Mention the name Multipla and most people will wince at the thought of the odd-looking MPV of the same name from the early 2000s, but the original was something altogether different...
Copy supplied by Fiat
The V&A Museum in London will from November 23 be staging an exhibition called "Cars: Accelerating the Modern World", focusing on the machines that really represented real social and economic accelerators throughout the 20th century - in other words, cars that changed the world in the last 130 years.
The exhibition includes over 250 objects and 15 cars, including the first ever patent car, a prototype of a flying car and one of the most iconic models of Italian car making the Fiat 600 Multipla. Good news for Fiat, then, as it celebrates its 120th anniversary this year.
Exported all over the world, the 600 Multipla was admired for its toughness and spaciousness.
The Fiat 600 Multipla, an icon of Italian style and perceived as a forerunner of all MPVs, was first presented at the 1956 Brussels Motor Show. It wowed the crowds with its completely new shape and exceptional interior space. With 3 rows of seats it could comfortably seat six people or, with four seats folded down, it could offer a large, versatile load space. With its versatility and extraordinary practicality, the "Multipla" became the pride of Italian taxi drivers and families for over a decade.
The car exhibited in London is part of the FCA Heritage collection, and is normally on display at the Fiat Historical Center in Turin.
Clever packaging was the secret to the Fiat 600 Multipla's success... and odd looks.
The history of the Fiat 600 began in 1955, when the new model kick-started mass motorisation in Italy. At first, the car was a compact two-door, four-seat saloon with rear-wheel drive and engine. The development of the new car had begun several years earlier, and on July 15th 1953 Vittorio Valletta - then President and CEO of Fiat - organized a day entirely dedicated to testing the Fiat 600 (at the time called "the 100", from the project initials by designer Dante Giacosa).
After many tests on the track, the day ended with a meeting of the entire Fiat Presidency Council, which approved the continuation of the project. That day, the idea circulated that a "carryall" version could also be made for the Fiat 600 and after a brief design phase, this became the Multipla. Its official debut, as described earlier, took place in January 1956 at the Brussels Motor Show, preceded a few months earlier by a memorable 600-sedan enterprise: in 1955 the car was the protagonist of the famed Rome-Calcutta raid, covering more than 12,000km in just 11 days.
The Fiat 600 Multipla also made for an ideal taxi vehicle.
The 600 Multipla shares its oily bits with the 600 saloon, with a cantilever rear engine, but with a passenger compartment that extends to the very front. It is easier to see its shape than to describe it: instead of a front bonnet (occupied by the tank and spare wheel in the saloon version) the Multipla has a two-seater sofa. The front of the car is almost completely vertical, like a miniature coach. The result was a vehicle that looked as though it was travelling backwards, with a tapered and aerodynamic rear that could accommodate three rows of seats and up to six people.
The 600 Multipla has four doors: two front doors opening upwind, and two rear doors. The car's versatility made it possible to fold down one or both rows of rear seats to create a uniform flat loading surface almost two meters long. The Multipla could also be transformed into a tiny camper van with a rear "double bed", as it was advertised at the time. The taxi version rapidly invaded Italian cities, becoming one of the icons of the country's postwar economic boom.
On load from the FCA Heritage collection, the Fiat 600 Multipla will be on display at the V&A Museum in London until April next year.
In 1960, Fiat upgraded the range of the 600 - saloon and Multipla - with the new D version. Displacement capacity grew and performance improved, but without increasing consumption: low operating costs remained the key to the success of the Fiat 600. With this improved performance, the diffusion of the Multipla in its taxi set-up increased: the front passenger seat was replaced by a luggage stand, while the taximeter was placed on the dashboard. The external body remained unchanged, while the rear of the interior was fitted with two fixed seats and two folding seats, for either two or four passengers.
Reliability and low operating costs were the keys to the success of the Taxi version, an omnipresent and highly distinctive feature of every Italian city and a vivacious symbol of the 1960s. The 600 Multipla became the classic service car used by many Italian companies, including the unforgettable the livery created by Abarth for the famed exhaust mufflers advertisement, and it went on to inspire the creation of the 600 T van.
The Fiat 600 Multipla will be on display as part of the "Cars: Accelerating the Modern World" exhibition at the V&A museum until 19th April 2020. For more details about the exhibition visit www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/cars and to find out more about FCA Heritage visit www.fcaheritage.com.