How a Classic Volkswagen Beetle Became a Jolly


Juan Diaz-Padron has long been obsessed with oddball cars, and perhaps none as much as the Jolly, those goofily adorable cars based mainly on Fiat 500s. “I’m a classic automobile enthusiast, so I always like the idea of fun, vintage vehicles,” the Miami insurance company CEO says.

Jollys were doorless, surrey-roofed, conversions, built mainly by Ghia, in the 1950s through the 1970s. Wealthy folks like Gianni Agnelli and Aristotle Onassis owned them. Around 400 were made and have become collectibles in recent years, with top-notch 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 convertible, and a vintage Mercedes S class. And he didn’t want a Fiat. “I had an idea of doing this, but with a Volkswagen Beetle,” he says.

Searching online, he came across a car very much like what he imagined, a prototype Volkswagen made with Karmann and Ghia on a 1960 Type 1, which they brought to various shows as a concept. Only problem is it was in Germany in the Volkswagen car museum. “But I said, ‘I want to build this vehicle,'” he said.

Great idea. He also had no idea how to go about it. “I’m not a welder, I’m not a body shop man,” he says. So he hunted for a craftsman that could bring his idea to fruition. Through an employee, he found a guy whose family had run a body shop in Cuba for decades. “He didn’t really know how to put a bumper together out of a box. What he knew, was recreate a bumper that was completely damaged and put it back together again, because that’s what he had learned to survive in that business in Cuba, where there were no car parts at all,” Diaz-Padron says. “I said, ‘This is the guy that I need.'”

They got together, drafted the concept, built a template, and found a red 1958 Beetle to go to work on. The customization required cutting off the top and cutting out the doors, so they added reinforcements to prevent flex, something often lacking in other Jolly conversions.

1966 vw beetle turned into a jolly

Courtesy of The Barn

More difficult than the modifications to the exterior, was accomplishing Diaz-Padron’s vision for the plaited interior. “There is no art anymore for weaving in the United States,” Diaz-Padron says. He went to the Dominican Republic, where he’d heard there is still a lively hand-weaving industry, but was disappointed. “The people I met with could not 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’re going to do some weaving, and we’re going to make these chairs.”

She wasn’t that thrilled with his idea, but they learned together, watching YouTube videos like this one. They purchased a plastic rattan-like material and got to work. “Through trial and error, we weaved for about two months in the evenings. And we weaved these chairs,” Diaz-Padron says. “We’ve been married for about 46 years but that just barely avoided causing a divorce.”

1966 vw beetle turned into a jolly

Courtesy of The Barn

He was pleased with finished product, and Diaz-Padron got a lot of use out of it, driving it around the South Florida town of Key Biscayne, where he maintains a residence. But people would regularly come and chat or leave him notes wondering if he’d like to sell the car. He decided to make a second one 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 run by brothers Renzo and Gaston Rossato, whom Diaz-Padron met through his son, a car buff who’d followed the brothers’ adventures on YouTube. The Barn sells all manner of post-war, emergent collectibles, and while they’ve only dabbled occasionally in Beetles, this car intrigued them. “It’s not typical inventory, but I think that’s what I like,” says Gaston. “What we kind of created in the market is a diversity of inventory. I like special things. I like different things. And if you search for a Volkswagen Jolly you’re not going to find another one for sale.”

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