Before Chrysler with its Voyager and Renault with the Espace, Fiat would take a step forward with a minivan. We are talking about the Multipla of the year 1955
It was the time of pleated skirts, white socks and the music of a certain Elvis that came from the United States. Italy, like the rest of Europe, left the postwar period behind and now it was about providing families with the maximum interior volume with a compact exterior size.
The car was born from the brilliant spirit of Dante Giacosa, author of the most famous Fiats of the 1950s and 1960s, including our always beloved 600. Actually, the Multipla was based on the latter and the goal was nothing less than to create a car to transport six occupants with a size of 3.53 meters long. Cheap to buy and maintain, it was an innovative model without any similar rival that the competition could make.
It borrowed the mechanics of the 600 sedan, with 633 cc and 21.5 CV of power, which remained in its original position, that is, rear and overhang. But from there everything changes. Giacosa raises the height of the roof as he extends it forward, past the front wheels, at the same time “stretching” the platform. The front of the car is almost completely vertical, like in a small bus. It has four doors: two at the front, which open against the march, and two at the rear.
Aesthetically it is a car that seems to travel, on the contrary, with a more stylized and aerodynamic rear part, but that is capable of accommodating three rows of seats and up to six people inside.
To do this, Giacosa placed the front seats just above the front wheels, taking advantage of the fact that there was no front engine, allowing the seats that would serve as front seats in the 600 to automatically become the rear seats in the new model. Behind them could go a third row of seats, or a free space available to carry luggage.
The back is the one that marks the most partensco with the starting 600
A true example of the car’s versatility – spartan but efficient – it allows one or both rows of rear seats to be folded down very easily to obtain a uniform loading area almost two meters long. Thus, the car can be transformed into a tiny motorhome by creating a “double bed”, as described in the advertisement of the time.
An Italian taxi
The Taxi version spread like wildfire in Italian cities and became one of the Italian icons of economic growth. In 1960, Fiat would update its range: thus the 600 D was born. The displacement increases and performance improves without increasing consumption: low operating costs continue to be the key to the success of the 600. The Multipla is updated in parallel, improving its performance . This upgrade also increases the popularity of the Multipla in the Taxi version.
In the Multipla taxi, the passenger seat is replaced by a luggage rack, while the dashboard houses a taximeter. The exterior bodywork remains unchanged, while the rear of the cabin is equipped with two seats and two folding seats to accommodate two to four passengers.
Reliability and low operating costs are the strengths of the Taxi version that has invaded large Italian cities, becoming one of the icons of the economic boom. The typical color of the Italian taxis of the sixties is two-tone: black on the upper part of the bodywork and bottle green on the lower part. The Multipla, with these colors, is an image that we can see in many of the Italian films of the time. In addition, the 600 Multipla would become the quintessential service car for many Italian companies.
Taxi variants would become quite a symbol
The Italian Multipla inspired a Spanish company specializing in body transformation, Manufacturas Railly SA (MARSA), to offer its own idea of the Multipla to Seat. Two copies were presented at Seat’s own stand at the Barcelona Trade Fair in 1959 but, in the end, the project would not go ahead. MARSA came to make, on its own account, up to twenty units, some of them were actually transformations based on 600 used.
It could carry five seats with luggage or three rows of two seats each.
At the wheel
At the wheel of the 1955 Multipla, it does not meet current criteria, it is still a light car, easy to drive and with a cheerful engine. It is true that, when it comes to braking, the four drums may surprise a modern user accustomed to the feel and efficiency of disc brakes, but they allow the less than 800 kilos of the car to stop without problems.
The Multipla would disappear, after selling 109,976 copies, in the mid-1960s, in 1966. Then, in the midst of the minivan fever, in 1999 Fiat presented a new Multipla with very original and controversial shapes, but that is another history.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.