The construction works for SEAT’s Zona Franca plant began on 1950 and the opening day came three years later on June 5, 1953, [bg_collapse view=”button-green” color=”#4a4949″ icon=”eye” expand_text=”Show More” collapse_text=”Show Less” ]
while in the meantime since 1951 the Spanish marque was starting preparations for setting up almost from scratch an entire supplier industry background. The first car in the marque’s history to be produced was a SEAT 1400 model that came off the production line on November 13, 1953 with licence plate ‘B-87.223’. In the following few months the plant’s production output and workforce would significally increase together with the implementation of locally made components in the production process, in order to limit imports from one part and from another part to push to the development of the almost non-existent Spanish supplier industry and meet SEAT’s assigned key role as the national car maker in restoring the Spanish economy of post–World War II Spain. By 1954 the use of Spanish-made parts had risen to 93% of the total and next year on May 5, 1955 the factory was officially opened. Nevertheless, the impact to the Spanish society could not be seen clear immediately, since the first model launched by SEAT was considered a luxury car therefore it was highly priced and still not affordable to the average Spanish consumer. Consequently, SEAT needed a second more economical model to compete against simpler inexpensive designs that appeared in the local market, like the Biscúter, which seemed to suit better to the unwealthy customers looking for a personal mean of transport in a suffering economic environment.
Until the time SEAT had the technical maturity and expertise to present its first self-developed model the SEAT 1200 Sport in 1975, in its beginnings the company had to manufacture either rebadged or restyled models borrowed from the range of its Italian partner Fiat Automobiles, or even redeveloped them according to the needs of its own range. However the first example of a SEAT exclusive derivative would arrive already on September 1963 with the launch of the SEAT 800, a car which was developed in-house by SEAT with no equivalent model in Fiat’s range on the basis of the SEAT 600 as a stretched version with 4-doors.
In 1957 SEAT founded the SEAT Training Centre in the greater Zona Franca plant area, an institution covering the training of qualified personnel and serving the needs of the automobile industry in specialized technical human resources. In that same year was launched the historical SEAT 600, which proved to be the crucial car that literally motorized Spain, being the first car for many Spanish families and becoming a symbol of the Spanish Miracle.
As the growth of the annual production was hitting one record after another due to the heavy demand, the economies of scale achieved would permit cutting costs and prices, subsequently renew demand and boost sales together with profits for SEAT. On June 29, 1964, the brand opened its new headquarters in Madrid, which hosted the firm’s sole — up to 1972 — general administration offices. In Barcelona was found only SEAT’s plant manager until 1973, a year when SEAT settled in Catalonia another general direction.
In 1967, fourteen years after producing cars for the domestic market, SEAT’s success was signaled by its dominant position in Spain, ahead of its major competitors, i.e. ‘FASA-Renault‘, ‘Citroën-Hispania’, Authi and Barreiros, making SEAT the Spain’s largest auto-maker in sales numbers and a wholly localized production. In that year an agreement between Fiat and the Spanish Ministry of Industry was reached so as to put an end in the restrictions over exporting SEAT cars out of Spain, a term of the original licensee contract agreed with Fiat in 1948. In exchange for that, Fiat would increase its holding in the company from 7% to 36%, and at the same time the share held by the government holding agency would be reduced from a controlling 51% to 32%. The remaining 32% was taken by the six major Spanish banks, decreased from their previous 42% share split equally in 7% parts owned by every single one of them. Although not a majority owner, Fiat now was seen to control the business: the deal also included various undertakings by Fiat to help in the growth of SEAT, and with the development of a new model (possibly the SEAT 133). On December 6, 1967, SEAT also founded its own customer financing company ‘Financiera SEAT, S.A.’ (Fiseat).
To be able to produce independently its own research projects, SEAT on November 16, 1970 came in accordance with Fiat so as to start building separate infrastructures aiming at developing new technologies. As the brand arranged in 1972 some provisional facilities in the site of the future Technical Center in Martorell and in 1973 began construction works, this goal would only take five years till 1975 to be reached with the completion of the first phase in the construction of SEAT’s Technical Center, a facility designed by the Catalan architect Josep Antoni Coderch.
During the same period, the manufacturer continued to dominate the Spanish auto market, producing 282,698 cars — more than 58% of the Spanish production total — in 1971 despite disruption that year caused by strikes and a serious flood at the coastally sited Barcelona plant. However, with just 81 cars per thousand people, Spanish car sales were seen as ripe for further growth, and SEAT faced the prospect of increased competition with other major manufacturers contemplating establishment or expansion of ‘local’ production facilities in the still heavily protected Spanish car market.