IT may be that the SEAT brand has only really entered the public consciousness in recent years but, in fact, the Spanish marque has a long and distinguished history.
We can forgive them for their insistence that their name is spelt out in capital letters, presumably so people in the English-speaking world don’t think they’re a chair-making company.
But SEAT, nowadays owned by the gigantic Volkswagen Group, have just celebrated the 60th anniversary of their first car rolling off the production line. It’s a proud landmark.
That car was the SEAT 1400, an elegant and luxurious saloon designed in the spirit of the popular big American sedans of the 1950s, and the factory was in Barcelona.
The SEAT company had been established just three years earlier and had developed the 1400 with a focus on the transport needs of Spanish government officials.
The firm would also go on to create estate, seven-seat and commercial versions of the 1400. Spanish cabbies loved it and it remained a popular taxi well into the 1960s.
Priced in pesetas – ah, whatever happened to them? – the 1400 cost the equivalent of £35,200 in today’s money. SEAT built five cars a day with a 925-strong workforce.
The model made its public bow at the Barcelona Trade Fair in June 1954 and, with petrol rationing in the country newly ended, the company was besieged by smitten Spaniards to the tune of 10,000 orders. It meant SEAT could boost production and cut the price.
The success of the 1400 was the fuel that drove SEAT’s success and the company went from strength to strength. Production continued until 1964, with almost 100,000 cars having been built.
SEAT remains a key player in the Spanish economy to this day, designing, developing and manufacturing cars in the ultra-modern Martorell factory on the outskirts of Barcelona.
Since those early days of the 1400, SEAT has built more than 16 million cars. Today the firm exports more than 80 per cent of its vehicles.
Such models as the best-selling Ibiza have helped the company make huge inroads into the British car market, and with the undoubted additional kudos of VW ownership, SEAT’s popularity boom has seen them notch record sales and market share in the UK.