Hispanic Switzerland T20 La Sardina Main

Hispano-Suiza T20 “La Sardina”, a brand milestone ruined by World War I

Although the "Superhispano" project ended in one of the brand's first setbacks due to unsolvable problems in the crankshaft, the T20 had an exceptional example in the "La Sardina" unit that, together, signed one of the best pages of La Hispano-Suiza in the races.

The transition from 1912 to 1913 was a good time for the development of The Hispano-Suiza. In fact this was most encouraging because, despite certain problems related to the start of activities in the Levallois-Perret workshops - where a branch had been established in order to improve the presence in the European market - the truth is that The ambitious expansion plan was already on the table through which the purchase of new land in Bois-Colombes.

Those that, from 1914 onwards, would have crucial importance for Hispano-Suiza both in automobile and aeronautical matters during -and after- the First World War. In fact, speaking of nautical, the Barcelona company had also been marketing its first naval mechanics since 1910 starting with the 12HP Marine engine.

Likewise, and as a result of the diversification that began after the Crisis of 1907, the brand's interests had even moved to the field of buses and commercial models. Furthermore, this led to the participation of La Hispano-Suiza itself in many regular transport lines, thus giving an account of the commercial ambition of a board of directors capable of mixing the production of 15-45 HP "Alfonso XIII" with the presentation of access trucks or cars as the 12-15.

And, if all this were not enough, exports grew at the same time as the commercial network, which took its first steps in the promising American market thanks to an important chassis order registered in 1912. In short, an excellent snapshot for the company founded only eight years earlier and which, despite some critical moments, had recorded profits of up to 26% on the initial capital when closing some of its first accounting years.


Encouraged by the success of La Hispano-Suiza, engineer Marc Birkigt carried out hard work in the Paris branch. What's more, from there the news was transferred to the address based in Barcelona They were really optimistic, reviewing the Swiss's research into an engine with which to surpass the performance recorded by the one already mounted in the "Alfonso XIII".

In fact, its displacement with no more than 3.6 liters was somewhat lower compared to that of other similar models, so the development of a new mechanics that, depending on its settings, could not be unreasonable. serve as a basis in the future to various models of La Hispano-Suiza.

Hispanic Switzerland T20 La Sardina Aero

Thus, in 1913 this engine of the future had not only been tested in the asepsis of the test bench but also had all the protection of the brand, which began to give specific instructions to its sellers on how they should release as much of the stock as possible relative to models already in progress; the same ones that, according to expectations, would be clearly outdated after the release of that new mechanic.


However, things were not going to be so easy. Furthermore, as the year 1913 progressed, the design of the so-called “Super Hispanics” delayed its release to the market due to reliability problems. Equipped with a multitude of problems related to the crankshaft, this began to be a true nightmare for Marc Birkigt who, trapped against the ropes of the calendar, devised a series of desperate solutions for each more pilgrim.

First, he tried joining two connecting rods on the same crankpin or elbow. After this, constant variations in the design of the crankshaft only increased the tension of the moment as well as the evident lack of resistance; something increased as the engines gained power thanks to their hemispherical cylinder heads with which to comfortably exceed 60 HP. With all this, it became increasingly evident that it was impossible to carry out the project while the problems of resistance, counterweights and lubrication in those unfortunate crankshafts remained.

Hispanic Switzerland T20 La Sardina Frontal

A shame. Because although the engine of the future “Super Hispanics"promised a great leap in relation to performance - with the same displacement the previous engine barely reached 25 HP due to its less evolved combustion chambers - precisely its power made it impossible to trust how the crankshaft was going to withstand that.

At this point, just a few days before the end of December 1913, the board of directors of La Hispano-Suiza canceled the project, considering it unsolvable. A harsh impact for the brand, which had to manage the disenchantment produced among its clientele at the same time that it returned the reserve payments given for some of the new models that, of course, were left unreleased for the 1914 season.


While Marc Birkigt worked since the end of 1912 on the development of those ultimately failed mechanics, the company management was so sure of their imminent appearance that they even went so far as to display the designations Type 20, 21, 22 and 23 in relation to its commercial projection.

Hispanic Switzerland T20 La Sardina Plate

However, as we have just seen the project of those “Super Hispanics” did not reach the points of sale although, curiously, the Type 20 He did have a truly remarkable history on the circuits. Born as the racing variant, in this one the problems derived from the crankshaft could be corrected - relatively -.

Likewise, -and here we enter into a personal speculation, let's go ahead with that- the specific use inherent to every competition vehicle does not make reliability as important as it is in another vehicle dedicated to day-to-day use. And that's not to mention the maintenance or tuning since, while the competition one is accompanied by all a "troupe” of mechanics, the standard one must always be ready for family requirements.

Hispanic Switzerland T20 La Sardina Lateral

In short, paradoxically the development of the “Super Hispanics"He couldn't reach the streets but he could reach the circuits; all this with an adequate displacement of three liters, perfect for the competition regulations given at the time.


While the tension grew more and more in relation to the unfeasible mass production of those Type 21, 22 and 23, the Type 20 experienced its racing debut during October 1913 in the form of a single-seater topped by a stabilizer tail. A first step with British Brooklands Circuit as a scenario although, to tell the truth, that was rather modest due to the little time given to the driver León Molon in order to adapt to the car.

Likewise, in its second event - the Gaillon kilometer launch - the Hispano-Suiza T20 could not compete due to being a single-seater and therefore breaking the regulations relating to the test, which required at least two seats. However, its appearance light and extravagant It dazzled the public so much that it achieved a non-competitive demonstration.

Hispanic Switzerland T20 La Sardina Trophy

And yes, there the Hispano-Suiza informally achieved a very striking stopwatch record. Something perfect for the interests of the brand, which achieved extensive coverage in the French press after returning to the scene to, this time, make that record official. climb to the Cote Gaillon. Likewise, before the end of 1913, the board of directors of La Hispano-Suiza approved the manufacture of fifteen examples with the same chassis and mechanics in order to distribute them among private pilots of the time.


After that performance in France, the Hispano-Suiza T20 "The sardine" - so called not only for its appearance, but also for the aroma of fried fish left by its lubrication with castor oil - successfully participated in numerous tests related to hill races in Madrid, Catalonia, the Basque Country, France and the United Kingdom. United.

Hispanic Switzerland T20 La Sardina France

What's more, all of this represented important publicity for the brand; Proof of this was the result of events such as the climb to Navacerrada organized by the Royal Moto Club of Spain, in which it defeated models with much more displacement under the attentive presence of an enthusiastic audience led by Alfonso XIII himself; of those, already a shareholder of the brand.

However, and despite the excellent results achieved - in the summer he achieved an average of almost 150 km/h on his fastest lap at Brooklands - the Hispano-Suiza T20 "The sardine" met its end due to the increasingly rarefied war climate. And, just during that same 1914, the First World War broke out, thus opening a hiatus of several years in the world of racing. Of course, Hispano-Suiza did not waste time during the conflict due to its projection towards the heavens; something we will talk about at another time.


  1. In relation to the graphic section we show our gratitude to the current Hispanic-Suiza, to her we owe the credit for the images with which we have illustrated this article.

  2. If you want to delve deeper into the history of the “Superhispano” we recommend you consult the reference books of Emilio Polo. However, since these are very difficult to access - due to very high price and even lack of availability in certain editions - we advise you to resort to the doctoral thesis presented by his son Carlos Polo during the recent 2015 at the University of Valladolid. Full of constant references to his father's books, it is freely accessible through the UVA documentary repository. 

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Written by Miguel Sánchez

Through the news from La Escudería, we will travel the winding roads of Maranello listening to the roar of the Italian V12; We will travel Route66 in search of the power of the great American engines; we will get lost in the narrow English lanes tracking the elegance of their sports cars; We will speed up the braking in the curves of the Monte Carlo Rally and we will even get dusty in a garage while rescuing lost jewels.

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