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FIAT 600 Savio. A car made to parachute

Although it was originally devised as a simple and light car so that the Italian army could parachute it, the FIAT 600 Jungla ended its days as a beach car for the gentry who spent the summer in their Mediterranean villas. In addition, this variant of the popular 600 is the best known example of the Turin coachbuilder Savio.

Anyone who follows the world of rallying feels a mixture of admiration and respect for the Lancia Delta S4. Admiration for being one of the most effective models ever created for dirt tracks. Respect for telling in your story the death of Henri Toivonen and his co-driver Sergio Cresto during the 1986 Rally Corse. An accident when the Finn was driving in such a way that, in the words of Timo Salonen, "Keeping up with Toivonen was just suicidal."

However, for the memory of sports car there are models as radical as this one. One of the icons in the history of Lancia, easily recognizable thanks to its bodywork made by Savio. The historic Turinese brand founded in 1919. A company especially linked to FIAT, on whose models it has worked since the XNUMXs with designs ranging from sporty to functional. A subsidiary workshop work to which Gianni Agnelli commissioned the realization of some special projects with short runs.

Just the case of the FIAT 600 Jungla. One of the rarest and most original derivatives of the popular Italian utility, which was born as a military project to end up being a curious beach car. Striking transition that, however, allowed the Jungla to be in production nine years from its introduction in 1965. Trajectory in which 3.200 units were assembled, succeeded by a model that repeated the same formula using 126 as a base. Now the few surviving specimens have become coveted pieces for collectors.


Although Giussepe Savio -the last of the two founding brothers- passed away in 1954, the company was managed by his son-in-law Alfredo Caracciolo. A man who knew how to look to the future by adapting new facilities in which to work in series. So things, its designers tried to seduce FIAT with proposals such as the 2300 Coupé or the 124 Coupé Savio. Prototypes as successful and stylish as ignored by the popular brand, which kept other needs for the bodybuilder. In this sense, thanks to his contacts with the state, Gianni Agnelli obtained the contract in the mid-sixties to develop a new military vehicle.

Far from wanting a heavy model, what the Italian army was looking for was a small, light and detachable car. All with the idea of be able to package it the way Jeep did with its Willys, being able to parachute it over territories at war. A preposterous idea a priori, but for which FIAT had an effective response thanks to its 600 presented in 1955. Of course, in order to reduce weight to a minimum, a new body was necessary. Requirement in which Savio entered by providing a minimalist design to this car that had to fall from the sky.

At this point, both FIAT and Savio went to work on what was called 600 Jungla. Regarding the mechanics, it took the transmission and the engine with 767cc from the basic 600. Enough to transport four adults and up to 40 kilos of cargo thanks to the 32CV and 578 kilos of the set on the scale. In addition, the assembly of the parts was simplified ad nauseam. A fact that made the 600 Jungla a car as simple to assemble as it was easy to repair. Just what the paratroopers wanted until, with the project already underway, they decided to suspend the order.


Caught by surprise by this cancellation, the FIAT and Savio had to move quickly. A tricky situation in which the Carabinieri intervened, staying for their forest service with the units commissioned by the army. A practical and simple solution, allowing the 600 Jungla to survive. In fact, the success of the design elaborated by Savio was of such caliber that FIAT was encouraged to market the car in its dealerships. A change of script that led him to a second life, going from a military vehicle to a civilian transformed into a beach car.

Market niche where the Citroën Mehari became strong, which however came onto the market three years after the presentation of the 600 Jungla. And it is that, thanks to its light weight, low consumption, mechanical simplicity and more than spartan bodywork Savio's creation was perfect for wealthy families looking for a car with which to go down from their villa to the beaches of northern Italy and southern France. In fact, according to certain records it appears that the FIAT dealer in Monaco sold not a few of these 600 Jungla with wicker seats and canvas roof.

A preparation specifically designed for the transport of wet bathers, which made the model a relatively frequent car in the summer garage of the upper bourgeoisie. Place where, thanks to its very specific function, they were housed next to high-end saloons and sports cars from the Dolce Vita. Cars that, however, have survived time to a greater extent than the 600 Jungla. Which is presented decades later not only as the best-known creation of Savio, but as one of the rarest and most sought-after versions of the FIAT 600.

Photographs: FIAT / SEAT Históricos / Artcurial

P.D. The 600 Jungla unit used to illustrate this article was auctioned last summer by Artcurial in Monaco. It is one of those that, as we said above, had wicker seats for the beach. You can also see the canvas roof with tassel trim, which makes a curious contrast to the military base of the model.

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Miguel Sánchez

Written by Miguel Sánchez

Through the news from La Escudería, we will travel the winding roads of Maranello listening to the roar of the Italian V12; We will travel Route66 in search of the power of the great American engines; we will get lost in the narrow English lanes tracking the elegance of their sports cars; We will speed up the braking in the curves of the Monte Carlo Rally and we will even get dusty in a garage while rescuing lost jewels.


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