Reminiscing SEAT 600 suicide doors and all, end of an era July 31st 1973
The last four decades have seen substantial evolution in the automotive industry – and for SEAT itself – and the modern equivalent of SEAT’s original city car is the Mii.
The 600 is the icon that kick-started motoring in Spain during the years of slow recovery after the Spanish Civil War. No other model has become so embedded in Spain’s collective subconscious; many older drivers in Spain today recall being taught to drive in a 600 by their fathers. The car was a fixture in the everyday life of many Spanish families in the ’50s, ’60s and the ’70s.
Over the course of its 16-year production run, almost 800,000 SEAT 600 models were produced, including the four-door SEAT 800 that was manufactured between 1963 and 1968, but that was commonly referred to as a 600.
The 63,000-peseta price of the SEAT 600 at launch – the equivalent of €379 (£330) today – meant that countless working class families were suddenly afforded the luxury of their own car. The impact of the arrival of the SEAT 600 was such that just one year after its launch, production had increased six-fold.
Initially, the SEAT 600 was equipped with a 633 cc engine that delivered an output of 18 hp, which remained in production for six years. The engine was upgraded to 767 cc with an increase in output to 25 hp and later to 28 hp on the D, E and L-Especial versions, which were manufactured for the remaining ten years of the 600’s lifespan.
Aside from the 800, on all variants of the 600 the body styling remained virtually intact, except for changing the ‘suicide doors’ during 1970. The original 600 engine only underwent a slight change in six years, moving to a 20 hp output from the original 18 hp, while the more modern 25 hp motor, fitted to the 600 D and E, remained unchanged until its very last year when, as an L-Especial model, it gained a further 3 hp thanks to an increase in compression. As its name suggests, the L-Especial added a touch of elegance, with plusher upholstery and an ignition key-activated anti-theft steering wheel locking mechanism.
Aside from its ruggedness, the 600 had plenty of other virtues: first of all, its body design took full advantage of its 3.3-metre length, with a passenger compartment that in theory accommodated four occupants comfortably, and five sparingly – though in reality, several more would often be squeezed in.
The 600 featured a basic sturdiness and was a mechanic’s delight, as repairs were easy and accessible. Furthermore, spare parts were extremely easy to come by, not only in the authorised outlets but in all parts and accessories shops, so the car was perfect for the DIY mechanic on a budget.
The 600 reached a top speed of 115 km/h (71 mph) and could cover one kilometre from standstill in 45.5 seconds – performance figures not to be sniffed at considering the car was fitted with an engine that put out 28 hp at most. Moreover, fuel consumption was 10 litres per 100 km in city driving (equivalent to 28.2 mpg) and 6.5 litres (43.5 mpg) on the open road, with a range of 461 km on a single tank of fuel.
But to demonstrate the progress made in the city car sector, by comparison the SEAT Mii 60 PS Ecomotive has a 100 mph top speed and can race to one kilometre in 35.4 seconds. It does so while consuming five litres per 100 km (56.5 mpg) on the urban cycle, and only 3.6 litres (78.5 mpg) on the extra-urban cycle. Its potential fuel tank range is 945 km (587 miles) – a substantial 484 km (300 miles) more than the 600’s.
Another significant difference is the boot volume. The 600 had to make do with only 68.5 litres, while the Mii by comparison offers nearly 3.5 times more, at 238 litres – hence visions of suitcases and belongings strapped on the roof rack of many a 600 back in the day.