The Fiat Multipla has the dubious honor of being the world’s ugliest car, yet 25 years after its bulging, bulging-eyed front end shook the automotive world, fans are rallying.
What was once the butt of jokes from showroom to landfill is on its way to becoming a cult classic. It seems the Multipla has improved with age, like so many once-maligned models.
Only two years ago the great German automobile club ADAC included it in the list of the 20 ugliest cars in the world, rudely noting: “Nevertheless it has found a place in the hearts of the tasteless.”
In 2018, Britain’s Sunday Times listed it as one of the ugliest cars, stating: “The tragedy of the Multipla is that its Elephant Man-style exterior encased a truly clever and spacious interior, and it wasn’t even bad to drive. It’s it is a pity, therefore, that you would rather walk than be seen.”
Since then there seems to have been a change of heart as motoring experts take a fresh look at the Multipla amid a wave of modern car designs, many of which are far from beautiful.
“This is a car condemned because it looked weird and, fundamentally, I think that’s unfair,” wrote Jason Torchinksy on the car website Jalopnik.
“Weird isn’t necessarily bad, and more than that, this was a car that wasn’t just weird in itself, but looked weird because it prioritized interior volume and utility. It was weird for a reason, and, he embraced his strangeness without shame,” the writer said.
For the record, the ungainly Pontiac Aztek from the TV series “Breaking Bad” almost rivals the Multipla at number two on the ugliest cars list, but it’s never received as much publicity.
Rewind 25 years to 1998 and contemporary reviewers hailed the flexibility of the all-purpose Fiat. It had full-size seating for six adults in two rows of three abreast. Added to this was plenty of luggage space in a surprisingly compact package, measuring just over four meters in length.
Some far-sighted critics said at the time that you should never judge a book by its cover, and even the irreverent British TV show Top Gear recently concluded: “Ordinary is boring, and the Fiat Multipla was anything but.”
The Multipla also received widespread acclaim from the automotive media and was proclaimed Car of the Year 2000 by Top Gear.
Images of the car were even exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York during the “Different Roads – Automobiles for the Next Century” exhibition in 1999.
However, the public voted with their wallets and spent their money elsewhere, which led to a complete facelift in 2004. The understated result was as banal as any other minivan, and the model was dropped six years later. Lived in China until 2013 as Zotye M300 Langyue.
Multipla designer Roberto Giolito recently defended his work in an interview with British automotive magazine Auto Italia. The car takes its name from the original egg-shaped Fiat Multipla that first appeared in 1956.
“Giving the car a unique look was as important as its functionality,” he told the magazine. “The best designs are those that are truest to a vehicle’s purpose. Take the Land Rover. It doesn’t do anything that isn’t necessary and is therefore perfect. An old 2CV is just the same thing.”
Giolito, who heads Fiat’s historical department, said second-hand Multiplas were still popular with traveling students, flea market sellers and admirers of its bold styling. They are also cheap to buy.
“In the long term it’s one of my favorite projects I’ve worked on and it shows the best of Fiat. We got noticed, we made waves, we got a lot of attention and we created a car that made headlines and was great.” for what he did. I’m proud of it!”
German Multipla owner Matthias Malmedie has made some YouTube videos about his experiences with a used Multipla, but has mixed feelings about the image it projects.
The Multipla turns heads, but sometimes for the wrong reasons. He recounts an accident in which a car in the Netherlands overtook him and he could see the occupants laughing out loud and slapping each other on the thighs in joy. “This has never happened to me before,” Malmedie said. “I mean, it’s humiliating!”