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The Fiat Multipla: The World's First MPV

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.