SEAT’s skunkworks sports car.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.