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A Santana vehicle in Nerja recently. A.M.S.
The rise and fall of the 'Andalusian' Land Rover
Motoring history

The rise and fall of the 'Andalusian' Land Rover

Sixty-five years ago, the first car under licence from Land Rover rolled off the assembly line at the plant in Linares, Jaén. The British off-road vehicle, which eventually went its own way, was produced in Andalucía until 1994

Alekk M. Saanders

Tuesday, 25 June 2024

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The car manufacturer Santana Motor, S.A. was founded in Linares, Jaén province, as part of the provincial development plan in 1954. The aim of Metalúrgica de Santa Ana was to produce agricultural machinery. However, it soon began producing off-road vehicles, with much success.

First steps on the automobile market

Almost from the very beginning of its creation, the Andalusian company was negotiating with Land Rover to produce their Series II all-terrain vehicle for the Spanish market. The British company didn't object to the collaboration under their licence. After the unexpected success of its 4X4, Rover was transferring the licence to produce the vehicle to several European factories because it could not keep up with the demand itself.

The situation in Spain in that period was unusual. In 1940, the Spanish government reduced imports as much as possible for two reasons. The first was economic: foreign currency was apparently unavailable. The second reason was political: the state was trying to create a patriotic, wholly Spanish industry that would not depend on another country.

These two measures led to the adoption of an import-substitution economy and government intervention in industry that was considered important to the nation. However, the country's industry had been so devastated by the Civil War and the decade of economic isolation that followed that made it very difficult to revive the auto industry. In the 1950s it was still in the process of recovery. This is probably why cooperation with Great Britain was accepted without much delay. Some sources say that this cooperation allowed the company in Linares to avoid paying extremely high import taxes.

Some sources emphasise that initially the authorisation stated that the first machines were to have at least 75% of the components manufactured in Spain. Gradually, this percentage was to increase to 95% once the 2,500th machine was built. It is reported that in order to fulfil this quota, the Andalusian factory had to resort to tricks such as removing the spark plugs of imported engines and installing Spanish-made plugs.

In 1959, the first Land Rover rolled off the assembly line at the Linares plant. This project allowed the Andalusians to enter the Spanish car market

Preparations took a couple of years. In Linares they installed the machinery that had previously been used by the Belgian company Minerva to build the Land Rover I series under licence. The cars were shipped over in pieces to be assembled in Andalucía. In 1959, the first Land Rover rolled off the assembly line at the Linares plant. This project allowed the Andalusians to enter the Spanish car market.

A great success in sales

The vehicles under the name Land Rover - Santana produced in Andalucía became a great success in sales, as there were no other four-wheel drive cars in Spain at that time. Unsurprisingly, the enthusiasm of the Andalusians was so high that midway through production they began to adapt the British design to local needs and tastes for even more popularity. Santana Motor redesigned the doors and taillights. It is reported that different engine options were offered as well. Finally, the Land Rover Santana Series III had numerous differences in comparison with the Series III produced at the Solihull plant in England.

By the 1980s, Rover had fallen into serious financial difficulty due to increased Japanese competition. The British company struggled, announcing the Defender in 1983 and cancelling its participation with Santana Motor.

The Linares plant used the break-up with Land Rover as a start to produce its own cars. In 1984, Santana Motor introduced the Santana 2500

The Linares plant used the break-up with Land Rover as a start to produce its own cars. In 1984, Santana Motor introduced the Santana 2500. It incorporated technical innovations over previous models produced under licence from Land Rover, such as more powerful engines, front disc brakes and a 5-speed gearbox, although it retained the leaf spring suspension and plug-in four-wheel drive.

Incidentally, the Andalusian model was adapted to the growing popularity of off-road vehicles in Spain, and not just for work. Therefore, some technological features were added and the interior was modernised for greater comfort. For example, the Santana 2500's seats were wider than those of its British Land Rover Defender counterpart.

Despite being the first model to be produced independently of the Land Rover, the Santana 2500 still had similarities with the Defender and shared a large number of components with it. It is also worth noting that the Santana Motor-developed LT85 gearbox (known as the Spanish Box) was fitted not only to the 2500, but also to the Defender. Land Rover purchased LT85 gearboxes directly from Santana to use in its successful model with the Rover V8 engine.

The Santana Motor developed LT85 gearbox (known as the Spanish Box) was fitted not only to the 2500, but also to the Defender

The Santana 2500 was widely popular throughout Spain's varying terrain during the 1990s. The off-road vehicle was produced until 1994. It was reported that the last models manufactured under the name 'Land Rover Santana' were sent at the request of the Spanish government as a donation to Colombia, and several others to Mexico.

Today, Santana vehicles are still travelling the roads of Spain and other countries. The model is in great demand, especially in the UK, where the cars are sold at auctions for quite high prices. Their resemblance to the scarce original Land Rover cars and durability have made Santana desirable among collectors and an icon of four-wheel-drive cars.

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