27 August, 2020
A Jolly good ride!
“Carlo and I both learned to drive in this car.” Vito says, affectionately stroking the slim steering of the light blue Fiat 600 known as the “Jolly”. His smile is whimsical with the memory. “My uncle Carlino bought it in 1959, the year after Fiat released a limited production. He absolutely loved this car. We used the Ghia Jolly to shuttle guests between the San Pietro and Positano.”
“And of course, it was popular with the ladies.” Vito adds. “When we were teenagers, we would invite cute girls to jump in the back and go for a spin around the village.”
An elite status symbol of Italian engineering, brochures from Ghia described it as the “Jolly de Plage”, or the “Joker of the beach”. With its signature wicker seats and open top, the little beach car was the coolest ride on the coast. But curb your enthusiasm zipping around the sharp curves. There are no seat belts and the cutaway flanks have no doors.
Originally designed to be used aboard the mega luxury yachts of wealthy tycoons like Aristotle Onassis, this brainchild of of playboy industrialist Gianni Agnelli, quickly became the darling of the rich and famous including US President Lyndon B Johnson, who used his on his Texas ranch, Grace Kelly, Mae West, Yul Brynner and John Wayne.
Soon after Carlino passed in 1984, the Jolly went into semi-retirement as the hotel shuttle. Vito and Carlo continued driving it a few more years, but after the brothers left Positano to pursue their studies, the little blue car went into storage, where it rested its wheels for over three decades.
In 1998, the Jolly was sent to a garage for complete restoration. The novel version of the “great-little” Fiat 600 returned to semi-permanent storage on its return. Less than 100 authentic Ghia Jolly cars exist today and each is unique. The San Pietro’s Jolly is among the still rarer few to retain all its original parts.
“This year we sent it to an artisan, Mauro Fusco, who is in love with the Fiat Jolly 600.” Vito says. He took it apart piece by piece, re-polished and refinished each till they shone and repainted the exterior in the original iconic light blue. “When Mauro brought it back to Positano, the car looked as new as the day it came off the conveyer belt. He was so sad to watch it drive away.”
Today, Vito uses the Jolly to commute between his home and the San Pietro and most often it his Jack Russell, Mela, who he invites to jump in and go for a spin.