Juan Diaz-Padron has long been obsessed with weird cars, and none quite as much as the Jolly, those goofy, adorable cars based mostly on Fiat 500s. “I’m a classic automobile enthusiast, so I always like the idea of funny classic cars,” says the CEO of Miami Insurance.
Jollys were doorless, surrey-roofed conversions that were mainly built by Ghia in the 1950s to 1970s. Wealthy people like Gianni Agnelli and Aristotle Onassis owned them. Around 400 have been made and have become collectibles in recent years, with prime examples selling for over $ 100,000.
But Diaz-Padron didn’t just want to Buy a Jolly for his collection, which includes an air-cooled Porsche 911, an early Mini Cooper S Turbo Cabrio and a vintage Mercedes S-Class. And he didn’t want a Fiat. “I had the idea, but with a Volkswagen Beetle,” he says.
While searching online, he came across a car that met his expectations very much, a Volkswagen prototype that Karmann and Ghia had built on a 1960 Type 1, which they brought as a concept to various shows. The only problem is that it was in the Volkswagen car museum in Germany. “But I said, ‘I want to build this vehicle,'” he said.
Great idea. He had no idea how to do it either. “I’m not a welder, I’m not a coachbuilder,” he says. So he looked for a craftsman who could make his idea a reality. Through an employee he found a man whose family had run a body shop in Cuba for decades. “He didn’t really know how to assemble a bumper from a box. What he did know was to recreate a completely damaged bumper and reassemble it, because that was what he had learned to survive in this shop in Cuba, where there are no auto parts at all gave, “says Diaz-Padron. “I said, ‘This is the guy I need.'”
They got together, came up with the concept, built a template, and found a red 1958 Beetle to work on. The adjustment required cutting off the top and cutting out the doors so reinforcements were added to prevent sagging, which other Jolly conversions are often lacking.
More difficult than the modifications to the exterior was the implementation of Diaz-Padron’s vision for the braided interior. “There is no more art of weaving in the United States,” says Diaz-Padron. He went to the Dominican Republic, where he had heard that hand-weaving was still alive, but was disappointed. “The people I met couldn’t understand what I wanted – I brought them a frame and everything, but they couldn’t understand how to duplicate it,” he says. So he had to get creative. “I told my wife we were going to weave something and we were going to make these chairs.”
She wasn’t that excited about his idea, but they met and watched YouTube videos like this one together. They bought a piece of rattan-like plastic and got to work. “By trial and error, we woven for about two months in the evenings. And we woven these chairs,” says Diaz-Padron. “We’ve been married for about 46 years, but that narrowly prevented a divorce.”
He was satisfied with the finished product, and Diaz-Padron took great advantage of it by driving it through the town of Key Biscayne, South Florida, where he maintains a residence. But people came regularly and chatted or left him notes asking if he wanted to sell the car. He decided to build a second and put it up for sale.
This car – the light blue Beetle pictured here from 1966 – is now available at The Barn Miami, a family-run vintage car dealership run by the brothers Renzo and Gaston Rossato, whom Diaz-Padron met through his son, a car fan who had followed the brothers’ adventures on YouTube. The Barn sells all kinds of up-and-coming post-war collectibles, and although they only tried occasionally in Beetles, this car intrigued them. “It’s not your typical inventory, but I think I like that,” says Gaston. “What we have created in the market is a variety of stocks. I like special things. I like different things. And if you’re looking for a Volkswagen Jolly, you won’t find another for sale. “
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