Divorces are unpleasant, messy things, something that seems true for both people and car companies. When Fiat and Spanish carmaker SEAT parted ways back in 1983, it got messy. One of the results of that messiness is the car you see above, one of the rare cars that became an important part of a legal battle. There’s a reason why it’s painted so funny.
I happen to be in Barcelona right now, part of a Volvo press trip (more on that soon), but since I was here I felt like I needed to find something very Spanish and very automotive, and that equation has one big answer: SEAT. I took a quick visit to SEAT’s heritage collection here in Barcelona, and I’ll have a lot more about that soon. In the meantime, I just want to talk about one of the cars I saw there, this yellow-and-black SEAT Ronda.
SEAT is currently part of the Volkswagen Group, but from their founding up until 1983, they were closely tied with Fiat, with most of their cars being based on Fiat designs and mechanicals. The SEAT Ronda started life as a SEAT Ritmo, which was a version of the Fiat Ritmo, built when things were still happy between Fiat and SEAT.
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But then, for a variety of reasons, the SEAT-Fiat partnership had to come to an end. This left SEAT in a very difficult position, as they had to restyle and re-work their entire range of cars to adequately distinguish them from Fiat’s offerings. The agreement they came to regarding the separation of the two companies, signed in 1981, gave SEAT the rights to build the Fiat 127, Fiat Ritmo, and Fiat Panda, provided the cars were substantially changed, restyled, and re-named.
One of the first cars they managed to differentiate was the SEAT Ronda, which started life as the Ritmo, but was extensively re-styled and re-engineered by SEAT. SEAT redid the whole look of the car, gave it a whole new interior, and even reached out to Porsche to redesign the engine.
The System Porsche engine design is especially fascinating, since SEAT needed something different, but that they could still build with their existing machinery for making the Fiat 124-derived engine. Porsche primarily added fuel injection and re-worked the cylinder head, ending up with an engine that would eventually make up to 100 horsepower (in the Ibiza). That’s a nice bump from the 64 hp the Ronda originally made.
The reason the SEAT heritage collection has this strange yellow-and-black Ronda is because when SEAT unveiled their new Ronda, Fiat didn’t believe the car was different enough from the Ritmo, and thus put SEAT in violation of their partnership-dissolution agreements.
In order to make absolutely clear the how different the Ronda was from the Ritmo, SEAT president Juan Miguel Antoñanzas had the factory take a Ronda and paint every new part yellow. That’s what this car shows: if it’s yellow, it’s unique to SEAT.
As you can see, the interior was all-new, which is why it looks so bizarrely monochrome, and there’s plenty of new parts on the car, including entirely new designs for the front and rear ends, and the removal of all the idiosyncratic Ritmo parts, like the round door handles.
The resulting impact of the Ronda with the new parts literally highlighted was called “spectacular” by journalists of the era, and was crucial in helping SEAT get a favorable descison.
This decision likely saved SEAT, since they had to prove they were capable of modifying the Fiat designs enough to be viable to sell, and they did. It’s also rumored that the ruling carried an extra blow for Fiat, since the Ronda’s front-end design looked remarkably similar to what Fiat was planning for a Ritmo redesign, forcing them to start over with a new, different design for the Ritmo.
If you’ve ever doubted the power of a good visual aid in an argument, I hope this makes you wise up.