It’s been a minute since we’ve had a good look at the short wheelbase Landie on CC, so here’s one I found on an appropriately sunny day, albeit many miles from the Costa del Sol. For this is the Spanish-built Santana, not the Solihull original. In fact, although they are recognizably related, Santana Land Rovers are quite different from their British cousins, both inside and out.
Although not a hotbed of automotive creation, Spain has had its share of noteworthy car companies, spanning the gamut from luxury and sports models (Hispano-Suiza, Pegaso) to more popular fare (SEAT, Eucort). When it came to 4x4s, the country was not on Jeep’s radar, so there was a niche to fill. The Metalúrgica de Santa Ana company was thus created in the mid-‘50s to build Land Rovers under license, which started with CKD kits from 1958 onwards. Incidentally, Jeep caught on to the idea of a Spanish factory and set up shop there in 1960, assembling Commados for the next couple of decades. But that’s a different story.
Within the first ten years of the Spanish Landie’s production life, Santana had 75% of parts sourced in-country and exported their wares far and wide. This was the whole point: the Solihull mother ship was unable to reach certain parts of the globe, such as Latin America and parts of Africa and the Middle-East, and those became Santana’s purview. But the Spanish licensee did not merely copy the British original: Santana soon started developing their own designs. This included a Series IIa-based cabover truck that differed markedly from its (pretty unsuccessful) English cousin, for instance.
Modifications continued apace throughout the ‘70s and included a blocky military Jeep version (dubbed the Ligero, in civilian garb), front disc brakes well before the British Landie ever got them, modified suspensions and in-house engines, including a turbo Diesel mated to a 5-speed gearbox.
Said turbo Diesel, a 74hp 2286cc 4-cyl., was introduced in 1983 on the new Super, Santana’s version of what was eventually called the Defender. There were a number of other technical differences between the Spanish model and the British one, such as the Super’s retention of leaf springs and its shorter wheelbase. As regards the latter, Land Rovers were then marketed as the “90” (actually about 93 inches) and “110,” whereas the Santana Supers were known as the “88” and “109.” Yes, they used inches in Spain, too.
Santanas were used in harsher conditions than most other Land Rovers, which explains the suspension. The interior is just like the rest: familiar in its Landiness, but full of odd little details. The switchgear is quite primitive-looking, but the whole is reputed to be pretty durable, as Land Rovers go. Or should that be “if Land Rovers go”?
It’s kind of hard to make out in this photo, but this is the rear compartment of the 88 Super. It features the traditional Land Rover four-seat configuration that, back in the dawn of the automobile, was known as vis-à-vis. The missing five inches of wheelbase do not seem to have affected this space much, although only a side-by-side comparison between the 88 Super and the standard model 90 would answer that conclusively.
One thing is for sure: Santana weren’t shy about splashing their logo (and Land Rover’s) on as many surfaces as they could. The dials in the cockpit all bear a four-pointed star, as does the front, back and sides.
There’s even one there for you to step on, if need be.
No frills, but chock full of great little details, this Santana. Never was the name “Super” more aptly used. Incidentally, as to this car’s presence in Tokyo, the overwhelming likelihood is that this was imported here recently, probably from Spain. Range Rovers and modern Defenders are plentiful here, but older Landies like this one do not crop up that often. If you wanted a rugged AWD vehicle, the Mitsubishi Jeep or the Toyota Land Cruiser was the way to go.
With its aluminum skin and fiberglass roof, this Santana Super is likely to give its careful owner many years of Diesel-powered joy. But finding model-specific parts might get a little tricky at some point, given that these were the last of the Santana Landies made. The Spanish firm switched to manufacturing Suzukis, which they did successfully for many years, even as the 88 and 109 Super were still in production, which only ended (according to some sources) in 1991.
Santana subsequently tried to reinvent the Super with the help of Iveco in the 2000s, but failed to gain traction – a fatal flaw in any 4×4. The company was put in liquidation in 2011, after over a half century of activity. I’m not usually a fan of plastic-clad Land Rovers, but I will admit this tasty Spanish variant made me green with envy.