You know what you don’t see very often? A genuinely tiny car stretched into a full four-door sedan and it actually working and selling. In fact, I can only really think of one time this has happened. And it happened in Spain, with a version of the small Fiat 600, stretched by over seven inches and sprouting two more doors to become the Seat 800. These actually sold reasonably well, and I think the little gumdrop 600 design also adapted with surprising elegance to being stretched so. We don’t talk about these enough, I don’t think. So now we are.
Seat (is it SEAT? I’m never exactly sure how they prefer that) was started in 1950 as Spain’s first really mass-market carmaker. They started off building licensed Fiats, and while their first cars proved a bit too expensive for the mainstream Spanish market of the time, when Fiat introduced the little four-seat 600, that was just what Spain needed – cheap, small, useful, an ideal people’s car.
Well, almost. There’s big families in Spain, and a car with four doors was very appealing to Spanish people, at least half of whom were sick of squeezing into the back of a Seat 600 behind a folding seat. The sitting-seat, not the company Seat. So, Seat ended up making what would become their first unique car: the Seat 800.
They stretched the wheelbase of the 600 by 7.09 inches, hung a rear door on the B-pillar, which already held the hinges for the suicide-style front door, and boom, there was a little and useful four-door car. Seat built these from 1964 to 1967, until other larger license-built Fiat designs replaced it.
What always surprises me is how rare this sort of thing was in the automotive world; why didn’t Fiat try this, too? Why didn’t Volkswagen use this method for a cheaper four-door car based on the Beetle? The coachbuilder Rometsch did a similar stretch-and-door-add deal with a version of the Beetle designed for the taxi market, but they hardly made any of these.
You’d think VW could have tried it, right? I mean, even the Type 3 was a two-door, in all forms, and it wasn’t until 1968 that there were any four-door (non-van) VWs, the Thing and the Type 4. Seems like they could have pulled a Seat 800 version of the Beetle and made a bit more cash, but, well, they didn’t ask me, probably only partially because I wasn’t even born yet and “corporate policy” forbids them from getting product planning advice from hypothetical future fetuses.
The sitting-seat, not the company Seat.
Well, look at that! In near conjunction with his puzzling over Studebaker’s use of “travel car”, JT finds it necessary to coin the clarifying distinction “sitting-seat”.
Okay a few drinks into the evening. Has anyone used a longer front door opening as we have combined with a rear hatch where the whole back opens up like a rear opening hood? Wouldnt work with metal but if an entire semi tractor can fold forward why not the rear of a small sedan?
Hey Bishop want to take a shot at that?
Slightly OT – I have always liked cars like this that had rounded corners in the window openings. I just do.
Does any other car have that same door opening configuration? I’ve never seen something like that before.
(Also the kerning on this comment box text is bad!)
The 1953-1960 Fiat 1100 had the same door configuration
The Multipla version of the FIAT 600 also had the same door configuration – front door was rear-hinged while the rear passenger doors were front hinged. Although it was a 4 door version of the FIAT 600, its quite different than the SEAT 800, as I believe the Multipla was technically classified as a “furgoncino” under Italian highway code.
On a side note, to prevent the doors from colliding, a small leather strap was bolted onto the base of the front doors which kept it from swinging too far back. The SEAT 800 as well as the original FIAT 500 N through D version also had the same strap.
The Renault 4CV had that same door configuration, and the Citroen 2CV was initially offered with that door configuration but was later updated to use front-hinged doors in both front and back after customers raised concerns about the safety of rear-hinged doors.
What a stupid name.
Libélula would suit it better, with those doors and long body.
SEAT also made a 4 door version of the 600’s successor, the 850. That one had an entirely different roofline at the back https://www.google.com/search?q=seat+850+4+puertas
Germans generally rejected four-door cars, people felt that four doors meant “taxi.” Four doors didn’t become popular until the seventies and German manufacturers still offered two-door sedans well into the eighties. The Polo wasn’t available with rear doors until 1994, for example. Four-door bodies were often available but were generally mainly sold in export markets.
Spaniards, were the opposite, and the Spanish-built Opel Corsa was very popular with four and five doors. Germans mainly bought three-door ones. Freaks.
What do ya need four doors for? You’re kids aren’t going in the back seat anyway. They will be busy pushing the car.
Edit: (Nevermind. Someone beat me to it.And thank you for the edit button. 🙂 )
Indeed the 1968 VW 411’s name was said to designate “four doors, eleven years late”.
Don’t sleep on the Mazda Carol 360 either. Here there was no wheelbase stretch – the car was already built to the original, very tight keijidosha limits – but it did appear as a 2-door first and was the only one of the original generation of keicars to have a 4-door model.
“Seat (is it SEAT? I’m never exactly sure how they prefer that)”
At the risk of being Captain Obvious, it’s definitely SEAT, since it’s an acronym for Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo.
Just like FIAT is an acronym for Fix It Again Tony.
Oh, and that’s an adorable little mini-sedan. Both the 600 and 800 are super-cute little bundles of automotive joy.
After Sweden when I get a pristine Volvo Amazon and a nice no rust Saab 99Gli, I’m heading to the sunshine of Spain to get on of these. If nothing else, just for those doors! That probably finishes off my container
Well, I’ve never been to Spain… so I’ve never heard SEAT pronounced. But guessing from my very limited Spanish it’s probably something like SEH-ot. ¿Si o no?
IIRC Volkswagen didn’t like the Rometsch taxi modification very much; they stopped providing Beetles at one point and tried to prevent Rometsch to buy them on the free market.
Which model had the best handling, the 2-door or 4-door? That one would be the driver’s Seat.
They built a car that can give itself a door ding. If only the Ding King had existed back then.