With the fabulous summer we’ve all been spoilt with in Europe this year, I almost feel it should be mandatory for every single classic car enthusiast to add a proper beach car to his or her garage. With two months of undiluted scorching summer, surely it would be the appropriate thing to do.
But while you can just about deal with the relentless unshaded sun, loud beach-volley playing studs, kids dropping their melting ice cream on your feet, and having sand everywhere including your sandwich, compromising on style and fashion just isn’t an option for you. A Mini Moke is just too utilitarian, a VW Beach Buggy too obnoxious, a CJ-7 too… well, American, and while the Mehari is charming, it’s perhaps not the most elegant thing in the world. So where does that leave you? How do you transport your towel, sun-block and cooler box – not to mention yourself – to and from the beach in distinguished style?
Clearly, you need something Italian! Something with real pizzazz…
And luckily for you, the chic and en vogue celebrities and filthy rich of the late fifties and throughout the sixties had the same worries, to which appropriately stylish beach cars were designed and built by the most famous Italian Carrozzeria such as Ghia, Michelotti, Pininfarina, Fissore, Vignale and Moretti. These ultra-low-volume and handbuilt creations came to symbolise the whole dolce vita era. Now that that we’re deeply submerged in the best summer in decades, surely we should relive those cutaway doors, fabric awnings and wicker seats…
Ghia was the carrozzeria most involved with building these glitzy little lifestyle cars (before that term was even invented!). They used a variety of cars as a base, but the vast majority were Fiats and they were all named Jolly – because that’s precisely what they were. It’s probably the cute little 500 and 600 which are the best known, but Ghia also had a go using the bigger Multipla. Somehow, every one of them manages to combine cute with panache in a way which really shouldn’t be possible.
However, Fissore also created a couple of beach car versions of the Multipla called either the Sabrina or the Marinella. The transformation was much more involved here including a completely redesigned front, and as such it’s probably fair to say that the design is more striking than that of the Ghia.
Not to be left out, Michelotti got involved using the slightly bigger Fiat 850 thus creating the Fiat Shellette. This too was virtually a complete redesign of the body, and seeing as it was launched about a decade after the Jolly’s, it’s also a much more modern and sharp design language. The bigger and more powerful engine, the more comfortable suspension and not least a few creature comforts such as a heater makes it one of the most usable beach cars.
But in my opinion, credit for the best looking of all the Fiat-based beach cars goes to Pininfarina. His ultra-stylish 1956 Fiat Eden Roc was based on a widened and stretched Multipla chassis, but somehow the Master has managed to make it resemble a classic Riva motorboat – only on wheels. There’s a real air of sophistication – which it needed too. It was originally created for non other than the illustrious Gianni Agnelli, and ultimately only two examples were built. With a wrap-around teak rear bench and further teak detailing for items such as the bumpers, if you want exquisite style, this is it!
But not all beach cars were based on Fiats. Ghia also attempted using the cute little Autobianchi Bianchina, but it’s believed that only about a handful were ever built. Also at Ghia, they had a look towards the French and created another Jolly based this time on the curveous 4CV. This is another of my personal favourite beach cars, as the cutaway doors work remarkably well with the preserved rounded nose and rear engine lid of the original car. Blending French with Italian was clearly not a bad idea at all…
Maybe this was what inspired Renault to build their own beach car? In 1968 they introduced the Renault 4 Plein Air. It’s perhaps a somewhat more crude cutaway, and the final result doesn’t quite possess the elegance of the Ghia built 4CV. Still, for simple open-air motoring between your villa and the Riviera, it’s still a pretty neat little package.
However, Renault weren’t the first car manufacturer to build their own glamourous beach car. As early as 1962, BMC’s Experimental Department built the Austin Mini Riviera Buggy. True to the beach car concept, there are of course no doors – but interestingly, there are four individual cut-outs which helps it really stand out from the ordinary two-door Mini’s and not least from all the other beach cars of that era. It’s grandest claim to fame is no doubt that even the Queen owned one!
Another non-Italian beach car – and surely one of the most quirky of the lot! – is the DAF Kini. Using a DAF 44, it was constructed by Michelotti before he designed the Fiat Shellette. The design is controversial to say the least, but isn’t that exactly what you want to ensure maximum attention when you make your entrance at the beach? With DAF of course being a Dutch manufacturer, the car was presented to the Royal Dutch family upon the birth of Prince Willem-Alexander in 1967. In old Bavarian, “Kini” means king.
For such a small niche, there’s actually quite a lot of different models to choose from. But in the perfect dream world, which would I have? Well, Pininfarina’s Fiat Eden Roc is awfully tempting! But ultimately, I would have to go for another Michelotti design – reputedly the last beach car he ever created. I hope you’re sitting down for this one, because it’s based on nothing less than a Ferrari 365 GTC/4. Now that my dear friend is indeed taking the whole beach car concept to a whole different level! While it was designed by Michelotti, it was in fact built in 1976 by Felber as a one-off special order for the Sheikh of Qatar. I guess he wanted to get to the beach fast…
But which beach car would you choose? The above list of cars is of course not exhaustive, so I might even have left your favourite one out. Enlighten us – how would you want to arrive at the beach if next summer turns out just a sunny as this one?