A Census Taker Once Tried To Test Me

SEAT’s skunkworks sports car.

Image: forocoches.com

Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo, more colloquially known as SEAT, was established in 1950 and for decades produced, with a few exceptions, virtual carbon copies of Italian Fiats until the partnership ended in 1982. In the period before Volkswagen acquired a majority shareholding in 1986, SEAT introduced the Giugiaro-styled compact Ibiza which, while still using many Fiat Ritmo elements in its underlying platform, is considered the Spanish firm’s first true post-Fiat product.

Before the Ibiza, however, there was the 1200/1430 Coupé, affectionately nicknamed the ‘Boca negra’ because of its distinctive black snout. This was a car mostly developed by SEAT and first seen in concept form at the 1970 Turin motorshow as the NSU Nergal prototype, styled by Aldo Sessano. It is much sought-after today by aficionados of the SEAT marque.

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Discontinued after five years of production in 1979, the Boca negra left the stage without a successor, but Spanish automotive designer Francisco Podadera had a plan to re-introduce a small sports coupé within the SEAT model range using the Ibiza as the starting point. Podadera, whose company, Podadera Design, was established in 1985, had already done design work for Lambretta scooters, tractor manufacturer Ebro-Kubota and Pegaso trucks.

In 1986, Podadera completed a prototype of an Ibiza-based 2+2 coupé which he christened ‘Ibiza Raider’ and subsequently approached SEAT with the aim of persuading the firm to put the car into volume production. Unfortunately, Podadera’s timing was unlucky as Volkswagen had just become the majority shareholder in SEAT and the German giant saw no place for a vehicle like the Raider within the brand image it had in mind for a reconfigured SEAT at that time.

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Unwilling to let go of his baby, Podadera decided to go it alone and develop the car further for limited production. Supported financially by a few investors, Podadera secured a production location on an industrial estate in Motril, south of Granada. Podadera and a total of just seventeen employees set to work on the task, which would prove sufficiently complex as to delay the presentation of the finalised car until 1990.

Now renamed Anibal F90, the end result was a dynamic looking if somewhat angular coupé that did not immediately reveal the car on it was based, especially when viewed from the front three-quarter angle. The extended front overhang with pop-up headlights and a pronounced boot changed the proportions quite dramatically when compared to the standard Ibiza. Some noted a resemblance to the 1982-1986 Nissan Pulsar EXA and this author would not disagree with that judgment.

Still, the Anibal F90 looked quite good in the context of its era. The entirely different front and rear body sections were made of epoxy resin reinforced with fiberglass and kevlar, as were the new front and rear bumpers.

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In the interest of safety, a roll-over bar was integrated into the body just behind the front seats. The rear seats were not provided with seatbelts as the modified hind section of the car did not incorporate suitable anchoring points for them, but the Anibal was approved for road use without them anyway.

While the wheelbase remained unaltered, the extra 6.5 inches of front overhang allowed for the fitment of air conditioning equipment, which was not available on the regular Ibiza. Apart from a Momo steering wheel and, in some cases, Recaro sports seats, the interior was largely the same as the bread-and-butter model. Power came from the standard 90bhp 1.5-litre four and, from 1991 onwards, the 105bhp powerplant from the Ibiza SXi: cars so equipped were renamed Anibal F100.

Some creative delving into the SEAT corporate parts bin was required in the creation of the Anibal: the rear window came from the 127/Fura and the hinges for the bootlid came from the Malaga. Early cars had a bonnet ventilation grille taken from the 132, changed to one from the Ronda in the course of production. Searching further afield, the retractable headlight housings came from the Porsche 924(1) and the front indicator lenses were sourced from the Volkswagen Polo.

As is so often the case, the Anibal’s basically artisanal and thus time-consuming and labour-intensive production methods resulted in a stiff price tag of over 1.8 million Pesetas (around £10.3k or US $18.6k at 1990 average exchange rates) that too few were willing to pay, even if the Anibal drew praise for the quality of its modification work. Between its introduction and the point when production was halted in 1992, just 125 cars were completed. A planned turbocharged version with 130bhp (which would doubtless have been more expensive still) never saw the light of day, but likely would not have changed the ultimate fate of the enterprise.

Unrealised promise: the 2001 Tango Roadster. Image: the author

A lot of things have changed at SEAT in roughly three decades since the demise of the Anibal: parent company Volkswagen gradually allowed the brand to include more overt sportiness in its range of vehicles. However, tantalising concepts such as the 1992 Concepto T, the 1999 Formula, the 2001 Tango Roadster and the 2003 Cupra GT have remained just that and a compact sportscar is still not offered, not even by SEAT’s sporting Cupra offshoot.

In view of the rapidly changing automotive landscape, such a model may never reappear. Moreover, the German Handelsblatt business newspaper recently reported that SEAT is likely to be eliminated in the next reorganisation of the VW group, expected to take effect in six or seven years from now, leaving only Cupra to fly the Spanish flag. The fact that Cupra has announced that it will introduce four new models between now and 2025, while there has been no such news forthcoming from SEAT, is an ominous sign in this context.

(1) To operate the retracting mechanism, windscreen wiper motors from the Ibiza were repurposed.

Editor’s note: More information on the history of SEAT may be found here.

Author: brrrruno

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

30 thoughts on “A Census Taker Once Tried To Test Me”

  1. Good morning Bruno. Another automotive treasure unearthed, thank you. The Anibal really was a clever and resourceful conversion of an unlikely subject:

    It’s a shame that the costs made it unviable. Thanks also for the reminder of the pretty and delicate SEAT 1430 Sport Coupé:

    1. The Anibal was assembled in Motril, not “Montril” as the text says, which isn’t exactly near Granada (68km)

    2. The Anibal picture seems to have been taken in Puerto Marina, Benalmadena, near Málaga

    3. Hi Gorka. Thanks for the correction, now made, and welcome to DTW. I imagine Granada was mentioned as it was the nearest city that would be immediately recognised by non-Spanish readers, even if it is still some distance away.

      I should have recognised the location of that photo, as I have been there! (My brother-in-law and his wife used to live in Benalmadena.)

  2. Good morning Bruno and thank you for another journey into the (past) world of small manufacturers.
    The Anibal was completely unknown to me.
    With all the effort of conversions and design changes, the high price for this nice little driving machine is not very surprising.

  3. Dear Bruno, thanks for unearthing this unusual car, almost unknown even in Spain.
    I had the chance to meet Francisco Podadera in the early nineties, just after he had finished the re-design of the Lambretta, and while working on the Pegaso Solo prototype project.

  4. SEAT has never seemed to me to find its home within the VW Group. Sometimes I think it should become a reciprocal brand to Škoda, in the manner of Vauxhall and Opel chez GM/Stellantis, but perhaps allowing it a merciful release is for the best.

    1. It has to be said that SEAT has done very well under VAG, with an annual production of around 400-500,000 vehicles, not counting other VW group products produced in their factories [1].

      Any other major vehicle manufacturing group would have discontinued the brand in short order. It was sold in very few markets, and was seen as an assembler of Fiat designs, and occasional OEM supplier to the Italian company.

      The Cupra experiment is certainly gaining legs – again VAG are exceptions to the rule that new or revived car brands invariably fail: look at Audi and Škoda Auto, and compare Saturn or DS, revived Datsun or struggling Infiniti.

      Cupra looks like an intensification of the notion that SEAT under VAG should be the Spanish Alfa Romeo [2], with an emphasis on performance and high style. The new name would disconnect the division from low-end rental yard fodder. If the predictions come to pass, it will be interesting to see how the managed decline of the SEAT nameplate is handled.

      [1.] A complicated calculation given that many SEATs are made outwith Spain, and also that the ex-Authi Pamplona-Landaben factory was part of the SEAT estate, but three years after the full takeover was appropriated by VW in 1993 as VW Navarra, a separate business unit.

      [2.] Notwithstanding several attempts to buy the real Italian one.

  5. I wonder if the Anibal would have benefited from a slight lengthening of the tail, to improve its proportions. Original first for comparison:

  6. No, it doesn’t. The original is left field, improvised, literally out of the ordinary. The “improved” version makes it painfully ordinary. Like one of those non descript Korean cars of the eighties before they got their shit together. Or something Skoda might have tried before the fall of the wall and before they also was scooped up by VW.

    1. Yeah, that came out a bit hard, yes. I’m sorry. It’s not that I don’t appreciate your effort? I enjoy these Photoshop discussions about design immensly. And if I had the skills I would make a try out of it myself. My opinionated strength lies in what “works”. And sometimes things might work just because it was disharmonious to begin with?

    2. No worries, Ingvar, only kidding!

      I take your point that the original works because it is unusual and trying to normalize it is probably misguided.

  7. Dear Robertas, are you referring to the recent rumour about the mid-term disappearance of SEAT as mainstream car maker, and its substitution by Cupra?

    1. Exactly that. The 500,000 yearly Cupra sales by 2025 figure is too close to SEAT’s performance in a good year to be coincidental.

      The trouble I can see is that as Cupra is envisaged as being upmarket and high-margin, there will be no room for cheap, low-powered Ibizas and Leons, sold mainly on price, and no possibility of an IC Meh replacement. Could SEAT continue as an Iberia-only brand, like Lancia in Italy? If not the lower end, would have to be covered by VW and Škoda.

      The 500,000 number also goes against the current European manufacturers’ mantras of “profit margins are more important than volume”, and “we’re all premium now”.

      Still, anything can happen in the next three years…

  8. I remember reading about the Ibiza Raider in spanish car magazines in the late ´80s. News about it appeared every now and then, production was delayed continually, until the angular design that could have been cool when the Ibiza was launched in 1984 was definitely passé in the ´90s. Anyway, the vastly superior VW-based Ibiza mk2 was about to be introduced.

    Just as an anecdote, the Ibiza was available with factory fitted air conditioning in 1991 or 1992 (my aunt bought one). In those years A/C and low price was the Ibiza´s USP. Another anecdote was that you could buy a Renault “Supercinq” or Peugeot 205 with factory A/C as early as 1988. Cool air isn´t really a luxury here; I spent a couple of hours this morning fixing a servomotor and a piece of plastic from the climate control in my father´s Peugeot 307. The air distribution control didn´t work and the fan only blowed air to the windshield. Right now we have 40ºC and a car without an operative A/C is undriveable.

  9. Was the planned 130 hp turbo an uprated version of the existing 1.5 Turbo or a 1.7? What prompted SEAT to turbocharge the 1.5 instead of the 1.7 engine?

    Could SEAT have held out a bit longer post-Fiat to better establish a more sporting identity pre-VW via the SEAT-Porsche PS and Raider?

    Cannot say was a fan of SEAT after the Altea / mk3 Toledo / mk2 Leon styling theme (though concede it is coloured by reports from years back where VW planned to handicap Skoda’s success to help justify SEAT’s existence), maybe the dislike would have been mitigated had the Tango or a SEAT version of the VW Bluesport roadster concepts reached production to allow the marque to actualize its sporting pretensions beyond hot hatches and because VW’s Alfa Romeo.

  10. What a shame Iveco dropped the Pegaso brand and we didn’t get to see the Pegaso Solo truck in production, quite the design masterpiece by Francisco Podadera.

    1. David – I doubt trucking companies would be keen for the replacement cost of that windscreen! Apart from anything else.

      The Anibal is a new one to me, I also immediately though Nissan EXA. Also Sunbeam Rapier, in that making a sports coupe using an unmodified cowl/firewall and windscreen from the donor family car results in excess height for a successful sports car (visually and sales-wise).

    2. John, I’m not sure the actual glass of the windscreen is any bigger than any other current truck range, like Scania.

    3. David I was looking at the large wrap-around compared to most trucks, which must increase cost. One factor in favour of Kenworths here are some models come with split, flat windscreens because breakage is still a regular occurrence on local roads. Perhaps it is different in Europe.

    4. That’s why I included the picture of Scania’s current range, with much the same size and curvature. Scanias are big sellers in Australia and here in New Zealand, where the use of stoneguards is common on long range trucks.

      American trucks are big sellers here too, but their market share is slipping. One driver I spoke to said that having a mechanically updated 57 Chevy sounds like a good idea, until you have to drive it every day.

    5. That’s a fair comment. Obviously 30+ years ago things were different.

  11. I’ve never heard about the Anibal. It’s a nice looking car, although maybe a bit dated by the time it was finally released.

  12. Speaking of Capra, here’s their idea of a small electric car for 2025. Quite interesting, if a bit aggressive, for my taste.

  13. The following French language link claims the turbocharged 130 hp Anibal F130 was to be powered by a Mitsubishi sourced engine rather than an uprated or enlarged 1.5 Ibiza Turbo unit.


    As SEAT built a localized version of the 128 (with much of the latter being carried over to the Ritmo/Ronda and Ibiza/Malaga), could they have also built a localized version of the Fiat X1/9? Since cues of the SEAT Raider / Anibal F90 could have been utilized for a rebodied SEAT X1/9.

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