Well, what is one supposed to do on vacation anyway?
As regular readers may have appreciated, I have of late been on holiday. I don’t do this sort of thing as often as I ought, but when I do, I like to set myself a little intellectual challenge, and given that my predilections tend towards the automotive, it is here these exercises more than usually rest.
The last time I ventured to this part of Southern Spain, the task I placed before myself was that of Green Car Bingo, which was an enjoyable (for me at least) divertion, but not really replicable. So given that the Andalucían city of Marbella would form my base for the duration, the quest I set myself was to was to find and photograph the car with which it is perhaps best associated.
The Seat Marbella began life in 1980 as the Seat Panda, a very mildly facelifted version of Giugiaro’s minimalist masterpiece. Seat was closely affiliated with Turin at the time, but following the severance of that alliance, the Spanish Panda was discontinued. Its replacement arrived in 1986, the same year Fiat heavily revised their own Panda-car.
Seat’s revisions were both more apparent to the eye, yet at the same time, less comprehensive than that of Fiat, whose ’86 Panda (while visually similar) was heavily reworked. By contrast the Marbella received an alternate nose treatment, featuring a new bonnet pressing, a rearward sloping grille and revised headlamp/ indicator lenses. At the rear, the tail-lamps were altered, as was the tailgate pressing itself. Plastic side cladding was added (early Pandas’ lower cladding appeared to have been painted on), which added a ‘lip’ over the rear wheelarch. However, the old fashioned separate door quarter glass was retained.
Also, unlike its Italian cousin, which adopted Fiat’s advanced FIRE power units, the Marbella kept the proven pushrod engine designs, in 903cc and (for a short time) 843 cc capacities. Furthermore, the original beam axle rear suspension was retained, whereas Fiat’s 1986 equivalent adopted the Autobianchi/ Lancia Y10’s Omega-axle independent set up.
Sold on price, utter simplicity and mechanical robustness, the Marbella was widely derided by the UK press as being out of date upon introduction, but proved a durable and successful model line over 12 years in its home country. Not just Spain either, it would appear that the Portuguese, Italian, German and Dutch markets also took the baby Seat to their hearts.
Despite the favourable Andalucían climate however, finding a Marbella in Marbella proved a good deal more challenging than expected. Although a brief sighting was achieved upon my first day in town, photographic evidence proved more a more elusive quality. My second sighting was if anything, even more frustrating – I was driving at the time. A third, equally frustrating Marbella sighting took place while I was out walking, but it scuttled away before I could summon my camera into action.
However, this last weekend, I hit the jackpot – not just one, but two Marbellas about half a kilometre apart. (Question: are all surviving Seat Marbella’s white?) The first example was a Jeans edition, dating it somewhere between 1988 and 1996. The second (parked closer to Marbella Centro) was a Kiss special edition, allegedly from 1992.
What can one say about the Marbella that does not apply to that of its Panda source? Well, while it clearly maintains all of the attributes of space efficiency, simplicity, mechanical robustness and fitness for the purpose of the original, the visual changes that were effected; said to have been forced upon Seat at Turin’s behest, do little to further one’s impression. Certainly a good deal of the early Fiat Panda’s distinctive product-design charm was lost – something of course one might be tempted to level at centro stile when Fiat revised their own version that same year.
But while the second generation Panda was sufficiently its own creature to stand apart from its forebear, the Marbella was somehow diminished by the changes wrought out of expediency. Both cars however proved sound, basic transportation, and if the Panda not only appears to have survived in its native land in significantly greater numbers than its Spanish cousin, it appears to have better maintained its hold within the social fabric.
So having achieved this task, what now? After all, surely there are Seats and there are Seats? A Malaga in Málaga perhaps? Or an Alhambra in the Alhambra? Or perhaps that holy grail of Seat rarities – a Ronda in Ronda. Well, there’s always next time.