Hispano-Suiza was originally a Spanish and then Spanish-Swiss luxury automotive and engineering firm (actually, from 1923 on, two different companies) best known for their cars, engines (including world famous aviation engines) and weapons designs in the pre-World War II period. Today they are part of the French SAFRAN Group, while the Spanish company in 1946 sold all their automotive assets to Enasa, the maker of Pegaso trucks and sport cars.


Early Years

In 1898, a Spanish artillery captain, Emilio de la Cuadra, started with electric automobile production in Barcelona under the name of La Cuadra. In Paris, De la Cuadra met the talented Swiss engineer Marc Birkigt (lived 1878 -1953) and hired him to work for the company in Spain. La Cuadra built their first gas powered engines from Birkigt designs. At some point in 1902, the ownership changed hands to J. Castro and became Fábrica Hispano-Suiza de Automóviles ("Spanish-Swiss Car Factory") but this company also went bankrupt in December 1903.

Yet another reformation took place in 1904, creating La Hispano-Suiza Fábrica de Automóviles also under Castro' s direction. Four new engines were introduced in the next year and a half. A 3.8 liter and a 7.4 liter four cylinder engines were produced as well as a pair of big six cylinder powerplants. This version of the company managed to avoid bankruptcy and in Spain remained in operation, as a car, truck and aviation engine producer, with is main plant located in Barcelona, until 1946. They mass-produced cars, trucks and buses and a number of hand-built racing and luxury cars, some of which ended up being owned by King Alfonso XIII of Spain.

However by this point in the early years of the century, France was proving to be a much larger market for their luxury cars than Spain. In 1911 a new factory, known as Hispano France, was set up in the Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret. In 1914, they moved to larger factories at Bois-Colombes and took the name Hispano-Suiza.

World War I

With the start of World War I, the company turned to the creation of aircraft engines under the direction of Marc Birkigt. His solution to building aero engines was unique. Instead of machining separate steel cylinders and then bolting them to a crankcase, he used cast aluminum blocks into which thin steel liners were screwed. This made the engine overall much stiffer, easier to build and lighter. His design was a V-8 and was the first of what are today known as "cast block" engines and also sported overhead cams, propeller reduction gearing and a host of other features that didn' t appear on most other engines until the late 1920' s. Another major design effort was the use of a hollow propeller shaft to allow a gun to be fired through the propeller spinner,Fact|date=October 2007 thereby avoiding the need for a synchronizer gear. This design would be a feature of all future Hispano-Suiza military engines.


After World War I, they returned to automobile engine design and, in 1919, introduced the H6, earning them a reputation even greater than that of Rolls-Royce in England. Indeed, Rolls-Royce featured many Hispano-Suiza patented features, under licence. Most notably, Rolls-Royce used for many years the famed Hispano-Suiza power brakes, reputedly the best in the world, which used the torque generated by a drum brake mounted on the transmission shaft to power those on the wheels.

The H6 featured an inline 6 cylinder overhead camshaft engine based on the features of the V8 aluminium WW1 aero engine and a body by Hibbard & Darrin. [Georgano, G. N. "Cars: Early and Vintage, 1886-1930". (London: Grange-Universal, 1985) Dutch Darrin would later design the 1942 Packard Victoria, as driven by Banacek.] Through the 1920s and into the 1930s, they built a series of luxury cars of increasing refinement. In fact, the 1930s V-12 car engine reverted to pushrod valve actuation to achieve even less engine noise.

In 1923, the French arm of Hispano-Suiza was incorporated as the Societé Française Hispano-Suiza, the Spanish parent company subscribing for 71% of the share capital. From then on, the French company gained increased degrees of financial independence, while the technical links were always kept strong. The mascot statuette atop the radiator used by this firm after WWI was the stork of the province of Alsace, taken from the squadron emblem painted on the side of the aircraft of the renowned WWI French ace (and Hispano-Suiza customer) Georges Guynemer, which was powered by a Hispano-Suiza engine. At the time, this was an emblem of revanchism.

A fictional example of a Hispano-Suiza appears in the P.G. Wodehouse "Blandings Castle" stories; the family drove or rather were driven in a Hispano -Suiza (H6), rather than, say, a Rolls-Royce.

World War II

In 1936 with another war clearly looming, Hispano-Suiza was told to stop production of cars and turn solely to aircraft engines once again. At the time they had just introduced a new series of water-cooled V-12 engines and the Hispano-Suiza 12Y was in huge demand for practically every French aircraft. However Hispano was never able to deliver enough of these engines and many French fighters sat on the ground, complete but for the engine.

Another development of the era was a series of 20 mm autocannon, first the Hispano-Suiza HS.9 and then the more famous Hispano-Suiza HS.404. The 404 was licensed for production in England and equipped almost all RAF fighter aircraft during the war. Production was also set up in the US but these versions never matured even though the USAAC and US Navy both wanted to use it in place of their existing .50 weapons. A lesser-known success was the Hispano-Suiza HS.820, a higher performance 20 mm design that was also used in the US as the M139. In 1970 Hispano-Suiza sold their armaments division to Oerlikon, the HS.820 becoming the KAD.


After the Second World War, Hispano-Suiza was primarily an aerospace firm. Between 1945 and 1955, they built the Rolls-Royce Nene under license, began designing landing gear in 1950 and Martin-Baker ejection seats in 1955. Their attention turned increasingly to turbine manufacturing and, in 1968, they became a division of SNECMA. In 1999, they moved their turbine operations to a new factory in Bezons, outside of Paris, using the original factories for power transmissions and accessory systems for jet engines. In 2005, SNECMA merged with SAGEM to form SAFRAN.


The models H6B (1919-1929), H6C (1924-1929), Hispano Suiza Junior or HS26 (1931-1932), J12 (1931-1938) and K6 (1934-1937) were made by the french division.

List of Hispano-Suiza aircraft

* Hispano Barrón, avyear|1919
* Hispano HA-1112-K, avyear|1942
** Variant of the Messerschmitt Bf-109
* Hispano HA-1112-M, avyear|1942
** Derived from the HA-1112-K, saw service in Spanish air force from avyear|1956 to avyear|1958


See also

*Hispano-Suiza 8
*Hispano-Suiza 12X
*Hispano-Suiza 12Y
*Hispano-Suiza 12Z
*Hispano-Suiza 14AA
*Hispano-Suiza 14AB

External links

* [http://www.hispano-suiza-sa.com French Hispano-Suiza webpage]
* [http://www.lahispano-suiza.com Spanish Hispano-Suiza webpage]
* [http://www.motorspain.com/coches/Hispano_Suiza/ Gallery of Hispano-Suiza cars]
* [http://www.anguera.com/marcs.php?subd=galeria&pag=hispano Hispano-Suiza truck&bus history (in Spanish)]

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