This post was originally published on July 1, 2015 at CarLustBlog.com. Minus one clarification and grammar correction, it’s all the same.
I was waiting at an accountant’s office, so I whipped out my phone proceeded to rot my brain with 9gag, one of those meme-centric websites. And there it was, a reminder of the existence of the infamous Fiat Multipla, in a garish muli-colored/Harlequin-style paint job, and captions stating how ugly it was while trying to be both funny and uplifting at the same time. Due to profanity, I can’t use that pic. Besides, it’s not as if that was the only time 9gag, let alone the Internet, ribbed the Multipla’s looks.
“It’s a Black Hole of Ugliness! It only sucks in ugly things!” –Skips
One morning, while eating breakfast, I was watching this cartoon called Regular Show. Not my favorite show, but it gets the job done. Long story short, a wild Fiat Multipla appeared, being sucked into a black hole of ugliness. Then while checking out one of those Top 10 lists on Jalopnik, the Multipla made the #6 spot. All of these events happened within 7-10 days.
That was it. That was the last straw. I had to look into this odd little thing. Was it really as bad as it looked? Was it a bad car, overall (crappy quality, failed to do what it was meant to do, etc.)? Was it just the outside that didn’t work, though its insides (interior, mechanics, etc.) did? I had to find out more.
First, the name. It gets it from the ’56-’65 Fiat 600 Multipla ancestor brought back because Fiat does this regularly the car […] ‘multiplies’ (hence the name) possibilities of expression and movement while allowing free and inventive use of its interior space. Its underpinnings come from the Fiat Bravo/Brava twins, though its final dimensions were different. Other than that, it’s a clean-sheet design.
It has McPherson struts in the front and an independent system with tie rods at the rear. Apparently, the suspension is one of the car’s weak spots. Regardless of market, engine sizes were 1.6L gasoline or 1.9L diesel. An interesting thing about some of the 1.6L is that they could use either gasoline or methane gas. Fiat worked on gas/electric hybrid versions, but abandoned such venture. Shame.
Yes, Fiat sold Multipla pedal cars, among other things. Interior space is a bit compromised, though.
It seems they were all equipped with a 5-speed manual transmission (!!), with the shifter sticking out pretty much the same way as an EP3 Honda Civic, years before that model was launched. Every picture where the dash appears backs this up as well that Wikipedia page only lists this sole transmission. Such an important thing on an automobile can’t be goofed on an encyclopedic website… right? Regardless, you gotta love how Fiat talked about the shift lever of their little people-mover in their press release: […] the most important interface in the continual dialogue between driver and machine, is situated on a console alongside the steering wheel. Some manufacturers today could use a copy of that…
Let’s talk about the most unavoidable feature of the Multipla: its looks. It was released to the public in 1998. It was designed by Roberto Giolito in the mid-90s, with a prototype rolling around for 1996.
There’s a serious function-over-form mentality to it. The lights are located on the base of the A-pillars were for better night-time visibility. Those awkward-looking mirrors are like that because they house two sections, like a three-quarter ton pick-up truck. The interior was designed to have as little of the mechanical interfering with interior space as possible. This meant that the floor was flat, but the trunk space was shallow.
The design approach used that influenced the front end and A-pillar design was called the Twin Module approach: low and sleek at the bottom and tall and voluminous on top. This was done in the pursuit of maximum interior space. Its tough, rigid, clever and innovative steel spaceframe-type body was also wide by Euro standards, the reason why will become quite obvious later on in the post. The flip side was that it handled quite well for a tall people carrier with basic suspension design.
Apparently, it had 0.32Cd., and judging by the pics, it very much looks like the finished product. Personally I would’ve painted the prototype in a different color, since that green only exacerbates the amphibian comparisons. I do like those wheels. In the end, there’s no denying it: it’s polarizing.
The Multipla didn’t always look like that during its full production cycle. It was redesigned in late 2004 with a sleek, new front end that did away with part of its extraterrestrial looks and remained so until it bowed out in 2010. Personally, I’m cool with the back end, but after all the exposure the earlier version has gotten, I cannot get used to this facelift. It’s cool and handsome an all, but it’s just not as curious, not as double-take-worthy. Maybe it’s because it’s too sleek for the rest of the design (edit: I got used to it).
There was a design proposal (pictured above) that wasn’t put to production that shows what could’ve been. The snout has a more normal look to it, but there’s still that unmistakable A-pillar base-corner lights of the MkI Multipla. Personally, I would’ve gone with that one, or at least just work the MkII headlights into it, so it can keep that safety feature/design aesthetic so the Multipla could still be able to stand out.
It’s the MkII version that Chinese automobile company Zotye Auto used to make their versions of the Multipla (under licensed agreements):
There’s so much bad–… I can’t even begin to–… Don’t know if I should laugh or facepalm.
The Zotye Multiplan. Think about the creativity poured into that name. Chinese name-makers must do this type of things on purpose for laughs… In China, you have the choice of five or six seats and are available well-equipped. They later changed the name to Zotye Langyue, but aside from an alleged increased use of local materials, it seems that’s the only thing they changed, exterior-wise at least. There were rumors about bringing it to the Indian market, albeit stripped of some of its creature comforts for price reasons, giving it a familiar-to-India-1.3L Diesel, as well as toughening it up for India’s roads. Looking at the Multiplan-less company website of Premier Automobile Limited, as well as a report denying plans to launch a knock-down version of a knock-down version, I believe the people of India, ultimately, really missed out here.
I’ve seen plenty of pics of the Multipla on the outside, particularly from the front. When I found its interior pics, it became very clear to me why there are people willing to defend it: it’s not only bonkers on the outside, but the inside as well! It’s bonkers enough to persuade me to put up four pics of the interior, as well as that crazy cut-out display. But it ain’t all style and no substance: the airy glasshouse, the ergonomics, the seating arrangement front and back and the way it can be arranged, everything worked to become a machine that will give longer and costlier machines with perhaps an extra seating arrangement/cubic feet of space a run for their money.
That was the point of the Multipla. It offered a unique people-carrier with unparalleled flexibility that was affordable and even unique if you were looking for that in an MPV. It didn’t win its fair share of accolades and awards for nothing! Inside, outside, the Multipla was so off-the-wall, that it even landed a spot in the Different Roads: Automobiles for the Next Century at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. It’s something.
How could the Multipla be even more versatile? In the U.K., there were a few turned into campers –catalogued as TC 1– by a conversion company called WheelHome. I thought it was neat. There were also conversions done for disabled individuals, which I thought was excellent.
I’ve come to like the Multipla. It’s a slice of the ‘90s-‘00s as well as a piece of European automotive lifestyle. From it’s outrageous interior, its usefulness to its under-dog status and kitschiness. Those are my reasons.
Multipla ad: www.coloribus.com
Multipla cartoon pic: http://regularshow.wikia.com
Multipla cut-out: http://www.imcdb.org
Multipla concept art to reality: http://wallpapersmoot.blogspot.com/2006/07/wallpaper-fiat-multipla.html
Multiplas in Japan: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gensyoous/
Multipla that wasn’t: http://www.italiaspeed.com
The Zotye Multiplan ad: http://www.a-c-d.dk/CHINA/ZOTYE/h%C3%B8jre.htm (Click it. It’s a riot!)
Multipla dash pic: wheelsage.org
Multipla interior pic: http://clubford.org
Multipla Wheelhome: http://www.fiatforum.com
’96 prototype and Multipla with passengers: http://www.carstyling.ru