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Who Made The World's First MPV?

POSTED BY admin ON 15 August 2012

Pop quiz. Who made the world’s first multi-purpose vehicle (MPV)? Depending on who you ask, you may get a different answer. A quick search on Google will produce the usual suspects of Renault Espace and Chrysler Voyager.

Renault will happily promote a commonly held believe that the Espace was the world’s first MPV, while Chrysler often credited itself for starting the minivan (as MPVs are called in the US) segment.

Renault Espace

Chrysler Voyager

Even VW may sometimes jump in to remind the public that its Kombi / Transporter was the forefather of all modern day people movers.

However, the Kombi / Transporter people mover actually was a window van version of a model often used as a commercial vehicle.

It’s the same with the Ford Transit, which in the swinging ’60s, was the favourite gig-mobile for British rock bands.

Ford Transit was the default people mover, not only in UK but also in its colonies like the former Malaya

It wasn’t too long ago that MPVs and window vans are the same.

The problem is that there is no clear definition of what a MPV is, as the term is only used in Europe and some parts of Asia. And consumers in different markets have a different image of what an MPV should be. In Japan and Europe, any high utility hatchback can be considered a MPV. Over here, it has to be a seven seater.

Whichever definition one choose to follow, one pioneering people mover is often overlooked – the original 1951 Fiat 600 Multipla.

Fiat 600 Multipla

Unlike the VW Kombi/Transporter or Ford Transit, the Fiat 600 Multipla was designed as a dedicated people mover rather than a cargo mover with side windows. In fact, it was based on a passenger car.

During the 1960 Rome Summer Olympics, the Fiat 600 Multipla was one of the official vehicle for the games to ferry athletes. Later, it also served as taxis for the city of Rome right until the ’70s.

Work on the 600 Multipla began in 1951, by the Italian engineering genius Dante Giacosa, who had already made his name with the Fiat 600.

In many ways, Dante’s Seicento minicar was superior to Dr. Ferdinand Porsche’s Beetle, in that it had plusher interior, had a little more style than the Beetle.

The 600 Multipla was targeted at lower income families. To keep cost low, Dante reused running gear and many parts from the 600. It can be ordered with various seating configurations, from four to six seaters.

Production ran until 1966, after which it was replaced by the 850 Transporter.

Fiat would later revive the Multipla name for its MPV model in 1998.

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But about two decades before the 600 Multipla, Dante’s French counterpart Andre Citroen was already working on an equally revolutionary Traction Avant, which would later become the world’s first front wheel drive monocoque chassis car.

There were two additional variants to the Traction Avant, the Commerciale and Familiale. The later had a longer body and comes with a foldable middle seat that can expand the car’s seating capacity to nine.

However, the Traction Avant was not really a people mover, but more of a stretched limousine.

The nine seater Citroen Traction Avant Familiale

Andre Citroen was a highly charismatic controversial character. He was meddling with brand building and public relations before there was even a word to describe it.

However his high spending style soon grounded his company and French tire maker Michelin would eventually assume control over the Citroen company.

Meanwhile, Dante Giacosa would go on to create a smaller, cheaper version of the Seicento, the Cinquecento or as it is known overseas, the air-cooled rear engined 500 and the 600 Multipla’s replacement, the 850 Transporter.