When you imagine driving along the Amalfi coast, you don’t picture yourself going fast. Not because of the notorious traffic, but because it’s one of the most naturally beautiful places in the world. Your ideal vacation drive likely also involves a convertible, or at least something open air. Leave it to the Italians to build the perfect car for their slice of paradise, the new Fiat Topolino.
Based on the Citroen Ami city car, the Topolino adds a much-needed infusion of classic Italian style to the little two-seat EV. It does so not only by adding a Fiat 500 face to the car, but also by losing the Ami’s oddball doors (Citroen stamps out a single door design and mounts it on both sides of the car, hinged at the front on one side and at the rear on the other). Add a rollback cloth roof and a splash of color and you’ve got a downright adorable little beach cruiser. It’s also, to the best of our knowledge, the only car equipped from the factory with ropes, which serve more as passenger restraints than actual doors.
Legally, the Topolino is considered a quadricycle, a low-speed four-wheel vehicle that can be driven on roads but not highways and, in some European countries, by people as young as 14. Quadricycles are legal in the U.S. though currently not very common, so it’s possible Fiat could bring the little car here. Parent company Stellantis has already floated the idea of bringing the Ami here as part of a subscription EV service called Free2Move, but following a trial run in 2021 we haven’t heard anything more about the project. The company has also announced Fiat will become an experimental brand in the U.S. where new sales strategies and methods can be tried out, which could make space for the unusual Topolino.
If it ever does get here, it won’t be moving too fast when it arrives. To meet European quadricycle regulations, the Ami is equipped with an 8 horsepower motor good for a top speed of 28 mph (45 kph). It’s powered by a 5.5 kWh battery pack which can take the car just 43 miles on a full charge (70 kilometers). Fiat hasn’t confirmed any specs on the Topolino yet, but from the single picture released we can see more has been taken away from the Ami than added, so it’s unlikely to have been fitted with a different powertrain as the whole point of the car is to be as inexpensive as possible. In Europe, the Ami sells for the equivalent of about $9,000. No price for the Topolino has been announced.
In the U.S., the Topolino would be most comparable to the Moke EV, often found in major tourist destinations as a day rental or as part of a guided tour. The Moke EV has a 12 kWh battery but it uses AGM lead-acid chemistry rather than lithium-ion, so it only goes 40 miles on a full charge. It also packs a bigger 20 hp motor, but is limited to 25 mph. In the US, quadricycles are restricted to roads with 35 mph speed limits or lower.
Topolino, which means “small mouse” but was also the Italian translation of “Mickey Mouse,” was the common name given to the original Fiat 500 built from 1936 to 1955. Here, though, Fiat has played fast and loose with its own history. The original 500 looked nothing like this car, which has been styled to resemble the later 500 built from 1957 to 1975. That’s the car you’re thinking of, the one from all the old movies, which was never called Topolino.
While this new car does borrow the later 500’s ragtop, the lack of doors is an aftermarket thing, historically. In 1956, Fiat CEO Gianni Agnelli commissioned famed Italian design house Pininfarina to build an open-top runabout he could use to ferry his guests from his yacht down in the harbor to his mansion above Nice, France. Based on a 1956 Fiat 600 Multipla, the Eden Roc as it was known set off the beach car craze.
Known as “spiaggina” (from the root word spiaggia, or “beach”), the segment was dominated by the famous Fiat Jolly built by coachmaker Ghia (also known for the Volkswagen Karman Ghia) starting in 1958. All spiaggina had their doors and roofs cut off. Sun protection was typically provided with a cloth shade suspended by a simple metal frame. The ropes for doors were a feature of the Jolly, specifically. Seats were made of everything from teak wood to wicker. The spiaggina craze died out by the late ’70s, but the concept has been revived many times since in concept cars and special editions, most notably the Citreon E-Mehari built in 2016.
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