As promised two weeks ago, it’s time to return to the story of the now-defunct Spanish car brand that built so many cars that I like: Santana. I already wrote a blogpost about the company over a year ago, mainly focusing on the years when it was still working with Land Rover, producing Land Rovers for the Spanish market.
Land Rover managed to enter the Spanish market through building cars right here in Spain, through a company that became Land Rover Santana. It was a way to avoid the high taxes of the country at the time and they produced the Land Rover Series II and Series III models. Santana even made its own improvements to the Series III that Land Rover never bothered to do. However, in 1983 when Land Rover launched the Defender, it also decided to stop the collaboration with Santana. However, Santana developed its own competitor to the Defender, called the Series IV or 2500 which was a very formidable competitor to the Defenders of the time.
The Suzuki Years
It was around this time that Suzuki decided to buy a stake in the company, because similarly to Land Rover, they wanted their cars to be built locally – they needed their cars to meet the criteria of “European built”, so they used Santana to produce Suzuki 4x4s, with over 60% of the parts being made in Europe.
The first car to be built by Santana was the Suzuki SJ series vehicles (SJ410 and SJ413), which are more widely known as the Samurai. I love them, because they are these miniature little 4x4s, that look great and are actually remarkably capable off road. I’m not kidding, I think one of these would almost fit in the back of our Volvo V70…
Santana actually continued building these old-school little 4x4s until 2003, but from 1999 the replacement was also being produced by Santana: the Jimny. The Jimny is the successor of the Samurai and it is an equally small and similarly capable 4x4 that I quite like! In fact, for Suzuki’s export markets all of the Jimnys were built by Santana until 2009! That means that pretty much every single Jimny that you see on the roads in Europe that was built between 1999 and 2009 was actually from Santana’s factory in Andalusia. Unlike the Samurais and Vitaras, these didn’t have any visible Santana logo on them.
Santana also built first generation Suzuki Vitaras, which Suzuki introduced in 1988 and produced until 1998. Santana held out longer, and actually produced modernized versions of all the way until 2006 through a licensing agreement. They called it the Santana 300 (the 3-door version) and Santana 350 (the 5-door version). These had different lights, bumpers and overall an updated design.
Santana Anibal / PS-10
In 1995 the Andalusian government bought the company for 1 peseta from Suzuki, although the company continued to produce Suzukis until 2009. After that, Santana decided to build a new Defender competitor, which led to the development of the Santana PS-10 or Anibal. This was based on their older 2500, but completely redesigned, modernized and with a drivetrain from Iveco. The concept came out in 1999, but it only made it to production in 2002. This car also was a formidable competitor to the Defender and I think it is simply an epic 4x4. I have now seen a bunch of these running around Spain and I like it maybe even more than the modern Defender.
In 2007 Iveco decided to work with Santana and started selling the Iveco Massif, which is essentially a re-badged and re-styled Santana PS-10, with the beefier 3.0-liter engine from the Iveco Daily van/truck range and they also used a chassis that was based on the Daily. Sadly, I’ve never actually seen one of these on the street, as it didn’t sell as well as expected, despite outperforming the Defender in pretty much all metrics.
Iveco decided to end its agreement with Santana in 2011 after sales weren’t strong enough and they had already stopped building Suzukis in 2009, so in 2011 they were pretty much dead in the water and the company went into liquidation. Sadly, that was the end of the story of this awesome little car brand that I’ve really become fascinated with during the last few years. I’ve been thinking this for ages, if anyone wants to start building a Defender-type 4x4 again, they could probably buy up the Santana brand for near to nothing and start building a modernized PS-10 with a retro design! Until then, I’ll just go browse ads for old beaten up 4x4s…