Driven to Write’s Top 50 Best Cars Ever: Number 8

A touch of Porsche magic gives the unique 1982 Seat Ronda its special allure.

Let's make sure everyone knows it's Spanish:
Let’s make sure everyone knows it´s Spanish:

Only die-hard Porsche fans and Seat connoisseurs know the secret of the Ronda’s appeal after all these years. For most people the Ronda is merely an attractive front-wheel drive car. For anyone conversant with the magic of Zuffenhausen, the Ronda is almost a Porsche in disguise, invisible to thieves and the law alike. What precisely was the Ronda? The Ronda had an efficient five door body, front wheel drive, rorty petrol motor and all-round disc and drum brakes.  There is more to it than that though.

The Seat Ronda had other significance in addition to its clever engineering and distinctively Spanish styling. More than any other Seat until its inception it epitomised Spanish manufacturing capability and the country’s strong wish to

take its place among the top-tier of Iberian vehicle-producers.

As such, the Ronda is notable for being the car that made manifest Seat’s wish for independence from Fiat who for so long had provided some of the engineering and – some say – even the design expertise for their cars. In 1982, after 30 years of co-operation, Fiat parted company from Seat and went its own way.

Late model Seat Ronda:
Late model Seat Ronda. Unique Spanish design :

What of the Ronda’s genesis? Rayton Fissore, the renowned Italian stylist and coachbuilder, created the singular, clean, modern lines of the Ronda. So individual were the looks that in 1983 the Arbitration Chamber of Paris judged the Ronda was an entirely different car from the Fiat Ritmo.

For example, the Ronda had rectangular lights whilst the Ritmo had round ones (ditto the door handles). Thus the Ronda can claim to be the first of a whole generation of Seat car where sporting ability and eye-catching design would be at the forefront. From this stem came the sprouts that were the Ibiza, Malaga, Toledo, Alhambra and Cordoba, among many notables.

The cream of the cream of the Ronda crop must be the exciting 2.0 litre Crono model, top of the Ronda range. This version had a 2.0 litre four-cylinder engine equipped with a Porsche-designed head. Just 800 of these remarkable cars were built and that makes them rare, even in Porsche’s rarified circles.

Perhaps only Buick’s enigmatic LeSabre Grand National has a greater claim to rarity in the world of under-the-radar sports cars (112 made, or 117). The fairy dust of Porsche promised the Ronda more powerful and responsive engine-characteristics, faster driving and even improved economy. Today these are highly sought after among Porsche/Seat enthusiasts.

And what of Fiat? Since 1982 Fiat has struggled to find its way, with financial disasters and a string of disappointing models: Ritmo, Regata, Ulysse, Bravo Mk2, Marea, Seicento, Croma 1 and Croma 2, Punto Mk3 … a failed marriage with GM, and not to mention Alfa’s near death, Lancia’s actual death, alongside a problematic take-over of Chrysler. The irony is intense.

Editor’s Note: [Owing to the effects of intoxication, the author originally referred to Sindelfingen, when he of course intended Zuffenhausen. This error has been amended in the text.]

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

15 thoughts on “Driven to Write’s Top 50 Best Cars Ever: Number 8”

  1. Remarkably, Seat never uses the name of this beautiful little town again – knowing a new Ronda would simply fail in being a worthy successor of this iconic Seat with Porsche-power.

    That is the fine difference to Citroen. Look at the picture of the late Seat Ronda. It was a special edition named Crono. So Citroen surely wanted to benefit from the reputation of this spanish Porsche by taking the well-knowned name Crono for their vulgar Saxos, Xsaras and Berlingos – i am asking myself how many owners of a Saxo chrono were dreaming sometimes they are driving a spanish legend….
    Well, Citroen now uses her own heritage with the DS brand. Maybe the Crono with the “h” was a step too big for a normal Citroen customer….

    1. I read that again and enjoyed it even more. Every time a new Seat is prepared the executives ask if *this* time the Ronda name can be used and each time, for some reason the answer is no. They shake their heads sadly and return to the map of Spain for another place name.

    2. There was a recent competition where Seat asked the public to suggest a name for one of their new cars. Naturally I suggested Ronda and alas they did not warm to the idea.

    3. I’m put in mind of the Cronotime clock.

      It is said to be Italy’s first transistorised clock, and was made by Ritz Italora for Fiat as a business gift:

      Pio Manzù really did do that one…

  2. I think Porsche was not amused Seat hides the Porsche signs under the bonnet.

    By the way i found this fine picture of the Ronda interior:

    This is box-design at its best.- if you like smmetry combined with a world of pre-Photoshop.

    1. The gloves and scarf casually placed are a nice touch. Are there horsemen in all the photos? It reminds me of Renault’s inability to photograph a Laguna without a small plane creeping into the shot.

  3. While Seat may have looked to Sindelfingen to get hints for build quality, their engine technology came from Zuffenhausen, of course.

    Has anyone here ever seen this car on a street? I might have when I was in Spain in the early nineties, but I don’t remember any here in Switzerland.

    1. Yes, there were Malagas in Ireland in the 80s. They had a low price and sold on that basis. If you go looking you’ll probably find similar cars all around the Meditterranean.

    2. Yes, you mixed them up: Sindelfingen is Mercedes, Zuffenhausen is Porsche. I imagine names like these are hard to remember for people who have not grown up with German.

  4. For some reason, UK-supplied Rondas were badged as Malagas, they only sold in tiny numbers, the Ibiza and Malaga saloon did a lot better.

    1. Hi Robertas:
      There might be two reasons that Seat didn’t use Ronda. Remember branding involves hypersensitivity to words’ sounds and associations. There’s a place in Wales that sounds like Ronda and Welshness is not held to be very marketable (more so in the 80s). Celticness generally doesn’t associate well with cars. The second reason is that another firm might have had the rights to the name. Or, third (I said I was doing two?) is that Seat might have wanted to simplify the marketing effort by using fewer names.

  5. In Greece the Malaga was renamed “Gredos”, as Malaga sounds too much like “Malakas”, a vulgar colloquialism meaning a person who indulges in solitary vice.

    1. In grammar school, there was a group of Greek pupils, whose every third or fourth word when conversing in their mother tongue was either ‘Malaka’ (which, to German ears, sounds like an ice cream flavour) or ‘Pooshdy’ (which sounds like an unusual onomatoeic description of a big block V8 powered car passing by at great speed). Did the latter term cause any rebranding efforts I’m not aware of, too?

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