THIS SUMMER one of the most iconic cars ever seen on the roads of Spain celebrates its 60th birthday at the Royal Palace in Madrid.
The first SEAT 600 rolled off the production line at the Zona Franca Barcelona factory in June 1957 and almost 800,000 of them were produced until production stopped in August 1973.
Made under licence to Fiat, the SEAT 600 helped to start the economic boom, the Spanish miracle, that came at the end of the slow recovery from the Spanish Civil War.
It was a relatively inexpensive vehicle (then 60,000 Spanish pesetas) and was the first car that came within the modest but rapidly growing economic means of most Spanish families from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s. The vehicle has since become an icon of the period.
The arrival of the 600 practically put Spain on wheels and the impact of this tiny, rear-engined, rear-wheel drive utility car on Spanish society is still under sociological analysis today.
Not only was it the first car for many Spaniards, but it was an injection of quality of life that provided mobility and freedom like no other product in Spain had ever managed to do.
The appeal of the 600 lasted throughout the 1950s and 60s and this small car was lovingly dubbed simply ‘seiscientos’ in its homeland.
It quickly became the car most Young Spaniards learnt to drive in as it was snapped up by driving instructors and driving schools throughout the nation.
It is to Spain no less than the Citroen 2CV is to France, the Fiat 500 to Italy, the Mini to the United Kingdom and the Volkswagen Beetle to Germany – a people’s car.
In the 60s early experiments with exports followed – hampered in part by Fiat demands that the 600 should be produced only for its local market.
Nevertheless, the Spaniards found their first tiny loophole for the 600 and exported 150 units to Colombia.
It was not until a later, more generous version of the licence contract that Fiat permitted more freedom – ultimately leading, between 1970 and 1973, to the SEAT 600 becoming the best-selling car in Finland!
Other affectionate nicknames for the Seiscientos were pelotilla (little ball), seílla or seíta (both stand for little SEAT) and ombligo (navel), because everybody had one.
There are still a good number of 600’s in daily use on the roads of Spain today and fully restored vehicles sell for thousands of euros on specialist websites.
As a tribute to the place it holds in the hearts of the Spanish people, the little motor car’s 60th birthday party will be held at the prestigious Royal Palace in the capital on Saturday June 3rd.
The event is open to everyone and visitors will have the opportunity to view and inspect fine examples of the Seiscentos with activities and showcases being held all day, all rounded off by a rousing chorus of Cumpleanos Feliz to finish the festivities.