Seat 600 Celebrates 50th Anniversary
( Worldcarfans ) - In May 1957, the first units of the SEAT 600 started to leave the assembly lines of the SEAT factory in Barcelona's Zona Franca. The Spanish automotive brand, that was already producing the 1400 under FIAT's license, initiated negotiations with the Italians in order to get the license to produce a second car in Barcelona. This model, the 600, was the second version of the car that had been launched in Italy two months before, with an improved compression ratio, slight changes in the distribution and descending windows instead of sliding ones, among other technical and aesthetic details.
The original model, designed by engineer Dante Giacosa, met some very precise specifications: a four seat vehicle with a weight of 450 kg (200 for the mechanics and 250 for the bodywork), with a velocity of no less than 85 km/h, giving the engineer a free hand to decide the location of the engine-transmission block, in the front or in the back of the vehicle. After analysing both options, Giacosa chose the "all in the back"-formula - made popular by the German Volkswagen and the French Renault 4CV - because of its lower cost, for back then the Italian automaker was not sure if they would be able to dispose of constant velocity joints cheap and reliable enough to be installed in a front-drive car which was to go into serial production.
Although an air cooled opposed two-cylinder model was studied, the engine that was to be installed in the future model was a liquid cooled four cylinder in-line model - known to insiders under its internal code 100 - installed lengthwise behind the rear axle and connected to a four-gear box. The valves, situated on top of the cylinder heads, were driven by tappets and rockers, whereas the distribution was performed by a chain-driven side camshaft; the crankshaft had three main bearings. With the initial cylinder capacity of 570 cc and a power output of 16 hp, the engine was strong enough to reach a maximum speed of 88 km/h, with an intended total weight of 515 kg. Due to the lack of space, the radiator was situated next to the block and cooled by a water pump, and it was connected to the motor through an arm, in the centre of which the fan would rotate. In order to heat up the passenger compartment, the hot air was directed towards the central tunnel of the bodywork, which would conduct it into the interior of the vehicle.
"The engine is an outstanding example of simplicity, and simplicity is synonymous with reliability", as Giacosa wrote in his memoirs. In fact, the entire car was a shining example of simplicity. The suspension, independent in each axle, with triangular transverse links and a transverse leaf spring in the front, and longitudinal triangular transverse links and coil springs in the rear; the drum brakes at all four wheels, and the steering worm and helical sector. The wheel rims had a diameter of 12 inches. Giacosa designed the mechanical parts in such a way that only a minimum quantity of sheet metal would be required to contain them, and incited those responsible for the bodywork to reduce the size of the bonnet and the hatch.
In spite of its small size, it was far from being an uncomfortable car. In fact, habitability was one of its greatest virtues and the guiding motive for its interior and exterior conception. Giacosa first designed the passenger compartment, which then enabled him to adequately position the steering wheel and the dashboard and to determine the ideal dimensions of the doors to easily get in and out of the car. "With my long legs it was easy for me to demonstrate to my colleagues how to conceive the opening of the doors, the room for the feet and the positioning of the pedals in the reduced space that we had at our disposal. I have always been very demanding regarding the position of the driver and the accessibility." Maybe the long lower extremities of the technician from Piamonte were the very motive for the unconventional design of the doors, which opened in the opposite way from the way doors of cars usually open.
The model was sold under the commercial denomination 600, a figure half-way between the finally agreed cubic capacity (633 cc) and the resulting weight ( 590 kg); the power output came to 19 hp (SAE) at 4,600 rpm. The production was initiated early 1955, and public acceptance was immediate; in fact it was so successful that SEAT decided to do its utmost to bring it to Spain, a decision that turned out to be appropriate. The SEAT 600 was born two years later in Barcelona, and its market launch exceeded all expectations.