rear end looking like a better front end than the real front does; the slope is more eye pleasing. If it was turned around and the new rear fully squared off, there would likely be a small gain in cargo space. The more sloping new frontend would allow a less upright driving position and give extended leg room.
“had the designers squared off the rear (ala xB) they could have added a huge amount of usable space in the same footprint.”
They did. That was another contemporary model. Search Fiat 600T.
If Stephanie likes the new 500, but wants something with more cargo space, she should look at the 500L.
+1. The 500L (which actually rides on the larger Dart platform) looks to hit a one-box sweet spot in the current market.
Not cute enough!
I could wear bunny ears?
Could this be one of the ones in the Northwest? This is a slide from a batch I found at a Goodwill here in Portland, Oregon, marked “Roller Skates 1964”. I cropped the photo a bit. In the original, the Fiat was off to the side – just a beat-up, funny-looking little car. I’d like to think that it survived.
When I was in elementary school in Reseda, California, there was a kid whose parents had one. To the rest of the students it was something to be made fun of, which they did. But not me. I was fascinated.
I wish I was more curious in grade school: one family had what I later learned was a Checker Aerobus.
Has there ever been a more delightful scene in one’s lap?
Well, there was this one time……..
That was the best setup for a joke since someone made reference to having “blown the tranny”.
Looks like you blew a seal!
No, just a little ice cream.
That would be this. The owner says he uses a motorcycle motor and the windup is connected to the transmission so it turns when the car moves.
See the truck behind ? There is a ramp this drives up it into the bed of truck close the lid and off you go!
The Minilite/Panasport wheels are great. I had Panasports on my ’78 Rabbit.
I had Panasports on my ’80 Fiesta as well. The Minilites do look right on this Fiat.
When I lived in Eugene, my landlady had a blue 600D, (the rear two-thirds of the subject car). The 600 was an amazingly rugged car. FIAT built strong stuff in those days.
Prior to my time in Eugene, I had been posted to Naples in the Navy. Multiplas were EVERYWHERE, vying with FIAT 1100 wagons as the taxi of choice. In Italian cities horsepower was not the answer to swiftly negotiating distance. The ability to climb the curb and use the sidewalk was.
Also, two guys could swap out an engine in minutes in one of the numerous back alley cubbyhole shops that served as auto and moped repair infrastructure. So down time was never a problem.
Paul, while way down on the cuteness scale, your xBox or my Fit (with magic seats) are the closest thing to this recently sold in the US.
I don’t hardly know what to say. First I conceptualized it backwards and then I just thought it was ugly. That’s what I thought about the vw van the first time I saw it too. Guess they were so ugly they quickly became cute. I think I could really like to drive this because I haven’t been in a hurry very often for a long time.
These folks: http://www.carsdirect.com/car-buying/who-made-the-first-minivan
say that the first minivan was called the scarab and was made in 1935. Sorry, just couldn’t believe 1959 would be the first. Think there might have been some japanese stuff also but too lazy to look it up.
My mind did a lot of twisting and turning while trying to put me behind the steering wheel. All I can say is good find. Would be fun.
The Stout Scarab had a living room like interior, and was V-8 powered. First passenger van, probably yes, mini, no.
Those Scarabs are amazing vehicles. They’re huge though–it’d be a bit of a stretch to call one “mini”. I saw one of the six(?) surviving Scarabs at a concours several years ago; the detail is amazing!
I wonder if you could call this multipla the first Kei van?
The parents of a kid I was in elementary school had a 600 Multipla – Oakland, California, around 1962.
Yep , I like those old rear engine Fiats. We spent a summer in Italy in 1969 , and they were every where , especially the 500s, which look a lot like the front drive ones now sold in the U.S. Fiat had another rear engine van that looked like the VW van. Saw a lot of those there too.
I was born in Milano (Italy) and remember when 50 years ago all taxis were Multiplas.
We used to ride in them with my mom, who at the time did not have a licence, and I would always take the small rumble seat facing backward.
Their livery was black top with dark green lower body, plus gold and red pinstriping at the waistline. Gees, some memories !
A few years back I tried to purchase this car
(here in scale model) from a food factory. It was based on the 600 Multipla, like many such advertising vehicles of that era. The car had been laying around for ages and was rotting away. Though they rejected my offers, it now appears to have been restored to its original splendour. I whish I could have driven the porkmobile around, certainly a head-turner.
Sorry to be critical but the featured example looks seriously over-restored by local standards, particularly the metallic paint. Minilites are definitely wrong, as far as I can remember we never had them in Italy before the mid ’70s.
I agree. Awful bling!
The almost original two owner 1963 Fiat Multipla 600D I owned for nine years until 1995.Also owned at the same time a rusty 1959 600 Multipla and two fine 1970 Peugeot 404 utes.
another pic,scanner has ceased function,so sorry for poor quality.
If I only knew then how rare this fiat van would be now.I would have begged my dad to keep for me! I was six years of age then and I’m fifty years of age now! Darn, live and learn!
I’d never thought of this, but the only other small car with 3 rows of seats that comes to mind is the Saab 95! Other than that, they weren’t terribly similar. My first car was a ’68 95 V4.
What a proud little car. It is completely oblivious and uncaring to its detractors, it just says “here is am, love me or don’t.”
I could easily see these having been in a pizza shop delivery fleet back in the day. You would just have to hope the pizza didn’t have a deadline on the delivery time!
There is a bar in little Italy here that has one of these, a 500 and a Topolino that it uses for promotions. Its astounding how tiny these cars are. The cars are regularly driven around town.