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SEAT’s best-selling model, which they named after the popular Spanish vacation destination and party island for the younger generation with an appreciation for techno/dance music and colourful cocktails, is celebrating its 35th birthday this year. Many countries define a car as a classic when it turns 30, the UK does so when it turns 40, while us Danes choose with the middle ground and declare a car for a classic when it’s been around for 35 years. So this year will see the little SEAT Ibiza as the latest official inductee to the Danish list of classic cars.

Precisely a year ago, my colleague Anders asked us whether 2018 would be the year where the Hyundai Pony would be recognised and accepted as a classic car. Controversial to say the least! Now I ask you whether the SEAT Ibiza will be honoured in 2019. The notion is perhaps not quite as provocative as the one Anders presented us with, but I’ll argue that it’s just as unlikely.

My father’s last car was a SEAT Ibiza and he was truly pleased with owning the little Spanish hatchback. He would never let the chance pass to tell anyone who would listen, that it had a Porsche engine. I would just smile and have a quiet chuckle, but truth be told, Seats cooperation with other firms such as Porsche was a real stroke of genius which led to an unbelievable success story.

Spain is today one of the biggest car manufacturing nations of the world, but this is mostly down to many marques from other countries having built assembly plants within Spain. However, they do have a brand of their own which was established under the dictatorship of Franco. Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo – or just SEAT for short – was founded on the 9thof May 1950, when the Spanish state decided to back several private investors to create a Spanish car industry. Initially it was based around licensed assembly of various FIAT’s which continued well into the seventies.

But by 1984, SEAT were finally ready to launch a car which was all their own: The SEAT Ibiza. It was designed by the Italian designhouse Giugiaro and production was prepared with help from Karmann. Much of the Ibiza was loosely based on SEAT’s existing Ronda, which was essentially a reinterpretation of the FIAT Ritmo. So everything was based on solid and well-tested building blocks, while putting Giugiaro into play ensured a simple yet trendy and sharp design which helped the new Ibiza stand out in its crowded class for compact hatchbacks.

The motoring press were less than complimenting towards the interior. Ergonomics weren’t ideal as there seemed to be very little logics applied to where various functions were placed on the dashboard. The Ibiza combined Spanish with German and Italian, and if anyone felt that a French touch was lacking, one could sarcastically suggest that it was to be found in the somewhat haphazard interior. The traditional stalks behind the steering wheel were gone and instead replaced by pushbuttons, while the windshield wipers were operated by a sliding button. It was certainly different, and perhaps just a sensible attempt to break with convention, but those who deemed they knew better did not approve.

When the first generation of the Ibiza saw the light of day, both the transmission, the exhaust and several of the available engines were developed together with Porsche. There were four different petrol engines – and one horrible diesel engine – to choose from ranging from 1.2 to 1.7-litres. That they came from a sub-department within Porsche was promoted loudly with “System Porsche” written across the valvecover. The collaboration was most likely more for advertising purposes than it was an attempt to create a Spanish sportscar. SEAT made the most of it with their slogan “German Engineering. Italian styling” which was well received throughout Europe.

The advertising opportunity didn’t come for free though. SEAT had to pay the German sportscar manufacturer seven Deutsche Mark for every car they sold with the Porsche inscription across the engine.

With a facelift in 1991, the first generation Ibiza remained in production until 1993 by which time in excess of 1.3 million cars had been produced. A new and slightly bigger successor was ready to take over as SEAT entered a new chapter in their history as part of the vast and all-conquering VAG Group – but that is of course an entirely different story, and one which continues up to current day.

But what’s your take on the first generation SEAT Ibiza? Do our ViaRETRO readers regard it as an alternative to the classic VW Golf. Does it perhaps even have a bit of Spanish passion which the Golf lacks? Is the Ibiza, thanks to the German engineering, a better choice than the FIAT’s from the same era? Most importantly, should we all now accept the first Ibiza as a fully-fledged classic, and if so, can we expect them to rise in popularity and not least value throughout 2019?


4 Responses

  1. Anders Bilidt

    An interesting thought Søren. That first Ibiza seems to have been all but forgotten nowadays…
    To be honest though, I actually remember quite liking the first Ibiza back when it was introduced. While there’s nothing spectacular about the little 80s hatchback, it is at least a very clean and coherent design and I actually feel it has aged reasonably well.
    I tend to always favour the underdog and the outsider. So just as I would always choose the Ritmo 125TC over a Golf GTi, I would equally opt for an early Ibiza 1.5SXi before the more mainstream products from VW or Ford for that matter…

  2. luis

    Article and comment exactly my thoughts! This Seat Ibiza uses exactly the same floor plan, underpins, rear suspension as the Fiat Ritmo (Strada in UK). Seat Malaga was to Seat Ibiza as Fiat Regata was to Fiat Ritmo. This Seat Ibiza was better rust protected than the Fiat Ritmo and steel gauge was also a bit thicker which provided a better quality feeling than the Fiats. The interior trims of the Fiat were better and the Fiat Regata was about the same, or better, than the first Audi A4 in spite of the fact that Audi A4 was far more engineered, sturdy and noise damped. I am not also sure about Porsche design but I think that the 1.2 engine uses the Fiat block 1200cc used for the Fiat/Seat 124 and Seat/Porsche have re-designed the cylinder head.
    Back to Seats, the Ibiza lost a bit of the Spanish motoring feeling like driving a Seat Ronda cruising from Salamanca to Valladolid, going south to Caceres and return north to Salamanca but that was the slow start of the “nullification” of emotions and pleasure resulting from traveling by car. Anyway, you can take my words as true, it is still a good plan to take the CL-526 road from Ciudad Rodrigo towards Caceres and turn right to Roman Bridge of Alcantara. Sorry for this detour but for me it is a bit difficult to dissociate cars to motoring.

  3. Anders Bilidt

    @luis, I’ll have to try that CL-526 one day.
    Maybe behind the wheel of a Seat Ibiza 1.5 SXi…?? ;-) Or which car do you prefer for that road?

  4. luis

    Well, Anders, an Ibiza 1.5 SXi surely does the trick :) no fears about that! BUT if driven too quickly you might miss some spots. For that specific road I would, eventually, take a Seat Panda 45 providing that I would have in stock suspension bushes and shocks in order to make some small raids offroad. Also, before hitting Alcantara, explore Sierra de Gata, go to the reservoir “Embalse Rivera de Gata” and “Embalse de Borbollón” (never been there..), take pictures, sit and start writing fiercefully as if I would be an authentic and inspired writer. Cheers, luis


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