In Florida, the classic resort car is reborn as a cheeky, electric runabout, complete with a surrey top and wicker seats.
The Fiat 600 Jolly was the ultimate getabout, a surrey-topped beach car made for tooling around Mediterranean port towns while your yacht was being replenished with caviar. Aristotle Onassis had one. So did Grace Kelly, Mae West, and Yul Brynner. But unless you currently own one of these treasures from the late 1950s — and only an estimated 70 of the Ghia-styled cars still exist — you’re out of luck.
Andrew Sneath was out of luck in just precisely this way. He lives in Palm Beach, Florida, where “the rows of Bentleys, Range Rovers and Rolls all looked the same,” he says. He drove a scant four miles from home to office every day, at an average speed of 21 miles per hour through beachside streets flanked by perfectly manicured lawns. He needed something sensible.
Instead, he built himself a Jolly.
This being Palm Beach, one of the 70 remaining Jollys belonged to a neighbour, who intended to have it restored. And Sneath being Sneath — he is the masterful inventor behind the HydroBOB personal submarine and the Roboshark — he knew an awful lot about composite construction and electric drive systems. He made some thin fiberglass skins from the unrestored Jolly, and built a wooden plug to shape them around, and then set about crafting. In a year and a half of development and build, he had fitted his composite replica to the drivetrain of another neighbour’s low-speed electric vehicle, and his recreation of the famous Fiat was christened the “JollE” – with an E for “electric.”
The composite manufacturing process let Sneath fiddle a bit with dimensions. He added 2.5 inches to the width to give the car better handling and the passengers a bit more shoulder room. A honeycombed monocoque construction let him lower the floor by 3.5 inches, and add 7.5 inches to the rear compartment. The JollE runs on 72 volts of lead acid, though Sneath is developing his own drivetrain powered by removable — and lighter and more powerful — batteries. Palm Beach is a locus for marine technology and yacht building, so composite shops, welders, machinists, and the like are all nearby, as are the craftsmen that service the great estates of the Palm Coast. “All key craftsmen and suppliers are within 15 miles of the factory,” he notes. “Back in England we would say it was built by 'men in sheds,' but here the sheds are a 2000-square-foot studios in West Palm Beach.”
Those great estates, of course, house just the sort of people that might like a JollE of their own, and he’s already taken orders for three builds. Each is bespoke, with custom colours, 14-inch rims, a Bluetooth-equipped sound system, and that natty fringe on top.
“It’s a ‘look how much fun we’re having’ experience,” says Sneath, “but without all the maintenance.” We suppose if anyone can design a Fiat that doesn’t break down, it’s the guy who designed a robot shark.
By David K Gibson
4 February 2016
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