It was Fiat boss Gianni Agnelli who had a vision for a ‘jolly de plage’ (Italian for joker of the beach) version of the Fiat 500 and its derivatives. Several versions of the Jolly followed, all sharing the same open-sided format with no B-pillars.
Favoured by the rich and famous (they typically sold for more than double what a standard car did), they also found favour with luxury hotels and golf courses as courtesy cars. Naturally, they were popular only in warm climates, where the open sides were cool and roofs offered shade. Well-known owners included Henry Ford, Grace Kelly and John Wayne.
Witnessing the success of Fiat Jollys, BMC’s experimental department built 15 Mini Beach Cars between December 1961 and March 1962. Designer Dick Burzi, who had Italian parentage, was given free reign on the styling and came up with a neat shape that retained the Mini’s metal roof, windscreen and rear window. All were left-hand drive and exported, although one was given to the Queen on a long-term loan, and was used around Windsor Castle prior to leaving the UK.
As a publicity stunt, BMC’s San Francisco outlet organised a one-off single-make race for the cars. Drivers such as Stirling Moss, Juan Manuel Fango and Pedro Rodriguez were involved and, while it generated media coverage, it also generated carnage: some of the cars ended up on their roofs.
Bonhams is offering one of each – a Fiat and a Mini – at its Pebble Beach auction next month. The 1959 Jolly has just undergone a full restoration, in which the wicker seats have been remade to the original factory specification. The Mini, one of four finished in Surf Blue, has also been restored, and fitted with a synchromesh gearbox. Despite the Mini’s greater rarity, both have the same estimate: £41,000 to £53,000.
Which would you want to drive around California after the auction?