Hidden For Decades, We Found Gianni Agnelli’s Custom Fiat 500 And It Has Some Incredible Stories To Tell
Photography by Rosario Liberti
The watch over the sleeve. The short tie sans tie bar. Rugged boots against the finest Italian suits. It’s no revelation that The Rake of the Riviera, to us known as Gianni Agnelli, was a style god. Tailor-made wasn’t just a fashion for Agnelli; it was a lifestyle which was famously the case in his taste for cars as well because, let’s face it, a man of his stature couldn’t just have any average Fiat or Ferrari – they had to be his.
To rattle off a few familiar ones – the one-off Lancia Delta Integrale Spider, Ferrari Testarossa Spider, the jaw-dropping custom Ferrari 375 America.
Though these are all incredibly tasteful in their own right, they don’t fully represent a critical part of Gianni’s lifestyle: leisure and entertaining. You know, a little something for beach days, playboying, hob-knobbing with heads of state – just the usual R and R. For this purpose, he looked to his company’s greatest triumph and pride: the Fiat 500. Charming, unassuming, and unmistakably Italian, the 500, more specifically the 500 Jolly, fit the bill for this purpose like none other.
To the best of our research, Gianni commissioned two Fiat 500 ‘Spiagginas’ from Mario Boano of Carrozzeria Ghia. The second car was a personal gift for his dear friend, shipping magnate and second husband of Jackie Kennedy, Aristotle Onassis (because dessert cake, though appreciated, doesn’t quite cut it at this level of royalty). The Onassis Spiaggina has since disappeared, but after decades off the radar the Agnelli commission has resurfaced.
This happy little car you’re staring at is what records show to be Gianni Agnelli’s personal and custom Fiat 500 Spiaggina. Friend of Petrolicious, Simone Bertolero of Auto Classic Italy, discovered the car intact and unused, retired in a Northern Italian garage. The paperwork accompanying the car show Agnelli’s tenure with number plate TO25879 ended in 1973 when he gifted the car to his driver of nearly 30 years, who then ceded the car to Mario Rossi, a lifelong friend of Gianni’s. Simone, a collector and purveyor, tends to fancy niche cars with significance to Italy’s rich automotive history, notably including his 1960 Fiat-Abarth 1000 Bialbero La Principessa.
Mr. Agnelli’s tastes are immediately evident when comparing his Spiaggina to a standard one. The chassis was elongated, likely to better accommodate the inevitable movie stars or diplomats climbing aboard. Wood trim handsomely surrounds the body, making the car look a bit more substantial and ‘Riva-like.’ Boano also took liberties with the front styling and removed much of the trim, still retaining the distinct Fiat 500 look but sedating it ever so slightly.
Gianni stationed his prized Spiaggina at the famous Villa Leopolda on the French Riviera. Think of the conversations, the jokes, the glances, the emotions, and the moods that took place in these cars. They were at the epicenter of ‘50s and ‘60s nirvana, experiencing the world’s elite at arguably their most vulnerable. Pictured below are just a few of their best memories including Winston Churchill riding shotgun, Aristotle Onassis attempting to resolve a breakdown, and Marella Agnelli posing with the car for Vogue Magazine.
The Spiaggina’s innocent simplicity in contrast to the larger-than-life, regal characters that puttered around in these cars is oddly quite beautiful. Whether you’re in a mass produced Fiat 500 or a special commission of Agnelli’s, there is a common denominator – joy. A Fiat 500 really doesn’t care who you are, fun is the name of the game. Some may consider this to be over-assigning credit to Agnelli, but doesn’t it feel like this effect was intentional? Well respected by most of Italy, he frequently humbled himself before his fellow countrymen. Something tells me he understood that pictures of him on vacation in the people’s car would feel less conceited.
Only doing the lightest of maintenance to get car running and keep it as original as possible, the Agnelli Spiaggina will be at Simone’s side making its first official showing at Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este this weekend. Unofficially, if you happened to be in Monaco during the historic races a few weeks ago you might have seen our team bouncing around town and the paddock while tirelessly (joyfully) creating this article.
All told, the best illustration of the Spiaggina is that it meets at the intersection of two lovely sentiments: ‘La Dolce Vita’ and ‘what a time to be alive.’ Without a doubt, we know Simone will enjoy the car the way Gianni intended. Smiles per gallon, baby.