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.

The end

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.

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