View Full Version : Happy 50th Birthday To A Spanish Legend – The Seat 600

15-08-2007, 07:00 PM

SEAT is popping open the cava for the 50th birthday of a car that almost single-handedly put Spain on wheels: the legendary SEAT 600.
To Spain, the SEAT 600 is a car of enormous social and cultural importance. Selling almost 800,000 units over the course of its 16-year lifetime, the 600 and its various derivatives became very much part of the Spanish landscape.
The car came into life through SEAT’s negotiations with Fiat, which were initiated in order to produce a second car in Barcelona to join the 1400 saloon. The original model, designed by engineer Dante Giacosa, used a water-cooled four cylinder in-line engine, installed lengthways behind the rear axle and connected to a four-speed gearbox. With an initial cylinder capacity of 633 cc, the SEAT 600 had a power output of 21.5 hp – not much by the brand’s ‘Auto Emoción’ standards of today, but more than adequate at the time.
In spite of its small size, the 600 was far from an uncomfortable car. In fact, comfort was one of its greatest virtues and the guiding motive for its interior and exterior design. Giacosa first created the passenger compartment, which then enabled him to ergonomically position the steering wheel and dashboard, and to determine the ideal dimensions of the doors for easy access.
Over the ensuing years, numerous derivatives of the 600 were added, including a commercial version, while successive improvements boosted engine size, performance, specification and comfort. A four-door variant, the 800 – which had no equivalent in Fiat’s range – was launched in 1963.

The SEAT 600 had such a profound influence on the life of the Spanish people, it still provides material for social science scholars today. When historians and sociologists talk of ‘the Spain of the 600’, they refer to a crucial period in the country’s recent history, when the ghost of war was finally laid to rest, giving way to a new era of optimism. This period has no better symbol than this small utility car, which improved the lives of thousands of Spaniards by providing them with an affordable means of mobility and independence.
When the car was launched halfway through 1957, the Spanish domestic car market had precious few brands to choose from, and an even more limited production capacity.
On another front, the launch of the SEAT 600 sounded the death knell for another sector of the automotive industry – it swept away the host of microcars, three-wheeler vans and motorcycles-with-sidecar which had previously dominated the country’s streets and roads. Most manufacturers of these vehicles stopped production within a few years or else began re-inventing themselves through commercial pressure.
It was the advent of the SEAT 600 D that ushered in the model’s halcyon days, converting it into the dominant model of Spain’s automobile industry for almost a decade. Strong demand gave rise to increased production, bringing down costs with a knock-on effect on the street price, leading in turn to greater demand. Concurrently the phenomenon reinvigorated Barcelona’s industrial fabric, thanks to component demand generated by the Zona Franca production plant.
It was the beginning of a prodigious era for SEAT, during which it consolidated its distribution network, and established its primacy as a Spanish brand on its home market. The labour force stood at 10,000 workers, producing 300 cars a day. Export came to form part of its plans for expansion, and eventually from the initial shipments of SEAT 600s to Columbia, exports expanded to include 12 countries.
Spaniards had swapped their motorbikes for their 600s and, together with their families, soon got into the habit of weekend trips in the car. This increase in motoring-for-pleasure divided the country into pedestrians and ‘Seatestrians’ – ‘man of the 600, the nation’s roads are yours’ as Moncho Alpuente was to sing years later. Thanks to the SEAT 600, travelling intensified and was not confined to the Spanish mainland – many people ventured further afield into Europe, territory as yet unknown to a good part of the Spanish populace.
The last SEAT 600 – a white ‘L Especial’ – rolled off the assembly line on 3rd August 1973; workers put a farewell placard on it proclaiming ‘you were born a prince, you died a king’. The end of the production run filled the front pages of daily newspapers.
The SEAT 600 can be favourably compared in terms of cultural significance with the Volkswagen Beetle, the Citroën 2CV and the Mini. In Spain it has been nicknamed the Seílla o Garbancito (Chickpea). Reproduced as a toy, a miniature or Scalextric car, the butt of numerous jokes and anecdotes, as well as a star in film and song, the mystique of the 600 springs from a love affair between a country and a car that is larger than its purely mechanical existence.
The late Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, journalist and writer, generally credited as being chronicler of the zeitgeist of the transitional period in Spain, wrote ‘The day Spaniards got into their 600s, they began to leave their past behind them, embarking on a weekend trip from which they have not yet returned’. The SEAT 600 will, for ever more, be the car of all Spaniards.
10 things you didn’t know about the SEAT 600…

One in every four cars on Spanish roads in 1971 was a SEAT 600
Thanks to the song Mi seiscientos (My 600) with lyrics by Juan Aguirre and music by Chano Montes, this small car came to form part of Spanish folk tradition
A 600 was the star of the film entitled Ya tenemos coche (We’ve got a car) directed by Julio Salvador in 1958; the car also played a major role in the Spanish television (TVE) series Plinio
Caba, Gabor, Inauto, Milton, Nardo, Serra and Siata were just some of the coachbuilders who converted a standard 600 into a coupé or convertible during the 1960s. Later in the 80s Rany used a 600 chassis to create a buggy
The ‘House of the 600’ in Barcelona’s Rosselló Street was the city’s most popular used-car salesroom. Its proprietor once remarked that one particular 600 changed hands there more than 15 times
José Lacambra, a farmer from Huesca, converted his 600 into a tractor after running it for 100,000 kilometres. Another farmer did things the other way round, using half of a 600’s bodywork to make a cabin for his tractor
In addition to nicknames like Seílla y Pelotilla, the 600 was also popularly known as the Ombligo (Bellybutton), the simple joke being that ‘everyone had one’
In 1970 the Catalan artist Joan Vila Casas converted his 600 into a work of art on wheels which he called Autometria 600 – and continued to drive it for many years
In 1972 six students from Madrid crossed Africa from north to south in three 600s. With hardly any changes or major modifications to their cars, they took four months to drive 30,000 kilometres through deserts, jungle and mudflats
SEAT exported about 80,000 units of the 600, almost 10% of total production. Cars destined for export markets with the Fiat badge also bore the legend construzione SEAT