Going Up

Introducing the MegaPanda…

Emelba Chato. Image: Esacademic.com

After the fall of Generalissimo Franco’s regime, Spain became free in more than one way; its market could now be opened to more products and brands produced outside of the country. This revitalization of the market stimulated the foundation of many new businesses, of which coachbuilder Emelba was one.

Commencing operations in 1978, Girona-based Emelba swiftly developed close ties to the national car maker SEAT and started producing the SEAT 127 Samba for them – the Spanish sister of the Fiat 127 Scout. At the time the market for small utility vehicles in Spain was dominated by Renault (4 F4 and F6) and Citroën (Acadiane). Oddly enough SEAT never brought its own version of the Fiat 127 Fiorino to market, instead Emelba built the SEAT 127 Poker: a 127 with a Fiorino-like rear section but executed rather more crudely.

The 127 Poker was still more a worklike van than people carrier, prompting Emelba to develop a startling mini-MPV of their own based on the Panda/Marbella platform. In april 1982 the Emelba Chato (an affectionate Spanish term for “good friend”) was introduced at the Salon Expomobile in Barcelona.

The Chato was the only vehicle on the market less than 3.5 metres long that could carry six passengers; it utilized the standard Panda/ Marbella platform so the internal volume had to be achieved by increasing the height of the body, resulting in the Chato being an exceptional 1.8 metres tall.

Passengers entered through a large sliding door on the passenger side into an interior that used mostly Panda/ Marbella interior parts including the dashboard; fitting six seats in such a short space inevitably meant that the driving position was less than ergonomically ideal.

The spare wheel which is situated under the bonnet in the regular Panda/Marbella was moved to under the rear luggage compartment. With power provided by a 843cc Fiat 850-derived engine the Chato, especially with six people on board could not exactly be described as a lively performer. Emelba offered the Chato in three versions: a minivan, a panel van and a pick-up.

The Chato enjoyed some popularity in taxi use in Barcelona, and even as a police van. They were also frequently seen being used as small transporters or ambulances at Spanish airports. In civil guise however sales were disappointing. The introduction by SEAT of the Trans (a van also based on the Panda/Marbella but with a stretched platform) further diminished the Chato’s chances because most perceived it as better looking and it benefited from a much wider sales and marketing network.

Emelba introduced a successor of sorts to the Chato with the 903 in 1985. This looked similar but was built on the longer platform of the SEAT Trans. In addition it now had sliding doors on both sides and a larger 903cc engine – hence the name. Unfortunately for Emelba the 903 failed to make much of an impact in sales however and was discontinued a year later.

Tiempodeclasicos over-blog.es

Even though the Chato was ahead of its time conceptually its somewhat crude execution, marginal performance and unusual appearance seriously impeded its market chances. Having said that, the Chato remains an interesting and obscure variation on the Panda/ Marbella theme.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

29 thoughts on “Going Up”

  1. Good morning Bruno. Another treasure uncovered, thank you. The Chato and 903 look eminently sensible and practical, so it’s a shame they weren’t more successful. The passenger version immediately reminded me of this, its spiritual predecessor:

    1. My mind wandered in the same direction as yours, Daniel.

    2. Not a good sign: I’d get that checked out if I were you, Freerk. 😁

      Happy Birthday, by the way!!! 🎂

  2. Hi Bruno, interesting article about a little know vehicle. I saw one a few years ago in the Girona Province town of Arbucies, during a vintage car meet. Can’t say I liked it, but its significance meant I had to post it in my Instagram account (Free plug: cesargrau_cars – Only my own pictures and only cars, motorcycles, aircraft, and anything else that moves, preferably vintage). Fun note: The manufacturer Emelba was actually located in Arbucies, so you could say that that particular unit I saw was grazing in its home farm!

    By the way, “chato” also means having a short nose, which I guess is another reference to the van’s appearance. “Chato” is also used in some parts of Spain to describe a short, wide glass that is used for the rather fun and thoroughly Spanish night practice of going from bar to bar having just a small sip of wine and perhaps a tapa at every stop. The wine eventually adds up at the end of the night, but I suppose not as much as drinking it all in one sitting!

    Thanks Daniel for the Multipla pic. What fascinates me the most about it is its clever folding seat mechanism:

  3. Bruno, thanks for your article.
    I didn´t see too many Chatos where I live (Andalucía) back in the eighties, perhaps they were more popular in Catalunya where Emelba was based. But the Chato had difficult to be a sales success, considering its crude and amateurish looks. Even the name, “Chato”, doesn´t indicate too much seriousness; “Chato” is used, a bit in a pejorative way, to name a person whose nose is too small. As a nickname is perfect, but as a commercial name…

    More interesting from Emelba was the Ronda-based Emelba 7 MPV

    http://www.motorizados.net/opinion/los-carroceros-perdidos-emelba/

    1. Another school day…… and some additions to my alternative motoring wish-list. The Elba 4-door Panda would be a good R4 substitute; the Lujo minibus really appeals, but my favourite is probably the Lada Niva cabrio….

  4. Good morning brrrruno, thanks for bringing back memories of this vehicle, almost forgotten in Spain and mainly unknown abroad.
    And I fully agree with the comments about the multiple meanings of its name “Chato”.

  5. These are a fascinating little bit of Seat/Fiat Panda history!
    I’ve not seen them before but they are a wonderfully agricultural way to make a 1-box almost cab-over volume mini-minibus.
    I learnt to drive in a Mk1 750cc Panda (refresh with ‘omega’ rear suspension) and can only imagine how these tall things roll on the corners! (Sketchy at best)

    Imagining how great one these with 4×4 running gear and a subtle ride height lift would be as a mini overland camper like those wonderful early 90s Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagons

    Of note – they seemed to do a weird estate ‘thing’ called the ‘7’ based on the mk1 Ibiza too.

    Shame we don’t get these weird and wonderful coachbuilt variants these days (apart from Hearses and Limos)

    1. Hi Huw. Great photos, thank you. Those torchieres on the side of the hearse are beyond weird! That said, I wouldn’t mind making my final journey in one of those, just for the fun of it.

    2. Huw: It’s most likely an optical illusion, but the Seat 7 in those pictures appears as though it’s sagging in the middle – or maybe I am? The hearse on the other hand is a marvellously gothic looking device. It would be amusing to run around in one of those, simply for the reactions on people’s faces. I do hope those torches illuminate.

      Birthday greetings to Mr. de Ruiter…

  6. What a terrific little tall thing that is. Doesn’t it look like a ‘rover’ vehicle from an old low-budget sci-fi film?

  7. Good afternoon brrrruno. Driven to Write gave me a birthday present: an interesting article about a vehicle not known to me. I’ve been to Spain, only once, but didn’t see this car.

    1. Well happy birthday Feerk! I’ve been in Spain for 16 years and I’ve only seen one, so I guess it’s a sort of boxy 1980s unicorn 🙂

    2. Thank you cesargrauf and Pat. The Panda Xato would make a nice birthday gift, but € 12k is a little steep.

  8. “After the fall of Generalissimo Franco’s regime, Spain became free in more than one way; its market could now be opened to more products and brands produced outside of the country.”

    As a Spaniard I have something to comment.

    It was super expensive to buy foreign cars until the early 1990s.

    “GeneralíSimo” (the second “s” is an spelling invention widely used in English) Franco died in 1975…ans it is still dead (Saturday Night Live cue)

    Punitive tariffs against foreign cars were removed gradually from 1986 onwards, the year when Spain joined the European Common Market.

    ” Emelba Chato (an affectionate Spanish term for “good friend”)”

    I must disagree. In this context “chato” mean small nosed:

    https://dle.rae.es/chato

    Obviously because the Emelba Chato had almost no “nose”.

  9. Freerk: Glad you enjoyed the article, and Hartelijk gefeliciteerd!

    Cesargrauf: Thank you for your kind words and your further clarification of the word “Chato”; a trek along Spanish bars with your own chato glass and enjoying a tapa at every stop too sounds enticing, especially after the covid-related unpleasantness of the past period!

    b234r, Luis Carlos Alcoba and Spanish reader: Thank you for the correction/clarification about the meaning(s) of the word “Chato”; I of course gladly defer to the Spanish nationals among the esteemed DTW readership in these matters!

    Huw Gwilliam: Thank you, glad you liked the article. And the Emelba “7” is indeed a fascinating thing too, isn’t it? To me it looks like a 90% scale 1st generation Chrysler Voyager with a Seat Ibiza nose grafted onto it, especially in profile.

    Chris Elvin: I can see it too, it wouldn’t need too many modifications 🙂

    1. Was it a tilt at the original Nissan Prairie, perhaps? My first thought was the same as Eóin’s: it does indeed appear to sag in the middle! I think it’s because of the way the DLOs line up (or rather don’t). Richard might be able to explain it more rigourously…

    1. I have a bit of a thing about luxury minibuses. That one from Emelba is really very pleasing. The glazing is impressive. I will also stop and gaze at high-spec Transits with rear seating and insist to anyone present “best van in the world”. Which it is.

    2. Hello Richard, yes, I have a thing for commercial vehicles, including vans and mini-coaches. I like the idea of ‘municipal luxury’. There seem to be some good commercial vehicle designers.

      I see the T7 Volkswagen Multivan has just been released. It seems very sensible and high quality – in contrast to some of their latest car offerings. I’m looking forward to seeing the electric ID. BUZZ next year.

      I think a significant part of our transportation future will be semi-autonomous, small capacity, electric mini buses.

  10. Bruno, in a certain way you´re right with the meaning of “chato” as “good friend”. Some years ago it wasn´t inusual to call a young girl “chata”, in a familiar or friendly context, even if the girl didn´t have a specially short nose!

    Spanish Reader said that in Spain, until the early ´90s, it was super expensive to buy imported cars. Well, not so much, with Spain becoming part of the EU in 1986 foreign cars taxes were substantially lowered, and a few years before, in 1979, imported cars quotas were increased (before that, they were very restricted, that´s why “luxury “cars like the Citroen CX, the Lancia Beta HPE and even the Dodge Dart were built here), and taxation lowered. In 1980, Ford made a considerable impact in our market selling the made in Germany Taurus 1.6 cheaper than the locally made Seat 131 Supermirafiori 1600.
    Not exactly related with the Emelba, but, anyway, it was an interesting time in the Spanish car market…

  11. The first have heard of the Emelba Chato/903 or mk1 SEAT Ibiza-based Emelba 7, the former could have certainly benefited from the larger engines of the Lancia Y10 as well as the 1.3-1.4 diesels at the time had Fiat and SEAT not went their separate ways. Also read Emelba fitted one SEAT Panda with a Daihatsu diesel engine.

  12. Hi all
    A vehicle with similar homely styling that is very common all over south east Asia is the Toyota Kijang,based on the Hilux platform.

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