If you watched Aussie afternoon TV in the mid-1990s, you will have seen Larry Emdur hosting “The Price Is Right” on Channel 9. Every day the show would excitedly unveil the showcase’s major model-draped prize – “It’s a new car!” – which just happened to be a Spanish vehicle made by the VW-owned SEAT (pronounced “say-it”). The prize voiceover ended each time with “It’s a SEAT, si!”
So I was well aware of the brand when in late 1995 I decided to treat myself to a new car (this was BK, or Before Kids). I’d seen a SEAT dealership while driving through Indooroopilly, but never thought about buying one of these Volkswagen-based cars. That was, until I went to a nearby Hyundai dealer to look at an Excel.
The Hyundai salesman helpfully gave me a copy of a magazine article comparing the Excel with the Ibiza and (I think) a Festiva, Charade and Barina – among others. The article sang the praises of the Excel on price and value, while casually mentioning that the Ibiza was a worthy (if unusual) competitor. An unusual car? I was sold.
So I went across the road to the SEAT dealer, and took the VW Polo-based Ibiza (the sporty GTI model) for a test drive up Mt Coot-tha. It handled really well, had a great feel to the clutch and gears, and felt very solid when you shut the door (all areas where I felt the Excel had failed).
When it came to a basic CLX model in my $15,000 price range, the saleswoman desperately tried to get me interested in a white 3-door they had on the floor. But it had black bumpers, and I said it looked like a Pizza Hut delivery car. So with my 3-year-old Mazda 121 as a trade-in, there was a price she nominated for a red one they’d order in for me.. and she repeated again and again “this is the best price I can do”. Incidentally, the changeover price for the more expensive Ibiza was the same as the changeover on the cheaper Excel – I was basically getting a better trade-in price to buy European.
However it wasn’t a good enough price for me – and I hadn’t really enjoyed the pressure she put on me for the white car. So I went to another SEAT dealer, this time at Springwood.
I walked in and said to the salesman “if you can beat this price, I’ll buy a SEAT Ibiza off you today”. He said “I can, if you buy that red one over there”. Done deal, and for late on a Saturday afternoon, I’ll bet he got his motor running with a celebration that night. (Little did I know that in around 2 months, SEAT dealers would be closing due to sluggish sales).
Later that day, the saleswoman from Indooroopilly rang me, and I told her I’d signed up for an Ibiza at Springwood. “Cancel the deal – I’ll beat the price!” she told me – but I reminded her that she’d vowed she couldn’t better her deal, and I wasn’t going to pull out of the contract now.
So the gleaming red Ibiza came home, leaked a little wax out of the door and hatchback drain holes (put in there to resist salt on icy roads in Europe) and got some door rattles fixed under warranty (at a VW dealer) – but was a very solid and enjoyable drive.
Of course as a relatively unknown brand, it lost value very quickly, and I ended up keeping it for nearly 10 years because the trade-in values on other cars were truly offensive. In 1997, I paid nearly a thousand dollars to have an electric vinyl sunroof put in, which opened up the entire roof, and also made it easy to transport palm trees from the nursery to home:
In mid-2005, with 230,000 kilometres on the clock and a Copen in the driveway, it was time to sell the Ibiza, so it went on eBay for a little over $2,000. A young man loved the car and its sunroof, and paid nearly what I’d been asking. For this Ibiza, the price was right.