Historic Car Brands

Hispano-Suiza

 

The double-barrelled name indicates that this famous car maker combined Swiss engineering with Spanish backing.  In 1904. Swiss engineer, Marc Birkigt, who was working in Barcelona, had already designed some early “Cuadra’ 4.5hp and 7.5hp cars, and ‘Castro’ models, before Damien Mateu stepped in and helped form La Hispano-Suiza Fabricia de Automoviles.

 

1912 Hispano-Suiza Alfonso XIII – Toyota Automobile Museum

 

The first Hispano-Suiza cars were exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1906. They were rebadged Castros, powered by 3.8-litre and 7.4-litre, pair-cast, modular, four-cylinder engines that were soon developed into six-cylinder versions.

One of the company’s first customers was the young Spanish king, Alfonso XIII. He remained the biggest customer, buying some 30 Hispano-Suizas during his reign.

A racing model was developed for the Coupe des Voiturettes Boulogne and for the Catalan Cup races, where the Hispano-Suizas placed second and fourth, respectively. This success spawned the Alfonso XIII model, named in honour of the King.

1912 Hispano-Suiza Alfonso XIII – Przemyslaw Jahr

 

The Alfonso XIII was based on the racing machine, but with a redesigned 64hp engine. The competition engine had weird 65mm x 200mm bore and stroke dimensions that must have produced prodigious torque, but weren’t ideal for a road car. The production engine had 80mm x 180mm dimensions that were still very conservatively ‘under square’, but not as radical.

 

1919 Hispano-Suiza H6 – Jorge Fernandez

 

By 1911, Hispano-Suiza had opened a factory in Paris that was expanded in 1914, to supply French demand that was outstripping that of Spanish customers.

War clouds were gathering and Marc Birkigt turned his genius towards aircraft engine design and production. 

 

Hispano-Suiza 8A – Brussel

 

His lightweight, V8 solution was designed around an aluminium crankcase, to which lightweight steel liners were attached. Other innovations were overhead camshafts and propellor speed-reduction gearing. A later development was a hollow propellor shaft, allowing projectiles up to 37mm diameter to be fired though the propellor boss, eliminating the need for a synchronising gear.

Hispano-Suiza aero engines powered around half the British and French WW I aircraft. 

 

Hispano-Suiza hood ornament – Nave.Nolnic

 

The mascot statuette atop the radiator after World War I was the stork, the symbol of the French province of Alsace, taken from the squadron emblem painted on the side of a Hispano-Suiza powered fighter aircraft that had been flown by the World War I French ace Georges Guynemer.

 

1922 Hispano-Suiza H6B – The Mullin Automotive Museum

 

After the War, at the 1919 Paris Motor Show, Marc Birkigt showed the sensational H6 Hispano-Suiza. This luxury car was powered by a an aircraft-engine-derived, overhead-camshaft, in-line six, with a lightweight aluminium crankcase and screw-in steel liners. The coolant passages were stove-enamelled, to prevent corrosion.

 

1928 Hispano Suiza H6 Chassis – Revs Institute

 

The seven-main-bearing, steel crankshaft was milled from a 272kg billet down to a finished 16kg size.

The four-wheel brakes featured aluminium drums and a servo-assistance mechanism, driven by a shaft from the transmission to provide servo-assistance when the car was decelerating. (This technology was later licensed to Rolls Royce.)

Little wonder that Hispano-Suiza was billed as the ‘best car in the world’.

 

1928 Hispano Suiza H6B Cabrio – Nemor2

 

In 1922 the H6B had a power increase to 135hp and the 160hp eight-litre engine version powered the 1924 H6C.

The Hispano-Suiza model prefixes H, I, J and K indicate French manufacture and the ’T’ prefix indicates Spanish manufacture. 

 

1933 Hispano Suiza Sport Torpedo – Quinlan Terry

 

While some of the Spanish models are similar to the French ones, they’re generally less powerful and sometimes with a lower specification. Many T models had four-cylinder, 2.5-litre, 90hp engines.

 

1934 Hispano Suiza J12 Paris Motor Show- Alexander Migi

 

The I6 was a ‘in-betweener’ model, with a shortened H6 chassis and 3.8-litre, six-cylinder engine. The Spanish-built version was the T49.

The Hispano-Suiza J12 replaced the H6 variants in 1931, although the ‘Xenia’ of 1938 was an aerodynamic exercise, built on the H6B chassis.

The J12 was the most expensive model the company produced and came only as a cowl/chassis, for bodybuilders to work their magic upon.

 

Hispano-Suiza J12 engine

 

Power came from a 220hp, 9.4-litre V12 engine that had ‘square’ dimensions of 100mm bore and 100mm stroke. It was ‘stroked’ to 120mm for a displacement of 11.3 litres, with 250hp in 1935. 

It departed from accepted Hispano-Suiza engineering design in having pushrod-actuated, overhead valves, rather than overhead camshafts and the sole reason was the intrusive noise of the OHC design that Marc Birkigt didn’t believe belonged in what was one of the world’s most prestigious cars.

 

By the mid-1930s the Hispano-Suiza brand was familiar among the rich and famous.

It inspired a French eternal-triangle movie L’Homme a l’Hispano.

Much later, the ABC’s crime thriller series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries featured a 1923 Hispano-Suiza that was heroine Phryne Fisher’s (Essie Davis’) daily drive.

1923 Hispano-Suiza with Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis)

 

The Spanish Civli War broke out in 1936 and the regional government of Catalonia virtually nationalised the Hispano-Suiza works in Barcelona, prioritising truck and armament production.

With war clouds gathering over Europe once more, in 1937, the French Government took control of the Paris Hispano-Suiza subsidiary and had the company focus on V-12Y aircraft engine production.  However, the French factory had relied on many Spanish-made components, so production capacity was limited.

 

Hispano Suiza H6B Xenia – Alden Jewell

 

An Hispano-Suiza swan song was the one-off H6B Dubonnet Xenia that was made for French pilot and racing car driver André Dubonnet in 1938. The car was built on the chassis of the Hispano-Suiza H6B, but with the more powerful engine from the H6C and an entirely new body design by luxury coachbuilder Jacques Saoutchik. 

Marc Birgikt patented a 20mm aircraft cannon that was fitted to most of the UK’s Fighter Command aircraft during World War II. Then he returned to Switzerland, where he continued working on engineering projects, until he died in 1953, aged 75.

After the War, Spain suffered reparation trade embargoes and the Barcelona division of Hispano-Suiza was sold off to ENASA, the maker of Pegaso trucks and, subsequently, the Pegaso car range.

 

 

However, the world hadn’t seen the last Hispano-Suiza motor car. The Carmen electric supercar was shown at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show, ironically financed by the Peralada Group that’s owned by the Suque Mateu family – descendants of Damian Mateu, Birgikt’s 1904 backer.

The Carmen bodywork pays obvious homage to the 1938 Xenia.

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