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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Neither German nor American: The Incredible Origin of the First Sports Car in History

At the beginning of the 20th century, Europe was still the cultural and economic center of the planet. But apart from this, from 1870 until the drumbeat, the continent was a period of economic and artistic flourishing.

The psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud, the wonders of cinema, the symbolism of Gustav Klimt, the paintings of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, the architecture of Gaudí, operas by Giuseppe Verdi and balls co-existed in aristocratic salons. It seemed that the human mind had no limits. the climate of the period was evidence of The first sports car in history that didn’t leave Germany or the United States: it was Spanish.

In 1911, the Hispano-Switzerland Alfonso XIII, the new model of a thriving company that would become one of the most important in Spain. He was devoted not only to cars, as he was involved in other necessities: the army. Although this was the Belle Époque, there was also talk of an armed peace. The smell of gunpowder hung in the air.


for this era, King Alfonso XIII showed his passion for cars, and he had his own collection. And the firm had already caught their attention with the previous variants. Emperor ended blending with the company. Not only was this an attempt to meet their expectations, but the dowry of his name to the Hispano-Suiza T45 – such was its official identity – projected a despotism to which the owners did not know how to respond. then came the civil war and Francisco Franco, the decline and The downfall of the company which could have been the jewel of the country.

Glorious aristocracy and the scent of war: thus was born the first sports car in history

around 1904, Catalonia was at the forefront of Spanish industry and Barcelona was the country’s metropolitan center., Hispano-Suiza was born with the contribution of two merchants from the Mediterranean coast and an engineer from the Alps: Darmian Matteu, Francisco Six and Marc Birkig.

In its first two years, it put four vehicles on the road, although a significant portion of its production was reserved for boats, aircraft, and military equipment. Thus it supplied the race in which the European powers were involved.

Despite the beauty, the dance and the peace, the balance was unstable. And the break was imminent: Finally, in 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria triggered World War I, a period that thundered across the continent.

Alfonso Xii With His Hispano-Suiza.

Alfonso XII with his Hispano-Suiza.

The first sports car project in history was formally known as the T45 15-45HP, It sold half a thousand copies between 1911 and 1920. It was powered by a 3,619 cc in-line four-cylinder engine that produced 60 horsepower. It had a three-speed box.

The brake system was a drum on the rear wheels, operated by levers and pedals. He reached 120 kilometers per hour, which – almost at the request of the king – allowed him to prevail in some Spanish car events.

The price of this two-seater is 11,500 pesetas., Although the equivalence makes them about 70 current euros, the calculation is confusing. The price was prohibitive for the general population, who were already beginning to feel the ravages of the Spanish social and economic crisis.

First Hispano-Suiza Factory.

First Hispano-Suiza Factory.

The first sports car in history was a luxury item reserved for the minority. The king had three units. Another 500 were sold with the help of the emperor, who promoted it and placed the vehicle among the elite who loved it. The Roaring Twenties would open the circle to gentry and intellectuals such as Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein.

The link with Alfonso XIII, however, marked the beginning of the end for the company. One of the king’s whims was to set up a factory near Madrid, where the royal family still resides. To optimize the delivery of war material to the army, the plant was located in Guadalajara, about 50 kilometers northeast of the Spanish capital, in 1920. Mateu, Six and Birkigt—who handled the patent—disagreed. But nothing could be done against Raja, who also had shares in the company.

Hispano-Suiza Was A Distinctive Brand.

Hispano-Suiza was a distinctive brand.

Francoism and the Hispano-Suiza that was not

In contrast to the humanitarian devastation, World War I strengthened the Company’s coffers. The provision of engines for French aircraft not only helped turn the result in favor of the Entente, but shifted the center of gravity to the other side of the Pyrenees, where they set up a factory. The firm, already known as La Hispano, was one of the The four Spanish industrial companies with the best profits.

The strength of the 1920s waned by 1931. With the proclamation of the Second Republic, Alfonso XIII went into exile in various European cities, the company handed over land (including the Guadalajara factory) and sales in Spain fell. However, in France the cars continued to follow each other.

At The Wheel Of Alfonso Xiii Hispano-Suiza.

At the wheel of Alfonso XIII Hispano-Suiza.

Another setback followed four years later, with the death of Darmian Matteau. His son Miguel was in charge of Hispano-Suiza. A fervent Franco supporter and future mayor of Barcelona, ​​he found himself in the same position with the king as his father: despite (or as a result of) his proximity to power, He could not contradict Francisco Franco or his subjects.

Experts say that, although it was not among the main manufacturers of road and sports cars on the continent, fortunes could have changed after World War II. In the post-war period – a time of tension, but also of peace – mass production expanded throughout the automotive sector, a circumstance that Hispano-Suiza could take advantage of with strong numbers from war material sales. The company did not escape the conflict.

In 1946, Minister Juan Antonio Suanzas (Industry and Commerce) ordered the purchase of the company, which came under the group National Institute of Industry (INI). Just as Franco, who cared little about motor sport, had wanted, the firm focused on building machinery suitable for war.

Meanwhile, the brand new SEAT, within INI, demonstrated that Spain could put its automaker on the map, although it had to resort to Fiat facilities in Italy. That place should have been for the automaker, created in 1904 in Catalonia.

Too late for Hispano-Suiza. Despite the desperate efforts of Seix, Mateu and Birkigt father and son, the tussle of local politics made it a shadow of the past. Only at the beginning of the 21st century, the brand made an attempt to enter the production of super sports cars. A wonderful new phase. Earlier the story was different: The first sports car in history, favorite car of King Alfonso XIII, a Catalan legend.

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