Occasionally you get an invite that piques your interest, and a visit to Barcelona to have a nosey around SEAT’s museum of historic vehicles, aka SEAT Coches Históricos was one such invite.
The museum consists of around 280 cars, from the company’s inception right the way through to the latest concept that sat on the stand during Geneva this year.
It’s not open to the public and receives around 1,000 visitors a year, occasionally these precious machines are taken on events, but many have precious few kilometres on them, others have been rebuilt from the ground up and are truly priceless.
The first car we came to was the SEAT 600…which looks the same as a FIAT 500. Now I’ve been interested in cars as long as I can remember, I’ve been writing about them for nearly ten years. However, I never knew SEAT was a FIAT spin-off until today. Pardon my ignorance.
It turns out the marque came about due to collaboration between FIAT, a Spanish state-owned holding company and a group of six banks.
For the first few years, they merely built rebadged FIAT’s with some slight alterations here and there. But they also created some bespoke one-offs, these were mainly for factory tours by dignitaries and the like.
One of them was the 600 Savio. It’s a stretched MPV type affair with a solid roof and huge greenhouse-like windows. Its predecessor was an open top, almost beach buggy type machine, but it was deemed too unsafe to take around the factory floor, so the enclosed Savio was built.
Another stand out was the gorgeous powder blue 1400 Commercial. It looked like an American Studebaker van, just smaller in size. Yet it still oozes that ‘50’s character, I never knew such a SEAT existed.
Nor did I know about the 850 Spider. Naturally, I’d heard of the 850 FIAT Spider, but not this Spanish flavoured affair. The only significant difference came in the form of the ‘Petrol’ and ‘Oil’ labels on the dials.
It wasn’t until the early 80‘s that SEAT broke free from its technical partner FIAT. It went it alone, but not before the Italians tried to take them to court for copying their designs. To counter this SEAT painted up their new Ronda in yellow and black. They then took this to the jury and showed them that everything in yellow was SEAT. After a short deliberation, the case was thrown out. SEAT were free to do their own thing, and the brand was reborn.
That makes the oddly coloured Ronda the most important car in the collection.
Moving down the line, there’s the pontiff’s car for his 1982 visit to Spain. The original, bulletproof Popemobile wouldn’t fit inside some of the stadiums during the tour. Luckily this was found out prior to the trip, SEAT was called, and custom built a Marbella for the Pope’s visit.
Which is rather funny seeing as the FIAT Panda was arguably the people’s car.
A few cars up is a gold first generation Ibiza. Its box-like shape is so similar to that of a mark 1 Golf, extra black arches and fog lights finish the sporty look. It was gifted to the current King of Spain on his 18th birthday by his father. Of course, it had to be gold.
This SEAT was restored back in 2014 where the King was surprised to see it sitting at the factory in Martorell while visiting.
The next leg of the collection shows the Ibiza through the ages, from the first Cupra all the way to a 30th-anniversary special edition. All sit in pristine condition, dust free and mostly, ready to drive.
It was nearly six o’clock, and I was being followed around by four SEAT workers & a photographer, now and then they’d ask if I needed anything or wanted a car moving outside to take images. Naturally, I didn’t want to be a bother so declined the incessant asking.
Moving down the second row of cars you start with the Leon, from your bog standard variant to the first Cupra and onto the 2014 Nurburgring slayer. Opposite sits the start of the race cars. You might wonder what SEAT has ever done in relation to motorsport, but you’ll see rally cars, Dakar competitors and even old-school F1 style racers that competed in the Fórmula Nacional during the 1970s.
Oh, and there’s also a twin-engine SEAT Ibiza rally car, that idea never caught on.
Across from them sits glorious slices of the future, the concept cars.
Some of the machines remind me of a concept cars book I would forever flick through as a child, the 1992 Bolero in its golden yellow paint looks almost like a Monaro of the future, even now it stands the test of time.
Next to it sits the ’98 Bolero with suicide doors and a twin ‘turb V6 making over 320 horses, up from that you find a stunningly swoopy Salsa, its front end looks old-school Leon, but its dimensions are on the Ibiza scale, it was first shown in 2000 along with its off-roading brother the Salsa Emotion.
Moving to the modern day and the crossovers start to appear, the 2007 Altea Freetrack with its pristine gloss free paintwork was one of the first matte cars to break cover. Back then that finish was incredibly hard to achieve.
We then stumble across a slightly sectioned off area to the left side of this vast space. Behind sits some rather sad looking SEAT’s. Isidre tells us that there’s always around 60 cars on their ‘must have’ list, the number never seems to alter. Most sit here before languishing in the museum proper, rotten, rusted and beaten up the workers here often have to recreate panels by hand to restore these fallen beauties.
Walking outside our host, Isidre – the man in charge of all this and the whole SEAT Choches Históricos – asks me if I’d like to take two of the classics for a spin. Granted they are over 40 years old, and I’ll be driving around the factory grounds in them, so I’m somewhat apprehensive but agree nonetheless.
Both cars are SEAT 124 D’s, one from early in the model’s life, the other from the end and in the 124’s sportiest form the 2000cc variant.
Hopping in and the first car has less than 900km’s on it from new, every straight and turn thereafter I feel guilty for blighting the odometer. The controls are cumbersome, steering wheel thin with a gearshift that’s guesswork half the time. My classic car prowess keeps me safe; I don’t stall it, nor crunch the gears.
Jumping in the 2000 and this is a different beast entirely, inside is cloaked in black, the wheel is chunky, and it picks up speed instantly.
Following Isidre around the roads between the factories, the workers on break wave and smile as two of their iconic machines bumble around.
That completed my time in the secretive SEAT museum, spending time with their historic collection.
While it can be argued that SEAT have never truly been their own brand, either backed by FIAT or in the modern era VW, they’ve always done things their way. Slightly different, with a flair and passion only the Spanish can muster.
Big thanks to the guys that stayed late wandering around with me, and for the incredible experience of spending time in such an astonishing place alone.