The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
An irrelevant look at a certain car.
Seat Marbella 1986 – 1998
A holiday in Spain. The guaranteed hot summer breezes off the Alboran seas. Where am I? Marbella. And I’ve painted a rather lovely picture of that seaside resort. The car company, Seat, have a history of naming cars after places in Spain. Their new Tarraco was named after Tarragona. It adds sex and style to the car. That memo might have been lost on the Marbella.
Seat rhymes with Fiat and Fiat owned a large percentage in the Spanish motoring subsidiary. Well, it did until sometime in the ’90s when it decided to let it go. Seat needed to soldier on and make good what they could.
So a quick flick with the pencils and over a lunch of paella and a glug of sangria, the Seat Panda evolved into the Seat Marbella. And that was the little car’s problem. It was a Panda. Ok, that isn’t a problem. The Panda of 1980’s design was right on the target. A sophistication package of space utilisation and genius packaging. One of Giorgetto Giugiaro’s finest to this day.
Problem was, Fiat had the good grace to continue the development of the Panda. It gave it new engines, fancy quality interiors and an Omega rear axle from the Lancia Y10. This, in turn, made the Panda a bit more happier over the bumpy bits.
Seat’s answer was to give their Panda Marbella some plastic cladding along the sides and a sloping front in the hope that you wouldn’t notice the old-style cart springs at the rear. They hung so low that you had to be quite stupid not to see them.
And for Marbella, it didn’t really get any better. It still soldered on with the OHV 903cc petrol engine from Fiat’s back catalogue of 1955. Blistering it was not. With a 0-60 time of 19.3 seconds, the Citroen 2CV6 could give it a run for its money. And the 2CV6 was cheaper too. The “nothing available” list of options you could get on your Marbella made the 2CV6 vulgar in its luxurious appointments.
Surely Seat gave you value for money? Not really. For your 4858, you got a top of the range GLX complete with wheel embellishers and a heated rear screen. For 200 more, you could get the much improved Panda. And Panda also had better resale values too.
While it had a cute cuddliness about it, it was a bad car. It rode bad, drove bad and sounded bad. You see, while Fiat’s marketing board went into over-drive with a new limited edition every month, Seat and their overpriced and out of date box gave you unpretentious motoring that wasn’t as badly built as it could have been.
As long as you have access to another car to use, there is something endearingly beautiful about the Marbella. It was closer to the original concept than Fiat’s MK2 Panda and that’s why the no-frills Marbella was the good choice.