the view through the windshield car blog

Fiat Jolly

Mystery Car Identified: The always enjoyable James Lileks has posted a bunch of old restaurant postcards from the 1950s and 1960s online.

The image of The Brahma restaurant of Ocala, Florida has a small red car with a fabric surrey roof in the parking lot. James commented, "Automotive historians will no doubt recognize that car. I don't."

The car is a relatively rare one - a Fiat Jolly. These were standard Fiat 500s and 600s converted to open air vehicles by Ghia, the Italian coachbuilder. The resultant beach buggy was marketed worldwide as the Jolly, meaning "joker" in Italian

The Jolly was introduced in 1957 and was manufactured until 1966. Jollys were mostly used in resort areas (St. Thomas, Barbados, Capri , etc.) and were popular with hotels and rental car firms. The cars had cut down sides (no need for doors) and wicker seats. Less than 1,000 were made over the years.

When we visited the Isle of Capri in 2002, all the tour taxis were contemporary little white Fiat Puntos which had been converted to stretch-limo convertibles. No Jollys were seen. No Mercury Capris either.

The Fiat Jolly was sold in the USA between 1958 and 1961. They were a rare sight in the U.S. because Fiat had limited distribution and the cars, while cute, had only 22 horsepower. (By comparison, a 1962 VW Beetle had a 40 horsepower engine.) I would bet that less than 100 were imported to the states.

Check out the rest of the restaurant photos here. I particularly like the interior decor of the Steer Inn, especially the floor. (posted 11/9/08)

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