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by Jay Traugott
This is definitely not your typical Fiat daily driver.
As Fiat SpA continues to have financial problems in Europe, specifically its home country of Italy, the brand has actually been doing fairly well in North America. Although it currently only has two models on the market here, the 500 and the 500L along with the 500 Abarth, it's made clear that it fully intends to expand its US offerings within the next few years. This reintroduction to the US needs to be done carefully in order to regain the confidence of consumers who still think of Fiat models as being unreliable.
But that's now a thing of the past and Fiat seemingly has a solid future ahead of it in the US. Throughout the years, Fiat has had quite a collection of interesting cars, some good and some bad. But one of those that was particularly interesting was the Shellette. Based on the 850 Spider and Coupe, just 80 Shellettes were built at the automaker's factory in Turin, Italy. To this day, only 10 are known to still exist. Unlike the standard 850, the Shellette was something quite unique. Its coachwork was done by Turin-based firm Michelotti and judging by these pictures, it was quite a job to do.
Starting off with the base coupe/spider, the original seats were removed and replaced with wicker seats. A canvas top was also added. So what was the purpose of this project? Style, plain and simple. Not only were the seats wicker, but its dashboard was also made from what's essentially picnic basket material. Clearly this isn't your typical daily driver. Power came from an inline-four engine producing around 47 horsepower and mated to a four-speed manual. The original design of the spider came courtesy of Bertone and even featured interesting bits such as a folding roof section constructed from fabric.
Both the 850 coupe and spider were sold in the US where they faired decently well and various automotive publications praised their exterior styling. Beginning in 1978, however, the US government issued a recall for the 850 going back 10 years related to rust problems. By the early Seventies the entire 850 lineup was replaced by the 127 and 133 but Fiat's reputation in the US was already falling fast. In other words, the damage had been done due to that rust issue and other reliability problems. But the 850 Shellette was an example of beautiful and very unusual Italian coachwork done to a rather simple convertible.
This particular Shellette that's currently up for sale at Hemmings has an asking price of $58,000, a decent bargain considering how rare it is. It comes with a Nardi steering wheel and a working heater with blower. Its wicker seats and dashboard were hand woven by expert craftsman who also constructed the Rolls-Royce wicker picnic baskets. It has only 9,900 original miles on the clock and it's in excellent condition. There's no rust or body damage. It runs perfectly as well and it had a new exterior paint job back in 1991. This car has also been entered in numerous car shows including the New England Concours d'Elegance. Photos courtesy of Hemmings Blog.