Friday February 1, 2019
First point – despite the presence of Ms. Ursula Andress, a SEAT 133 conveys not one iota of glamour. Every detail, from the cuboid styling to the lack of brightwork and the floor covering of the finest rubber, informed the potential owner that excitement was not on the menu and never would be.
Secondly, did you ever see one outside of a holiday to Palma or the Costa Del Sol? In 1975 the 133 was sold as a Fiat in the UK but I can only recall ever encountering a solitary example. From memory, it was in a Bitterne car park and the only other detail that comes to mind is a Tango-like shade of bright orange paint finish.
There is a certain fascination with cars that may be perfectly agreeable in themselves, but seem to fade from public consciousness even when they are new. We’ve previously mentioned the Chrysler 180/2-Litre and the Honda Quintet while the purpose of importing the 133 remains obscure.
Until 1982 SEAT produced their own version of various Fiat products and when the 850 was due for replacement in 1973, the solution was to combine its floorpan and 843cc power plant with a new bodyshell. The Fiat-devised coachwork resembled an enlarged 126, which was ironically one of the few Turin products that were not built in Spain.
In its home market, the 133 sold fairly steadily, as family transport that was economical and had the advantage of very familiar engineering; there were some concerns that the SEAT-built 127 would not appeal to a traditionally-minded 850 owner. Spanish production ended in 1979 after 191,033 units as the forthcoming Panda, one of the last Fiats to be made by SEAT, meant it was now surplus to requirements.
SEAT also exported the 133 to various territories, and a UK price of £1,289 was certainly reasonable. The brochure’s reference to a ‘practical solution to the needs of today’s solution’ made the message very clear – this was not a car that entertained any thought of frivolity.
Car magazine thought the ‘within its market sector it does its job fairly well’, but the 133’s role in the Fiat’s line-up remained ambiguous. One challenge with selling the 133 to motorists was that anyone who needed a city car would probably opt for the 126 and according to Phil Ward’s book Great Small Fiats, British dealers were not overly enthused by the potential low sales volume and having to stock parts unique to that model.
Anyone who wanted an inexpensive four-seater would probably have opted for a Mini 850 while those who needed more room were offered the likes of the Polski-Fiat 125p; dated but undeniably spacious.
A further problem was that by the mid-1970s a rear-engine layout on a larger family car was becoming a sales disadvantage. The Simca 1000 was now in the last stages of its long career, the final examples of the NSU Prinz were made in 1973, and the Renault 10 had already ceased production in France.
There was also the Hillman Imp, but that was a year away from its demise. Fiat eventually sold 2,565 133s in the UK – but where are they now? Meanwhile, here is a memorable cinema advert that makes the unusual claim that the 133’s dynamic qualities were on a par with a donkey -