The Fiat Multipla: The World's First MPV

June 2, 2020

Click to read about the success of the Fiat Multipla as a commercial vehicle.

 

Fiat 600 Multipla - The World’s First MPV.

 

Cars become collectible for many reasons.  Certainly, some are instant classics due to their rarity, aesthetic beauty, or performance, however some become “classics” over a longer period of time and for less obvious reasons, such as efficiency, economy, and practicality. 

 

Much like the VW Beatle and Type II Transporter, the Fiat 600 Multipla is clearly an example of the latter. To those familiar with the car’s commercial history, this may seem an obvious statement, but to the uninitiated, the mini-est of mini-vans from automotive giant Fiat is just too far out of the ordinary to be considered anything other than a historical oddity, a bit of a toy, or just the latest addition to the genre of overpriced collector cars.

Those old enough to remember the amazing little Multipla in its day, however, will also remember a time when it was widely used around the globe, not as a basic means of transportation in an oddly small package, but as an economical and practical tool for many small businesses. They remember the amazing economy of space, flexibility, and practicality of the world’s first MPV.

The original Multipla was a variant of the 600 sedan. Although extremely rare today, they were made in huge numbers (just under 130,000 built.) In its day, it was adopted by many businesses and organizations as their commercial vehicle of choice.  Some even employed fleets of Multiplas to meet their commercial and business needs. 

 

 

Taxis of Rome and London

The most memorable commercial application of the Multipla in Europe was its use as a taxi, especially in Rome and London. The original Multipla was a masterpiece of economical packaging. With seating for up to six, it quickly became one of the most familiar taxis of its day in Rome.

   A typical example of Multipla taxi in 1960’s Rome

 

In June of 1961 in London, businessman Tom Sylvester was the first to commission a fleet of 25 black and white Multiplas and offer car for hire services. His business came to an ignominious end when an English court ruled on May 31, 1962, that some of his drivers were engaged in “plying for hire” in violation of the law. Multiplas run by other firms continued in service as London taxis for several years.

 

March 17, 1961 - Tom Sylvester introduces his “minicabs” to Rupert Speir, conservative MP for Hexham, in London.

 

 

Abarth

The most famous example of working Multiplas, at least to anyone familiar with Fiat racing history, were those used by Abarth & C. S.p.A.  Abarth is an Italian racing and road car manufacturer founded in 1949 by Italo-Austrian Carlo Abarth. Their company logo, now famous around the world, is a shield with a stylized scorpion on a yellow and red background.

Abarth employed several variations of the Multipla over the years as support and service vehicles for their racecars. These racing specials included the highly developed versions of the 600 sedans that originally spawned the Multipla. Most of the Multiplas employed by Abarth received many of the same performance upgrades that they used on their factory and customer race cars. These upgrades included larger, high compression engines, improved gearing, cooling, exhaust, a tachometer, and a 90mph speedometer.

 

 

Studer Toys

Another well-known example (at least in Italy) of a company taking advantage of the Multipla’s attributes was Studer Toys, Italy’s largest and most famous toy retailer. Founded in the 1930s by Carlo Studer, Studer Toys on via Napoli in Palermo, Sicily supplied smiles to the faces of the children of Italy for over four generations.  According to third generation family owner Riccardo Studer, “It all started in the 1930s… when I was little more than a child. My grandfather Carlo Studer together with his son Giovanni (my father) and Antonietta (my mother), founded the dream of all the children of the city.”  Riccardo remembers many years of happiness spent at his family’s business and most especially the generosity of his father, who would donate wheelchairs to the Civic Hospital of Palermo every year on his birthday in the name of the first child born that day. He also recalls his father organizing the donation of gift packages for poor children on the day of the "Befana" (Epiphany), something he did for the rest of his life. Riccardo reminisces, “For me and my brothers this was a great example and teaching of life that we still follow today.”

 

 

Mivar

Founded by entrepreneur Carlo Vichi in Milan, Mivar began producing consumer electronics and furniture in 1945. From the 1980s until 2000 Mivar CRT televisions enjoyed widespread success. In fact, Mivar televisions could be found in almost every house, TV studio, school, hospital, hotel, and prison in Italy. Mivar CRT televisions earned the reputation of being good, cheap, robust, and durable. The company headquarters are now located in Abbiategrasso approximately 20 kilometers from Milan, and production today has been limited to furniture, specifically tables and chairs.

 

 

Singer

In 1914 Singer Sewing Machines established an Italian subsidiary under the name La Compagnia Singer per Macchine da Cucire based initially in Milan and later in Monza. For 20 years they acted as the sole distributor for Singer’s imported sewing machines.

 Singer Advert - Italy

 

Business peaked in the mid-1960s with approximately 3000 employees, yet Singer of Italy had outgrown its original and outdated Via Marsala factory in Monza. The factory always struggled financially having to compete with the factory in Campinas, Brazil, which made the same models, but at less than a sixth the production costs at the Italian plant.

In 1968 the factory was moved to a new facility on Vialle, Sicilia near the Concorezzo suburb of Monza, where it continued production for another 24 years. The factory was finally closed in 1992.

 

 

Lane Borgosesia

The Lane Borgosesia Wool Mill originated in 1848 with Carlo Antongini (1797-1886) and his plans to establish an English-style worsted mill. The term worsted refers to a fine smooth yarn spun from high quality, combed, long-staple wool. Its name is derived from Worstead, an English village in the county of Norfolk that was part of the manufacturing center for yarn and cloth in the 12th century.

The area of Valsesia in Northern Italy proved to be particularly suitable for a mill due to its location along the route where flocks of sheep migrated to the Biella district. Borgosesia, a municipality in the Province of Vercelli located about 80 km northeast of Turin, was an area where periodic shearing and washing of the wool occurred.

On January 30, 1850 the firm of F.l-li Antongini & Co. was founded by the Antongini brothers (Tomaso, Carlo, Gaetano, Cesare, and Alessandro) and a partner from Milan. The business of the firm at that time was the same as what appears on the statute of the Zegna Baruffa Lane Borgosesia S.p.A. company today, “a worsted spinning mill.”

 

 

Popular Monarchist Party, “Vota Leoni”

 

Founded in 1954 after a split from the National Monarchist Party, the more moderate People's Monarchist Party (Partito Monarchico Popolare, PMP) became the newest Italian conservative party.

 

Led by long-time mayor of Naples Achille Lauro, it first ran candidates in the elections of 1958. With their slogan “Vota Leoni” (Vote Lions), and campaigning against communism, they won 5 Senate seats and 14 chamber of deputies seats.

 

In 1959 the party rejoined the National Monarchist Party to form the Italian Democratic Party, later rebranded the Italian Democratic Party of Monarchist Unity.

 

 

Folletto

Folletto (Italian for Elf) is an Italian division of a German vacuum

cleaner company. Its beginnings date back to 1883 in Wuppertal, Germany, when Carl and Adolf Vorwerk founded the parent company, forerunner of today’s International Vorwerk Group. The company began producing carpets, and over the years diversified to also produce mechanical frames, transmission motors, and gramophones.

 

In the years following the financial crisis of 1929, the gramophone sector was dwindling. During this period Vorwerk engineer Engelbert Gorissen demonstrated a brilliant idea by placing tiny fins on the motor of a gramophone, thus creating the heart of the first small electric broom. Upon seeing the device in action, a company secretary was overheard calling it a little “Kobold,” the German word for elf.

 

 

Knorr

The Knorr story dates back to 1838, when Carl Heinrich Knorr opened a factory in Heilbronn, Germany, supplying chicory to the coffee industry. Later, in 1873, after experimenting with dried seasonings and vegetables, he launched the first Knorr dried soups across Continental Europe. This led quickly to a series of new products including Knorr’s Erbswurst (Pea Soup), sauce mixes, and Bouillon cubes.

In 1957, Knorr brand foods sold in 8 countries and by 2000, their products were sold in nearly 90 countries around the world. Knorr was acquired and continues to operate under the British-Dutch conglomerate Unilever.

 

 

TreRossi

The TreRossi biscuit factory, a small family-run company, opened in Ovada, Italy in the early 1950s. They soon became known for the production of Salute biscuits, also known as Biscotti del Lagaccio; a pastry that still represents one of the typical products of the Ovada area.  Ovada is a municipality of 11,484 inhabitants in the Province of Alessandria in northern Italy about 90 kilometres (56 mi) southeast of Turin.

 

Sagip Mangimi (Feed)

The most humorous example of commercial use of the Multipla was the advertising campaign of Sagip di Rubiera in the 1950s. Sagip, an acronym for Social Assistance Geared for Indigenous People, is also the Filipino word for rescue. Sagip was an Italian animal feed company originally located in Rubiera, a municipality in the Province of Reggio Emilia located about 50 km northwest of Bologna. In the late 1950s, they commissioned Carrozzeria Boneschi to design a company van that represented their business in the most comical fashion possible. 

Sagip was acquired along with other smaller brands by the Italian Mangimi SpA Group , which to this day is still involved in the production of animal feeds and zootechnical additives.

 

 

Prep - Crema medicata

In 1860, Dr. Mark Allen of Detroit, MI developed a shaving cream

that would “hydrate, soothe and protect” skin from irritation. In 1866 he patented PREP cream and began to manufacture and distribute the cream throughout the U.S.

During WWI, Allen found himself in combat in Europe, where he met an Italian soldier named Italo Rustici. They became inseparable friends. One day Rustici noticed Allen shaving with a cream he didn't recognize. It was PREP. The Italian fell in love with the product and offered to become post-war business partners with Allen.

After the war, PREP cream quickly gained popularity in the US where people began to call it "Dr. Allen's miracle cream." Rustici founded ITALO RUSTICI Inc., which became the exclusive importer of PREP cream to Italy, where it rapidly became the country's most popular cosmetic product. Finished products from the US were banned during the Italian authoritarian regime of the 1930s, however, there was such demand for Prep cream that a new company, SIRENA-MILANO, was established to begin production of PREP Crema medicata in Italy.

 

 

Deeper research into the commercial successes of the Multipla

reveals that these are but a few of the companies that viewed Fiat’s new MPV as the most practical solution to their business needs. Many small businesses today face some of the same challenges these companies faced. The need for commercial vehicles that are smaller, more economical, and flexible still exists. These are concepts Fiat understood well when they created the world’s first MPV.

 

 

 

 

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