Juan Diaz-Padrón has long been obsessed with oddball cars, and perhaps none quite as much as the Jolly, which are goofy adorable cars based primarily on the Fiat 500. “I’m a classic automobile enthusiast, so I’ve always loved the idea of fun, vintage vehicles,” says the CEO of Miami Insurance Company.
The 1950s through the 1970s were mainly jolly doorless, surrey-roofed, conversions manufactured by Ghia. They were owned by wealthy people like Gianni Agnelli and Aristotle Onassis. About 400 were made and have become collectibles in recent years, with top-notch examples selling for over $100,000.
But Diaz-Padron just didn’t want to Purchase A jolly to his collection, which includes an air-cooled Porsche 911, an early Mini Cooper S Turbo convertible, and a vintage Mercedes S Class. And he didn’t want a Fiat. “I had the idea to do that, but with the Volkswagen Beetle,” he says.
Searching online, he found a car he had envisioned, a prototype Volkswagen built on a 1960 Type 1 with Karmann and Ghia, which he brought to various shows as a concept. 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 thought. He didn’t even know how to go about it. “I’m not a welder, I’m not a Body Shop guy,” 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 put together a bumper out of a box. All he knew was to rebuild a bumper that was completely damaged and put it back together again, Because he learned to survive in that business in Cuba, where there were absolutely no car parts,” says Diaz-Padrón. “I said, ‘This is the man I need.'”
They came together, drafted the concept, created a blueprint, and found a red 1958 Beetle to go to work. The adaptation required cutting off the top and cutting the doors, so they added reinforcement to prevent flex, which is often lacking in other jolly conversions.
More difficult than the modifications to the exterior, were to fulfill Diaz-Padron’s vision for the plated interior. “There’s no art to knitting in the United States anymore,” says Diaz-Padrón. He went to the Dominican Republic, where he heard there was still a vibrant hand-weaving industry, but was disappointed. “The people I met didn’t understand what I wanted—I brought them a frame and everything, but they couldn’t figure out how to replicate it,” he says. So he had to get creative. “I told my wife, we’re going to do some knitting, and we’re going to make these chairs.”
She wasn’t that thrilled with the idea, but they learned together by watching YouTube videos like this one. He bought a plastic rattan-like material and got to work. “Through trial and error, we knitted the evenings for about two months. And we knitted these chairs,” says Diaz-Padron. “We’ve been married for almost 46 years, but could barely survive a divorce.”
He was pleased with the finished product, and Diaz-Padron found a lot of use, driving it around the South Florida city of Biscayne, where he maintains a residence. But people would regularly come and chat or leave notes wondering if he wanted to sell the car. He decided to build another and put it up for sale.
That car—the light blue 1966 Beetle pictured here—is now available at The Barn Miami, a family-owned classic car dealership operated by brothers Renzo and Gaston Rossetto, from whom Diaz-Padron shares his son, a car. Shaukeen, who followed Adventures of the Brothers on YouTube. The Barn sells all kinds of post-war, casual collectibles, and while they rarely dabble in the Beatles, this car stunned them. “It’s not a specific list, but I think that’s what I like,” Gaston says. “What we’ve built into the market is the diversity of inventory. I love special things. I love different things. And if you search for Volkswagen Jolly you won’t find another one for sale.”
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