Sixty-five years ago, yesterday (13 November, 1953), Spain’s first ‘serious’ regular production car rolled off a brand new assembly line in Barcelona.
The car in question was a localised version of the popular Fiat 1400 family saloon; built under licence in Spain by the newly-formed SEAT S.A. (Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo).
The SEAT 1400 was a luxurious and elegant family saloon, the likes of which had never been built in Spain before, with this Fiat model marking the beginning of the Spanish car maker’s story and forming the platform for its future success.
The first SEAT 1400 left the Barcelona production line on 13 November 1953, just three years after the brand had been formed in May 1950. SEAT was founded after the Spanish Civil War by a State-owned industrial holding company during the Franco era, when the importation of cars into the Country was both restricted and hellishly expensive because of high local taxes.
SEAT was founded to put the Spanish population on wheels, the State agreeing a deal with Fiat to build derivatives of some of its models under licence in Spain, including as the later Fiat/SEAT 600, 1800, 124 and 127, using an increasing number of locally-sourced parts.
The 1400 was conceived as the vehicle to build the foundations of SEAT’s business, the model being a well-engineering and modern, but conventional, four-door, front engine, rear-wheel drive saloon, equally at home as an official State authority vehicle or providing transportation to the masses as a public taxi.
The 1400 was built at SEAT’s Zona Franca manufacturing plant in Barcelona, with an initial workforce of 925 employees. Priced at 117,000 pesetas (around £616) at launch, SEAT’s initial 1400 production rate was just five cars a day during the first year, with that number rapidly climbing in the following years.
By the end of the SEAT 1400’s initial production run in 1954, 1,345 units had been built. The 1400 continued with the introduction of the SEAT 1400 A in 1954, the 1400 B in 1956 and 1400 C in 1960, along with a number of special versions. The model helped SEAT’s growth skyrocket, with around 3,000 examples built in 1954, using nearly 100 per cent nationally sourced components.
In 1956 7,000 vehicles were manufactured, with that number hitting 10,000 a year later. By the end of its life, 98,978 SEAT 1400s had been sold, for the Spanish market only, assuring the car’s place in Spanish motoring history.
Following the huge success of the SEAT 600 and 124 in particular, SEAT made its last Fiat-derived Marbella model into the 1990s, based around the original Fiat Panda of 1980. In 1986, the marque severed its Fiat links when the Spanish State sold SEAT off to the giant Volkswagen Group, which it still forms part of today, slotted between the Group’s Skoda and VW brands.