Live Auctions

Beach Car: 1961 Fiat Jolly

Legend has it that in the early 1950s, Fiat’s chief, Gianni Agnelli, saw a niche for a car designed to run on and off yachts when their wealthy owners wanted to go ashore. What is believed to be the first “beach car” was made from a Topolino; another was the Pinin Farina Fiat Eden Roc. These were “starter” cars for what became the real deal: Agnelli commissioned Carrozzeria Ghia to fashion the Jolly from Fiat 500 and 600 bodies. Ghia removed the roof and doors and buttressed the frame. The car was given a surrey roof to protect its inhabitants from the sun and wicker seats because they held up well in salt air. The first several hundred Fiat 500 Jollys had bug-eyed headlights. After that, the traditional Fiat 500 nose was used. Estimated production was 650 examples but guesses are that only around 100 survive today. Here at Mecum’s Monterey Auction, set to sell on Friday, August 19th is a 1961 Fiat Jolly. The sale estimate is $70,000 to $85,000. We have Araknid78 to thank for this tip!

This car – said to be the 74th Jolly made – has a 500 cc two-cylinder engine with a four-speed manual transmission, generating a storming 15 bhp. Top speed was about 50 mph, but you better hang on because the Jolly has no doors or seat belts. The odometer reads just over 9,900 miles, and the car was the recipient of a thorough restoration by Dean Arnold, of custom car fame. The paint is an original shade and was probably beloved by its owners for twenty-two years; if you didn’t like pink, other factory colors were coral, sky blue, yellow, and white.

The interior is classically Jolly with its wicker “buckets” in front and bench in the back; the seats were rebuilt by Anderson Wicker Restoration. Note the wicker detailing on the grab handle (sorry, won’t keep you from flying out of the car when cornering forces take over). The deep red carpets match the surrey top.

Restoration quality is measured by the difficult-to-finish spots, such as the embossed channel in the trunk panels, weatherstrip ledges, and latches. The fit of emblems and bumpers, not to mention clear and bright chrome, paint, and gauge faces are crucial to the overall look. This car’s restoration is superb from what we can see. As astonishing as it might seem, the estimate for this rare, early car may be low. Jollys have been known to sell well over $100,000. Of course, the paint color may hold it back, but I’ve learned that sometimes auctiongoers prefer the odd to the ordinary. Also figuring into the equation is that at any one time, at least ten Jollys are for sale at one vendor or another. This week on the Monterey Penninsula, this is one of two Jollys for auction, the other being at Bonham’s. Any guesses as to the final result?


  1. Bob_in_TN Bob_in_TN Member

    Here’s more evidence why Barn Finds is so appealing: the variety. I’ll admit I had never heard of these. Great job Michelle. Info you provided which I found fascinating:

    — 15 hp. My basic Cub Cadet lawn tractor has more.
    — That Fiat geared up for something which had production of only 650 units.
    — The estimated price is in the same range as many very respected muscle cars.
    — That there are multiple ones for sale at any given time.
    — 160 miles per year, that seems believable.

    Like 9
    • Michelle Rand Staff

      Thanks! It’s great to hear a compliment – makes me try all that much harder next time! … Another weird fact about Jollys: About 32 of the little buggers served as taxis on Catalina Island, off the coast of Los Angeles into the 1960s.

      Like 12
      • Bill Potts

        You’re absolutely right about that. My family took the “Big White Steamer” from Long Beach CA there on a day trip in July of 1965. We didn’t use them,but instead walked and went on the glass bottomed boat. They were everywhere in Avalon. Nobody believes me, THANK you for posting that,and for the great write up.

        Like 2
      • Mark Mitchell Member

        I was told that my ‘59 Fiat 600 Jolly had been part of the Catalina Taxi fleet. I also owned an early Mini Moke that had been on Catalina (possibly a rental car?).

        Like 1
  2. nlpnt

    This is a 500 Jolly, there was also a slightly larger (but still sub-VW-sized) Jolly based on the 600. It’s an original US-spec import with 6″ sealed-beam headlights in podlike extensions and all-red taillights. I’ve seen a couple of 500 sunroof sedans like that but never a Jolly.

    Like 2
  3. Mark Mitchell Member

    This car appears to be genuine, and looks wonderful.

    Unfortunately, there is a cottage industry building replica Jollys in Italy and elsewhere. Many of these have ended up being sold online and at the big auction houses. Sellers often don’t disclose the fact that their cars are basically forgeries.

    The Fiat 500s are much easier to fake than the 600s due to their simpler body contours and more plentiful donor cars. Caveat Emptor!

    I currently own a 600 Jolly, an 850 Shellette (by Michellotti) and a Renault 4CV Resort Special (AKA Jolly). I also had a 500 Jolly but sent it to Monaco a while back!

    Like 10

    Fiat 500 Jollys are one of the best bird magnets out there. They are also a way of saying “I’m rich” without having to scream it or drive something garish like a Ferrari.

    Like 4
    • Martin Horrocks

      For the benefit of other poor boys, this applies to all “Topolino” variants, so it´s not just that it implies huge wealth. That may be unfair to women….

      Having (but not driving or offering passenger rides) a 500 derivative is like walking around with a sad-eyed puppy. A 2 tone Autobianchi Transformable and practising your enigmatic sensitive side could be effective.

      Like 2
    • Mary128

      (Hope I’m not posting twice!)

      It also parks in small spaces much more easily than a Ferrari!

      Another advantage, to paraphrase an old ad for the Fiat 128, “There’s even room for her mother in the back!”

  5. JMB#7

    I recall that there was a scale model of the Fiat Jolly. I believe that it was made by Corgi. I am not sure whether it was a 500 or a 600. My brother probably still has this in his collection.

    Like 3
    • Martin Horrocks

      It was a 600. Still have mine, though the windscreen broke (as usual), so its “Surrey” fringe top has nothinng to fix to.

      Like 2
  6. Ronald J Ercolani

    Thank You for a wonderful write up, others from Rear Engine Fiats in North America will definitely be waiting for the hammer to drop on this one. Yes it’s a facebook group that still love our little cars.

  7. Martin Horrocks

    Michelle, I think the Autobianchi Eden Roc was not a beach car, but was the name of the convertible version of the Bianchina.

    A red Eden Roc starred in the car chase at the end of the first Pink Panther moviie, s a getaway car driven by a twannabe jewell thief dressed in a gorilla suit.

    I think George Lucas had an Eden Roc as his first car, painted yellow with some custom features which he crashed into a tree when “racing”. Lucas always had a big imagination it would seem. But the wreck was huge and put him in hospital for a good time. Imagine, a world without “Star Wars”…

    Like 1
    • Martin Horrocks

      Reply to self: Sorry Michelle! Same name, different car. I didn´t realise that the name had been used previously for the Pininfarina Multipla beach cars you refer to.

      Apparently named for a luxury hotel in a very exclusive part of Antibes, Còte D´Azur, South of France.

      Like 1
    • nlpnt

      Lucas’ Bianchina would more likely have been the original “Transformabile” model (coupe with full ragtop sunroof). That was the first body style in production and the one most sold in the US because it coincided with the 1958-59 import boom. By the time the full convertible came in during 1960 that party was over and when it picked up again it would be without the Bianchina, Autobianchi or any other rear-engine Fiats other than the 850.

  8. Malcolm Boyes

    I think its a little unfair to call a recently converted 500 or 600 a “replica” or “conversion” as all Jollys were conversions..FIAT never produced the original said..Ghia modfiied them. The only thing wrong with a modern conversion,IMHO, would be putting Ghia badges on it. From what I know the modern versions from Italy are done just like the orginals in every detail..if not I’d be interested to hear from experts. I am a big beach car fan..owned a 1965 Moke ( which I drove over 100,000 miles) and currently own a VW Thing..would love a Mehari or a Meyers Manx!

    • Martin Horrocks

      While it´s not easy to convert a 500 into a Jolly, it is very profitable if you don´t disclose the car´s origins. That would be mis-representation. A modern chopshop version should cover cost of labour and a margin not much more.

      But in a world where Bentley think it is “fine” to build new versionns of the 4.5 litre Blower Bentley, Jaguar new XK-SS or worst of all, Aston´s DB5 “James Bond” car….even the guy´s not real in that case, just a rather pathetic and fictional psycopathic killer.

      Like 1
    • Mark Mitchell

      I feel that converting a $5000 Fiat 500 into a Jolly and selling it to an unsuspecting buyer for $75k-$100k is not a wonderful thing to do. To me, its the same as taking a Mustang Fastback and creating a Shelby to resell as a legitimate car. This practice should be universally condemned.

      I can pick out a fake Jolly immediately as usually they get several important details wrong.

      BTW, I also collect beach cars and have an early “Pre Tag” Manx along with the Jollys and Shellette. Had a Mehari and several Mokes.

      Like 1
  9. chrlsful

    lill fun impractical things (I’d want one but no where to drive. Hafta move to other climes). When things become desirable (read: cost escalation) the creeps come out of the wood work. My 1st gen bronk is an example.
    There’s a guy in Amarillo who sells glove box doors (the vin plate is there). Many stampin out ‘originals’ today (be it TX or Italy) cant even be bothered to do exact replicas (dont know the markers) as it does not matter – the desirous buying public also cant tell. Such is any collectable~

  10. George Birth

    what a price for a little 4 banger.

    • JMB#7

      2 cylinder, not 4

      Like 6
  11. Pietro

    Bug-eyed headlights were a forced change due to accomplish Federal regulations and permit export to the US. Both Fiat 500 and 600 had to undertake this modification, but definitely the listed car is a 500.

  12. PeterfromOz

    I remember laughing a lot in a 500 sedan when at university in the 70s. One of the students had a 500 sedan but there was no firewall or back seat. It did not run very well and every now & then he would reach over and make adjustments to the engine while still driving!

  13. Araknid78

    Sold for $99,0000

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