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Dalí’s mysterious car made in Tarragona

At the end of the 1950s, when the industrialization of Tarragona was just beginning, a group of businessmen from Barcelona decided to set up a car factory in Tarragona. They had contacted Franco Ambrosini, an Italian businessman, son of the founder of the Società Italiana Applicazioni Transformazioni Automobilistiche (Siata).

The initial plan was to locate the factory next to the SEAT, in Barcelona, ​​to transform the cars of the Hispanic brand par excellence. But the then mayor of Tarragona, Rafael Sanromà, offered them some land at a ridiculous price and convinced them. Siata opened in January 1960 and closed in February 1971. In those 11 years, it produced some 22,000 vehicles.

«The land would be the future Entrevíes industrial estate. There was neither water nor electricity. That was a desert. Even in the first months they had to put a water tank on the roof of the factory, like the ones in Western movies. The factory was surrounded by fields of olive and carob trees”, says Jaume Cabot, author of the book Siata Española. History of the Siata factory in Tarragona, and passionate about this car model. To the point that he keeps half a dozen classic Siata cars in the garage of his house.

Cabot does not exaggerate, as can be seen in one of the images that illustrates this pelicanyes. Between the factory (at the bottom of the photo) and Laboral, in the background, there was nothing but fields.

A Formichetta van, from 1962, at Laboral. The one holding the door is the factory’s technical director, Antoni Rovira. PHOTO: James Cabot

The proximity of Laboral generated precisely one of the anecdotes that Cabot reels off. The Tarragona factory «did not have test tracks like other brands. I needed a long, traffic-free straight to test the cars. They took advantage of the Laboral space and managed to set the cars at 110 kilometers per hour and did braking tests, for example, of the Minivan».

In the same Laboral the Siata Tarraco was photographed for some advertising postcards. When Seat paid a small, and well-deserved, tribute to our city with the Tarraco model, it did nothing new. Sixty years before, Tarraco was already traveling on wheels throughout Spain.

The second version of the Tarraco, which was marketed with two different engines in 1965. PHOTO: Jaume Cabot

In its early years, Siata was dedicated to making cars with a sporty look, even convertibles. But they were too expensive because the bodywork was made by hand and the customer had to hand over his 600 as well. The car cost around 100,000 pesetas, quite a fortune at the time.

The poor profitability of sports cars led the factory to reorient itself to the production of vans. The Siata thus had two eras: the Italian one for sports cars and the Catalan one for vans. But before being forced to change the strategy there was a rebound in sales. Thanks to a film with a pelican touch.

In 1963, ‘El Mujeriego’ came to theaters, a Spanish show full of clichés that today would shock politically correct minds. But you have to frame it in her time.

The protagonist of the film was the Tarragona actor Casto Sendra, known as Cassen. He plays Juan, a book seller who hits a pool of 14 and wins a fortune thanks to a not so strange result today (Elche 2-Barça 0) and another really surprising one given the parakeet record against the whites: Real Madrid 2 -Spanish 3.

Frame from the movie ‘The Womanizer’. The Tarragona actor Cassen buys a Siata Spyder. PHOTO: James Cabot

One of the first things Juan spends his money on is a Siata Turisa 750 Spyder. He wants to buy a foreign model, but the salesman convinces him to keep a Siata because “accessories are easy, he spends relatively little and has a slim line.” An excellent publicity for a model with only three years of life.

Cabot recounts that, shortly after the premiere, the then director of the factory, Antoni Rovira, began to receive calls from dealers throughout Spain, enthusiastic about the increase in sales “thanks to a film” and congratulating him on his alleged efforts to make the car was the protagonist of the adventures of Cassen. Rovira didn’t know what they were talking about and put up with the guy as best he could. That same afternoon he went to see the film at a Tarragona cinema with his wife.
It was not the only time that a Siata has been the protagonist in filming. For example, in the video clip of the song ‘Bombolles’ by Els Pets, belonging to their album ‘L’area petita, a Siata Ampurias 750 coupé and a Siata 400CH van appear. The video clip was recorded in Torredembarra with the advice of Cabot. Cars made in Tarragona also appear in the film Floquet de Neu and in the series La Mari.

A ‘Patricia’ from 1969. Dalí bought an identical model. PHOTO: James Cabot

Another of the anecdotes surrounding the Siata is that of Dalí’s mysterious car. The Tarragona factory manufactured a model that was a hybrid between a convertible and a van. They baptized her ‘Patricia’, in honor of Patricia Rato, daughter of Ramón Rato, one of the firm’s shareholders. Patricia was also the niece of Rodrigo, who would later become Vice President of the Government and Minister of Economy, under the presidency of José María Aznar (PP), and director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Rodrigo himself came to the factory when the family spent the summer in Salou.

Salvador Dalí was taken for a ride in a ‘Patricia’ and fell in love with the model. Rovira himself went to the room at the Hotel Ritz in Barcelona where the genius was staying and sold him the ‘Patricia’ for 60,000 pesetas. Dalí replied “don’t talk to me about pesetas, talk to me about dollars”. Rovira had to calculate, with paper and pencil, the change.

That ‘Patricia’ was never heard from again. Cabot wanted to find out where the vehicle was. He looked for the number plates of the cars in the name of Dalí in Girona. He discovered that he owned a Datsun and a Cadillac, but no trace of ‘Patricia’. He called the agency that was in charge of the artist’s procedures and nobody knew anything about the Tarragona car. He even contacted the daughter of Artur Caminada, Dalí’s driver (neither he nor his muse, Gala, had a driving license) and no one in the family remembered the peculiar model either. What happened to that model then? Cabot speculates that Dalí gave it as a gift, but he is not sure.

What Cabot does not doubt is that the Siata marked an era and gave employment to dozens of people from Tarragona who made a living thanks to pelacanyes cars.

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