MPVs don't usually inspire their owners, but Tom Stewart was keen to meet like-minded people extolling the Fiat Multipla's charms

While millions focused their attention on the glitz and glitter of the Monaco Grand Prix and its gem-encrusted F1 cars - the two Jaguars had £140,000 diamonds set into each of their nose cones - there were others gathered in a field in leafy Northamptonshire whose aspirations were of an altogether more humble nature. Welcome to the Ugly Bug Ball, the world's first Fiat Multipla owners' rally.

While millions focused their attention on the glitz and glitter of the Monaco Grand Prix and its gem-encrusted F1 cars - the two Jaguars had £140,000 diamonds set into each of their nose cones - there were others gathered in a field in leafy Northamptonshire whose aspirations were of an altogether more humble nature. Welcome to the Ugly Bug Ball, the world's first Fiat Multipla owners' rally.

While it's not unusual for owners of specific marques and models to engage in frequent mutual back-slapping camaraderie, you'd have to concede that a gathering of 67 near-identical, mass-produced MPVs is an unlikely notion. I mean, when was the last time Scenic or Zafira owners staged their one-model bash? Never, as far as I'm aware - and I'm not surprised, as I've yet to drive a Corolla Verso, VW Touran or anything similar which has anything like the charm of the quirky Multi.

Yes, an ugly bug the Multipla may be, but while many major manufacturers continue to conduct extensive market research into whether cars of this ilk should have five or seven seats, it was Fiat alone which reached the logical conclusion that six - three abreast in the front and back - was a pretty smart compromise. Interestingly, this 3+3 arrangement didn't come about because Fiat's Centro Stile designers all had a spouse and four kids, but because one of them, unencumbered by offspring at the time, had a cello and four musician friends which he found a challenge to transport. And so the modern Multipla was born. (I say modern because the original Multipla of 1956 had no bonnet, 2+2+2 seating and a small engine concealed under the floor.)

But having six seats so arranged brought further, possibly unexpected, benefits to the contemporary Multipla. Being necessarily just a tad wider, the wheels are placed further apart to give the car a wider track, and with this the Multipla corners more surely and with less body-roll than is the norm but without any noticeable disadvantage in narrow spaces. And, in turn, these wider dimensions mean that - unlike other MPVs whose chassis are based on the platforms of a sibling hatchback - the Multipla's tubular spaceframe is unique to the model and provides surprisingly agile handling.

Plus, if you're sitting in two rows and not three, there's still ample space in the back for luggage. And when you fold, tumble or remove the rear seats you're left with what's tantamount to a three-seater van with an appropriately large tailgate opening. Anything short of a grand piano or a full dress Harley-Davidson and you'll probably get it in the back. Then there's the huge glass area - good for adults, great for kids, and, well, I could go on.

So, there we all were, gathered under a pleasantly warm sun at Billing Aquadrome, feeling pretty content, as owners groups do, that despite a few niggles we had all made the right choice. We could also all relax, confident that no one was likely to stroll up and disapprove of our chosen mode of transportation. This happens. About four years ago, an Australian neighbour screeched her Espace to a halt next to my parked Multi and declared, as only an Australian could, "That looks like a four-eyed Cane Toad to me."

We also knew that we wouldn't have to defend our choice to those automotive style slaves who mistakenly believe that if you drive a 4x4 then others will assume you're about to set off on a daring trans-global expedition; that if you drive a sports car you would finish second only to Michael Schumacher in a Grand Prix race; or that if you drive an MPV you have somehow sold out and voluntarily become a washed-up, anodyne nobody. Balderdash.

But I digress. My morning was spent ambling around the cars, taking the odd snap, chatting, checking out a converted camper Multi with two proper beds, stand up headroom, a cooker and running water (www.wheelhome.co.uk), buying a large ex-demo tent which fits neatly around the Multi's open tailgate and then watching the kids trying to erect it while wondering how long it might be before my assistance was required. Then I considered whether to have the car's engine management re-mapped for substantially improved horsepower from an on-site exhibitor (www.angeltuning.co.uk) but decided against it on the grounds that ours is usually driven fast enough as it is. I then sat down for a bit, relaxed, and later sauntered en famille off for lunch and mild sunburn by the lake.

In customary form, the afternoon saw speeches and prize giving. These ceremonials were kicked off by one Gordon Wainwright who, now on his fourth Multipla and having joined the owners forum last November, (www.multiplaowners.co.uk) decided he'd like to meet up somewhere other than cyberspace and so organised the whole shebang.

Furthest Travelled award went to Andrew Walton, who had driven down from Durham, while Best in Show deservedly went to the immaculate and quite extraordinary Abarth. Of course, Fiat doesn't make a racy Abarth Multipla, so Mark Rousso decided that he'd create one himself - and so what if it cost him six grand over the cost of the standard car. A ripple of applause too for the £500 or so raised for Whizz Kidz, the movement for non-mobile children.

On the drive home, family all asleep, I pondered that I have witnessed organised gatherings of Ferraris at Mugello, Porsches at the Nürburgring, Bentleys at Le Mans and even Duesenbergs at Pebble Beach, but the Ugly Bugs at Billing beats the lot for conviviality. Maybe next year, if there is another ball, Gordon, a few more of the UK's 13,000 Multiplas will show.

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