The Santana story ends
James Taylor on Spain’s split from Solihull
The year is 1983. For more than 25 years, Spanish-built Land Rovers have formed an integral part of the Green Oval’s success story worldwide. Although Land Rovers built at Solihull and those built at Linares in Spain had been gradually growing apart since 1967, their differences were all within the spirit of the original agreement signed in 1956 (see Feb 2017 issue).
But Land Rover’s switch to coil springs in ’83 brought a major divergence of philosophy. Arguably, it was the beginning of the end for Land Rover Santana.
MSA, maker of Santanas, saw no reason to stop building leaf-sprung Land Rovers. Nor could it see any reason to follow Solihull’s change from selectable to permanent fourwheel drive. So although Santana did bring out some new models in 1983, they were quite different from Solihull’s. The Spanish company called them Series IIIA types.
The most obvious change was the one-piece windscreen, first introduced on top-model Cazorla station wagons in 1980. Next was a new bulkhead that dispensed with ventilator flaps. Instead, and as part of a new heating and ventilation system, air inlet slots were punched into the bonnet. Station wagons and hard tops had a new one-piece glassfibre roof. The traditional semi-elliptic leaf springs had given way to parabolic leaf springs, which gave a softer ride but were just as rugged. There were disc front brakes and anti-roll bars. The new air inlets proved to be a disaster (they leaked, and were changed quite quickly), but the parabolic springs went down a storm. For a time, they were a popular retrofit for leaf-sprung models in the UK.
There were more innovations. Santana had designed a heavy-duty gearbox, which came as a four-speed for utility models or a fivespeed for station wagons. They were offered to other parts of the Land Rover empire: the four-speed was taken up by Land Rover South Africa for its Series IIISS, and the five-speed was taken up by Land Rover in the UK, who renamed it the LT85 (after the 85mm distance between main and layshaft centres) and introduced it in 1985 for V8-engined utilities.
While they were on a roll, Santana’s designers also improved their engines. They were two or three years behind Solihull when they switched to five-bearing four-cylinder units in 1984, but they had developed a turbo version of the 2.25 diesel. That was a couple of years ahead of Solihull (which didn’t introduce its 2.5-litre turbodiesel until 1986). Partly no doubt in anticipation of the extra stresses the turbo would cause, Santana changed from a chain drive for the camshaft to a robust if noisy gear-driven system. That was popular in the UK as conversions became available.
They’re Land Rovers, but…
There was one further big innovation for 1984 – and again it was unique to Santana. Solihull had tackled demand for a larger load-carrier with its 127-inch wheelbase derivatives of the One Ten, but Santana chose a different size. Its new load-lugger had a 119-inch wheelbase, based on the Series IIIA chassis with its parabolic leaf springs. The Spanish knew it as the Gran Capacidad (high capacity) model.
So the SIIIA range that was in production between 1983 and 1987 was very different indeed from Solihull’s range of Ninety, One Ten and 127 models. It had wheelbases of 88, 109 and 119 inches; it had 2.25-litre petrol and diesel four-cylinders plus a turbocharged version of the diesel (Solihull went to 2.5-litre engines in 1984-1985); and it had 3.4-litre six-cylinder petrol and diesel engines. And yet these models were recognisably Land Rovers.
MSA (Metalúrgica de Santa Ana SA; you can see how ‘Santana’ came about) had always been active in other fields, notably working with Citroën and Commer during the 1960s. So it was no great surprise when it formed an alliance with the Japanese Suzuki company in the early 1980s.
Suzuki needed a European manufacturing base to get around the ‘voluntary’ restrictions on Japanese car imports that were then in force, and MSA was up for the job. So Suzuki took a 20 per cent stake in Santana in spring 1984, and from March ’85 the Linares factory turned out Suzuki Santana models – European versions of the little Japanese 4x4s that had caught the public’s imagination. From 1987, some models were sold in Britain too.
What Land Rover in the UK thought about such a close relationship with a potential competitor isn’t clear. However, it seems likely that it felt more than a little uncomfortable about it. In the meantime, its attitude to MSA was also changing.
In earlier times, it had been very useful to have the Spanish company on hand to supply some export markets when Solihull couldn’t meet demand. But Land Rover sales in Africa had collapsed in the early 1980s, and the impact was enormous. In 1983, Land Rover recorded its first-ever annual loss.
When managing director Tony Gilroy was charged with turning the company around, he decided to focus on the developed markets – and these included continental Europe. So suddenly, MSA had become a barrier to increasing sales, particularly in Spain itself.
The Series IV
When MSA introduced its new Series IV Land Rovers in 1987, there was one notable omission: they had no Land Rover badges. This marked another watershed in the relationship with Solihull, and it may well be that Land Rover in the UK had asked its Spanish affiliate not to describe its vehicles as Land Rover Santana models any more. After all, the name hardly sat well alongside Suzuki Santana!
The Series IV was yet another evolution of the leaf-sprung range, immediately recognisable by a flush front with a One Tenlike grille allied to special headlamp surrounds,
and by air vent slots punched into the trailing edges of the front wings. It was still on parabolic springs, but the turbodiesel engine and hi-cap 119 had gone. The 6cyl motor was still available, and MSA had now followed Solihull’s lead with 2.5-litre 4cyls.
There were new model names, including 2.5DC and 3500GL. The 2.5 and 3.5 designations revealed the engine size, and were used for basic models; 2500 and 3500 were used for better-equipped types. D was for Diesel, G was for gasolina (petrol), and C was for corto (SWB) while L was for lungo (LWB). The 2500 and 3500 models had wider tracks of 1486mm, wheelarch eyebrows and five-speed gearboxes instead of the fourspeed units of the 2.5 and 3.5.
Sales of Land Rovers to the Spanish military had ceased some time ago, but MSA had put in a strong bid to secure the contract for their replacements. In 1984-1985 it had built some military-trials prototypes – again wearing only Santana badges. The M-225 was the short-wheelbase model and the M-300 was the long-wheelbase variant, based on a 119
Gran Capacidad chassis. Both had naturally aspirated diesel engines made by VM in Italy (which would soon supply engines to Land Rover for the Range Rover Turbo D); a fourcylinder for the M-225 and a six for the M-300. But MSA didn’t get the contract, which went to Nissan for its Patrol, built in Barcelona from 1985. We know that one M-300 prototype ended its days as a support vehicle for the Suzuki Santana rally-raid team.
It is not difficult to see why Land Rover decided to end its relationship with MSA in 1990. Solihull immediately began selling Defenders in Spain, and the combined popularity of these and the Spanish-built Nissan Patrol brought about the collapse of Santana Land Rover sales. MSA ended production of the Series IV in 1993 and completely removed it from the model line-up the following year.
One beneficiary was Iran. MSA had been supplying complete knocked-down (CKD) kits to that country for many years, and in the mid-1990s sold all its Series IV machinery and tooling to the Iranians as well. As a result, Iran (in the guise of the Pazhan company) began to build its own Land Rover-like models, using Santana designs. These were developed further still; some used Hyundai engines.
In the meantime, Suzuki also decided to disinvest from MSA, pulling out in March 1995 and selling its shares to the Andalusian government for a token sum. Although Suzuki production continued at Linares under licence, MSA was now in serious need of something new to keep the business afloat. So the company turned to what it was good at, and by 1999 had designed a new larger 4x4. Not surprisingly, it looked very much like a Land Rover – like a 110 station wagon, to be exact.
What MSA called the Santana PS-10 didn’t enter production until 2002 and was welcomed in some circles as a return to the simple old Land Rover designs. But it wasn’t a Land Rover, despite appearances. The longwheelbase model gained some sales in the UK, but the short-wheelbase version was never made available here.
Still seeking support, MSA attracted investment from IVECO-FIAT in 2006, the year when its agreement with Suzuki ended. A slightly redesigned version of the PS-10 soon entered production, badged as the Iveco Massif. However, sales were disappointing. Iveco wanted out – and in 2011 the Andalusian government closed the Linares factory and its satellite plants for good.
‘MSA was in serious need of something new to keep afloat – so it turned to what it was good at’
Series IIIA: no bulkhead vents and bonnet slots Front discs, anti-roll bars and parabolic springs Bonnet vents were joined by a scoop below the screen. This is 6cyl SIIIA, with the later three-wiper arrangement Santana’s load-lugger was the 119 Gran...
Better-equipped Series IVS had wider axles, wheelarch eyebrows and styled steel wheels.