The Hispano-Suiza Company has created some of most elegant, respected, and exquisite automobiles of all time. The designs and custom-built bodies were owned by the most elite and exclusive clientele. Among their most memorable creations were the H6 Series and the J-12. Among their accomplishments was the production of aircraft engines. During the First World War they produced over 50,000 V-12 engines for aircraft. From 1919 through 1923 Hispano-Suiza produced an eight-cylinder aircraft engine.
The beginning of the company Fabrica La Hispano Suiza de Automovils began in 1904 but their existence and experience in the automotive community began six years prior. Emilio de la Cuadra created the La Cuadra Company in 1898 focusing on production of the electric automobile. Marc Birkigt, a French engineer, joined the Barcelona, Spain based company shortly after its inception. In the very early 1900's, the La Cuadra Company began production of a gasoline-powered engine that featured a shaft drive instead of a chain, a revolutionary design at the time. Their fortune shortly changed and the company was forced to close. The Fabrica La Hispano-Suiza de Automovils succeeded the Castro Company continuing production in Spain and employing the ingenious designer, Birkigt. The name was later changed to Fabrica La Hispano Suiza de Automovils. The very early engines were four-cylinders comprised of a 3.8 and a 7.4 liter capacity. Two six cylinder engines were introduced shortly after the fours.
In 1911 a factory in Paris was opened to satisfy the demands from their French clientele. A larger factory was built three years later in Bois-Colombes. The production of these facilities focused primarily on the H6B, a large, luxurious, and desirable automobile.
The H6 was revolutionary, offering speed, luxury, quality and an unequalled level of craftsmanship. Rolls Royce, Isotta, and Bentley did not offer all of these qualities in their automobiles until the 1920's. The H6 models were expensive, often the most expensive vehicle in all of Europe. The production of the H6 began at the close of the 1920's and were powered by a six-cylinder, 6.5 liter overhead-camshaft engine capable of producing 135 horsepower. The camshaft was shaft-driven and operated the valves, a configuration that was uncommon at the time. The engine was placed in the front and powered the rear wheels. Top speed was achieved at around 85 miles per hour. Even though a V-12 cylinder was available, Birkigt felt that a single bank of the 12-cylinder engine was appropriate to power their vehicles. The suspension was comprised of a semi-elliptic leaf springs and a live axle. Drum brakes with a power-assisted servo-brake system provided ample stopping power. The H6 Series were built in Paris and later in the Czech Republic.
As was customary at the time, Hispano Suiza delivered the rolling-chassis H6 to custom coach builder for assembly. This resulted in unique and custom bodies that complimented the power, ingenuity and performance of the components of the chassis. Only the finest coach builders were commissioned to build the bodies.
In 1932 production of the H6B ended and in 1933, the production of the H6C began. The H6C was powered by a 7983 cc engine, the result of modifying the cylinder size of the of the straight-six cylinder power-plant. The need to increase the horsepower of the cars were two-fold, the first being the need to stay competitive when compared with its competition, the second being the fact that the custom-built bodies had become heavier to keep pace with luxury. The need to offer an even larger engine became apparent. There was little room left in modification of the six-cylinder power-plant, so Birkigt decided that a V-12 would be more appropriate and allow the ability for future modifications. The result was the T68, also known as the J-12.
In 1924 Hispano-Suiza produced the Type 12Jb V-12 aircraft engine produced 400 horsepower. In 1926 the engine was enlarged, dubbed the 12Hb, and produced over 500 horsepower. In 1928 the 12Nb version was introduced, a result of enlarging the engine further, resulting in 720 horsepower.
Hispano took over Ballot in 1930, the producers of a 4580cc Junior six-cylinder engine. In 1934, the Junior was replaced with the K6 model.
The 1930's brought The Great Depression. The automobile manufacturers most affected were the luxury automobile makers. Their short-list of clientele became even shorter which meant competition was fierce and change was necessary. Many luxury manufacturers began producing small, less expensive automobiles that could continue to be sold and still generate income. Hispano Suiza, however, did not change and continued to produce their large, powerful, and luxurious automobiles. The Type 68 was introduced featuring a 9.5 liter V-12 engine. As the years progressed, so did the engine capacity which was further enlarged to 11.3 liters. The company had stayed in business for most of the Depression but was forced to close its doors in 1938.
The automobiles produced by Hispano Suiza were unmatched. No expenses were spared on their creation resulting in some of the greatest automobile creations of all time.By Daniel Vaughan | Oct 2008