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?