The first Seat Ibiza left the production line on 27 April 1984, just over 30 years ago. It was the Spanish car maker’s attempt to stand on its own feet after splitting from its near three-decade long technological reliance on Fiat in 1982.
To celebrate the occasion, last week Seat rolled out its fleet of historic road and track Ibiza models at the historic, very short-lived (and thoroughly derelict) Autódromo de Sitges-Terramar. The line-up included the very first Ibiza off the line, a car so precious to Seat we were not allowed to drive it.
Seat’s engineers created the Ibiza hatchback (and the related Malaga saloon) on the floorpan of the Fiat Strada, which the company had been building when it split from its Fiat partnership.
The super-crisp lines were drawn up by ItalDesign and the design industrialised by German coachbuilder Karmann. Porsche’s Engineering arm developed the head for the 1.5-litre engine and Seat was willing to pay a small licence fee on each car to be allowed to have the ‘System Porsche’ script on the cam cover.
The Seat brand arrived on the Ibiza in the UK in 1985, just before Volkswagen finally took a controlling stake in the company. The first Ibiza was pretty successful over its nine-year life, shifting more than 1.3 million units. Poking around, though, it contains a few entertaining quirks.
Most unexpected is the original interior design, which is Citroën-esque in its execution. The indicators are operated by a rocker switch and the headlight switches are also mounted on the steering column (later dropped as part of a facelift). The extremely generous and over-stuffed front seats are a reminder of an era before ‘dynamics’ ruled the automotive world.
Under the bonnet – noting the chassis number – the engine is mounted right in the nose of the car, with the manifold close to the radiator. The four-pot is inclined forwards and is well ahead of the axle line. Indeed, there’s enough room to squeeze in a full-size spare wheel, although it’s extremely close to the wiper mechanism.
The Ibiza was much bigger than contemporary superminis and even spacious by today’s standards. Of course the thin pillars and huge glass make the cabin remarkable and the view out is not unlike sitting on the top deck of a bus.
The Seat team wasn’t going to let us drive ‘old number one’, but they had laid on range of sporting Ibizas from the brand’s own collection and allowed us to make a few laps of the old circuit, which included two 60 degree bankings.
Mk1 Seat Ibiza SXi
Seat’s first hot Ibiza appeared in 1988, powered by a 100bhp injection version of the System Porsche 1.5-litre engine. Weighing well under a tonne and with a torquey, pre-cat, eight valve engine, the SXi has a respectable amount of mid-range pull.
However, this is not a sporting car in any way. The steering is incredibly slow, seemingly needing arm fulls of lock for a relatively small change in direction. The long, spindly, gear lever also requires a very long throw. Nothing about the SXi is quick or snappy, though it does have a pleasant gait and a wonderful airiness.
MK2 Seat Ibiza 2.0GT
Launched in 1993, the second-generation Ibiza was based on a VW platform, in this case a heavily modified version of the Mk2 Golf. The Ibiza was sister car to the 1993 Polo with one big difference: the Ibiza’s nose could accommodate the big 2.0-litre engine also used in the Mk3 Golf GTi.