The Fiat 500 Jolly Icon-e Is An Electrified Update To The Ultimate Bon Vivant Coastal Cruiser
Photography by Rosario Liberti
If you’re reading this, our bucket lists might have some overlap. How many among us have dreamed of completing a lap of the Nordschleife with an M3 or a 911? Or fantasized about spending a weekend with a prancing horse in Tuscany’s Chianti countryside? Plotted a map in our minds to cross the Moab with an AMC V8 powered CJ-7, or through the old East African rally and Camel Trophy routes with a well specced Defender?Personally speaking—or writing—I would personally include some spirited ascents of Japanese mountain passes with a white Toyota AE86, with perhaps an intentional loss of traction here and there. These lists might never end.
This wide world provides many chances to turn these yearnings into realities should we be fortunate enough to have the time and money to spend, but being born and raised in Italy, I thought that today I could suggest another bucket list bullet point to aspire to cross off: driving a Fiat 500 Spiaggina in the postcard towns along the Amalfi coast.
This beloved section of Italian coastline—a few kilometers from Positano, Sorrento, and Capri on the northern coast of the Salerno Gulf of the Tyrrhenian sea, and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997—stretches between lemon trees, flower rainbows both wild and window-boxed, and cinematic, breathtaking cliffs rising above the impossibly blue water. To call it picturesque is like saying the universe is “pretty big.”
This is the area where, back in the late 1950s, the first Fiat 500s were modified into Spiaggina spec, becoming the hippest mode of transport for the jet set stars and bon vivants like Aristotele Onassis, as well as bonafide magnates like Gianni Agnelli. These lot wanted something more practical than a V12 GT that was perpetually hot from exhaust, something small in order to better squeeze through the very narrow roads on the way from villa to seaside to discotheque, something altogether unique that embodied the essence of the sweetest life during the hottest season.
The recipe was simple: take an otherwise pedestrian Fiat 500, cut off the roof, ditch the doors and replace them with two ropes, carnival ride style. They didn’t go fast enough to really toss you out anyway, and driving them with a still wet bathing suit was no problem either: hand-woven wicker seats took the place of cloth and synthetic leather ones. In very short order these adorable cars became proper status symbols, an emblem of the Italian culture of the era and proof that one didn’t need a huge engine and prodigious power to make a statement.
Sixty-odd years later, the Milan-based design house owned by Agnelli’s offspring Lapo Elkann, Garage Italia, has created a contemporary update to the Spiaggina (which more or less translates to “Beach-ette”). It is pictured here, and goes by the name Fiat 500 Jolly Icon-e. These will be produced in a very limited run, and as the title states, will feature a fully electric motor in place of the petrol one. The only visual differences from the originals are the updated dashboard, and the gear lever with a hare and a turtle to determine the two working modes of the electric powertrain—I think I’ve been in a golf cart with similar markings.
I had the recent chance to drive this example around Amalfi, Atrani, and Vietri, and despite the obvious change in the way the powertrain works, the rest of the driving dynamics are very much the same of the old car: there is no power steering, the brakes are a bit weak, and the average comfortable cruising speed is still under 50km/h. We loved it, from sunrise to sunset. It feels strong enough to perform all day for more than 100km at a time, which given the use case of this little dollop of sunshine is quite a lot.
To me, Italy is the best country in the world (and the Spiaggina comes in a range of exciting bright colors with an option to have it done up in the Tricolore Italian flag). We are proud of our traditions, our art and culture, our food, our fashion and our design. Our cars are made with all the aforementioned in mind, and this 500 Jolly Icon-e is an ideal synthesis of what Italy is all about it—proud of its history, but able to move forward too.
If you’re interested in taking your own trip, as of this summer only the car has joined Hertz’s Selezione Italia, an intriguing selection of Italian-made rental cars such as Abarth 595 Competizione, Alfa Romeo 4C, Giulia Quadrifoglio, Fiat 124 Spider, and a handful of Maseratis, but the Fiat is clearly the best choice if the plan is coastal living.