Among the rubble of World War II, the Italian automotive industry had at least two priorities. The first was provide mobility solutions to an impoverished population but at the same time striving for national reconstruction. In this way, Ducati adapted the Cucciolo bicycle auxiliary motor to the world of mopeds, presenting its Type 1946 in 1. A modest and economical two-wheeled mount with which to easily move around the city. Starting point for many others, arriving on the market in 1949 the Ducati 60. Already with a 59'5cc engine to produce up to 2CV of power, being a step as small as significant with respect to the form and manner in which it was recovering the economy.
With this panorama, the truth is that the world of motorcycles rose as the necessary alternative to motorsports in the midst of so much devastation. However, reaching fifty, the middle classes were regaining strength and, in addition, brands such as Alfa Romeo or FIAT had already managed to restore their bombed-out facilities. Thus, the second priority for the Italian automotive industry was beginning to take shape. neither more nor less than the presentation of new ranges of tourism models with which to look forward optimistically.
In the case of Alfa Romeo this happened in 1950 with the presentation of the 1900. The model thanks to which the brand was finally launched into mass production, showing the merit of not having given up sports variants with which to continue. present at the races. In addition, just that same year the most serene and massive FIAT presented the 1400. A whole step forward in its history, leaving behind the pre-war echoes shown by the 1500 of 1935. Now the bodywork was self-supporting and with pontoon lines, without the segregated fenders. In addition, this creation by Dante Giacosa exhibited a certain American aftertaste that was very typical of the times.
With all this, in 1950 no one could doubt how Italian motor racing had regained its muscle, also throwing itself fully into chain assembly techniques. Nevertheless, countries like Spain did not enjoy that path marked by the return to the international community so soon. Far from it, at the end of the forties the Franco regime was still gradually emerging from autarky. A period of isolation where scarcity became ingenuity to the point of appearing companies like Vehicles Electric Autarquía SA
However, the strategic alliance with the United States in the context of the Cold War made it possible to open growth paths, among which the foundation of SEAT in 1950 stands out. That year, so symbolic for motorsports both in Italy and in Spain, from which creations arrived that no one would have suspected shortly before in an environment marked by ration cards and fuel shortages. This is how Pedro Serra's SEAT 1400 Sport were born.
THE APPEARANCE OF SERRA IN THE HISTORY OF SEAT
With a large part of the old Hispano-Suiza staff assigned to the new assembly lines, the production of the SEAT 1953 under FIAT license began in 1400. The model with which a new era was launched in the peninsular automotive industry under the protection of the National Institute of Industry, coming to manufacture more than 99.000 units over at least four series. In this way, bridges were built towards the future mass motorization of the middle classes, with the sober and rational intention of rebuilding the economy as a banner.
In fact, although coupé and convertible versions of the FIAT 1400 were made in Italy, in Spain SEAT focused on the efficient and versatile sedan. For this reason, the appearance of variants with a sports or recreational touch seemed like a chimera until in 1956 appeared on the scene the figure of Pedro Serra. Seasoned as an independent bodybuilder carrying out conversions or restorations for private clients, Serra made his first convertible that year with a SEAT 1400 as a base. With lines inspired by the American design of the time, that open-air model was one of the successes at the Barcelona Trade Fair.
Thus, SEAT understood the importance of this creation as a claim model. Even more when seeing the enthusiasm of the public. Responsible for infecting Vicente Urrutia - SEAT's commercial director - with the same state of mind. Reason for which he proposed to Serra to work exclusively with the brand, thus having a subsidiary character in the status of a collaborating company. Something that sounded attractive, although in the end it was not accepted by Serra before the fear of losing their independence. In this way, what was finally agreed upon was the delivery of batches with four bare frames of the 1400 by SEAT.
In exchange for this, Serra would return three fully bodied cars to the brand. Reserving one to sell freely. At this point, a relationship began that would be consolidated with the appearance of a second prototype -bicolor- at the Barcelona Trade Fair in 1957. Prior to the start of the first series in 1958, to which three more would follow until the one carried out on the 1400C in 1960. A genealogy worthy of motor archaeologists, since it is not even very clear if all this can really be classified as serial production. Let's see.
To begin with, the creative freedom of Pedro Serra never contemplated the necessary standardization in any industrial assembly line. far from it, each unit could be classified as a unique piece. With constant aesthetic alterations due to the artisan way in which this coachbuilder worked. In this way, reviewing the available graphic material on the SEAT 1400 Sport is to dive through a catalog where the only general rule is that there is no general rule. A convoluted story that is joined by the documentary gaps typical of any small business with little planning. In addition, the creation of convertible units of the SEAT 1400 beyond the frames supplied by the factory should also be considered.
Starting from these foundations, it is also true that many units belonging to the same series have many aesthetic similarities with each other. Not to mention the mechanics. Always being characterized by the reinforcement that the chassis was made in the workshops of Carrocerías Pullman -Serra's place of work- to adapt them to the specific needs of a convertible. Always after shortening the battle by about 20 centimeters. Regarding the figures, Pablo Gimeno Valledor points in his book on Pedro Serra published in 2003 about 150 convertible units adding all the series. Guidance figure. Since, let us remember, we are facing the history of a company accustomed to individual orders. Where a serial record was never kept.
THE PARADOX OF BEING ABLE TO DIE OF SUCCESS
In the automobile industry there are several examples of the dangers of success. Especially when trying to cover more than possible, growing at the pace of credit to finally end up evicted in the given gap between investment and profit. In this sense, the pact signed with SEAT was bringing Serra more problems than benefits. And it is that the production of his small workshop grew to such an extent that he was forced to hire more employees. And even rent new premises where you can install production. A path of business growth that forced the coachbuilder to neglect his creative activity to dedicate himself fully to financial management.
And that's not to mention the risk involved in making more and more investments in order to be able to satisfy SEAT's requests. At this point, Serra realized that, in practice, it had become a subsidiary company. Just what he had flatly rejected in the first negotiations with the brand. With this context behind him, he explained the situation to those responsible for SEAT in order to close the work carried out on the 1400 Sport in a painless way for both parties. Fortunately there was no problem. And both Serra and Carrocerías Pullman were able to return to their status as independent workshops with a fully artisanal pace of work.
SEAT 1400 A FROM THE SEAT COLLECTION RUNNING IN
Beyond the preservation work carried out by SEAT Históricos in the A122 warehouse, the SEAT en Rodaje collection is one of the obligatory stops in the legacy of this brand. With almost forty units today, the history of it began back in 1996 with the acquisition by Jaime Sánchez of his first classic. A SEAT 600E. Thanks to it, he was able to analyze the industrial and emotional importance of SEAT in the recent history of our country. A way of seeing the collecting that was driving him to get hold of more defining models in the history of the brand.
In addition, in this collection the history of each unit is taken care of. Carrying out a restoration to the state of origin that, in the case of some models, is worthy of a great impression. A job that more and more fans value, approaching the spaces of SEAT on the road arranged in the various fairs to which they usually attend. Among them Retromóvil Madrid. Where in its last edition we could see a curious picture in which they posed together the SEAT 1400 A Sport from this collection with which it is currently undergoing a cleaning and start-up in the Marcos Blasco workshop in Bocairent. Twin of another found not long ago in Castilla – La Mancha. A car that we will talk about shortly before the restoration process that it will surely undergo in a couple of years in that same workshop in Boicarent.
However, focusing on the SEAT 1400 A Sport that is the protagonist of this article, we will say that it is a unit from 1959. Without a doubt one of the most elegant, proportionate and classic Serra designs. Which one the production of about twenty units is estimated, having today located at least four. Which is why, as soon as the SEAT en Rodaje collection heard about it, they did not hesitate to acquire it. Subjecting it to a set-up that today makes it look splendid.
Clearly influenced by the slightly American style of the day, everything about this convertible is strikingly fluid and harmonious. Lower and narrower than a standard 1400 - its wheelbase is about twenty centimeters narrower than that of the FIAT 1400 Cabriolet made in Italy -, in this SEAT 1400 Sport details were taken into account such as the gathering of the hood. Very well integrated into the profile of the model, going in tune with the general care in the finishes. All this with a curb weight of 1.075 kilos, powered by the mechanics of four cylinders in line and 44CV of the 1400A.
In addition, the restoration to which it has been subjected by SEAT in Filming makes it look fully radiant. In fact, it may be today the most representative SEAT 1400 convertible among those known by fans. A great job of both creation and conservation.
Photographs: SEAT filming