enigma eduardo barreiros

The Barreiros enigma

Since the foundation that bears his name was instituted in 1997, we have been witnessing the gradual recovery of the figure of Eduardo Barreiros, plunged for a long time in a strange ostracism. Branded as "engine of the regime" even though he never acted as organic Franco, EB raised an industrial empire from scratch that still arouses admiration - and even perplexity, taking into account the tricks that the administration itself has put into it since the then all-powerful National Institute of Industry - driven by a personal effort justly qualified as quixotic.

Various works have been published on the character and his company, understood in a broad sense as many and varied he undertook throughout his life (bus lines, engines, trucks, cars, roads, ports ...). Yes The Spanish Dodge. The prodigious adventure of Eduardo Barreiros (Dossat, 1997) by Pablo Gimeno, sticks to the automotive aspect, in It is a Spanish engine! Barreiros business history (Synthesis, 2001) there is the academic vision of José Luis García Ruiz and Manuel Santos Redondo, professors of economic history of the Complutense, also authors of another much more interesting title, Barreiros Diesel and the development of the automotive industry in Spain 1954-1969 (El Viso, 2004), with a foreword by Hugh Thomas.

On the other hand, both the book by Marino Gómez Santos Eduardo Barreiros. From Franco's Spain to Fidel's Cuba (New Library, 2006) as Orestes died in Havana (Foca, 2003), a novel by the journalist Elvira Daudet, whose protagonist shows astonishing similarities with Eduardo Barreiros, have their axis in the vital adventures of the businessman. Neither of these two books, curiously, has the approval of the Foundation.

Detail of an impressive advertising poster for the Barreiros diesel range
Detail of an impressive advertising poster for the Barreiros diesel range

Our country does not have an abundance of authors capable of compiling the trajectory of historical figures in extensive and well-documented biographies. This practice is common in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, and to it belongs the aforementioned Hugh Thomas, a renowned historian who needs no introduction -although it is surprising to find him delving into the lives of automotive figures- and author of Barreiros. The engine of Spain (Planeta, 2007), a work that appeared some time ago that did not attract the attention it undoubtedly deserved.

Originally titled Don Eduardo and The Recovery of Spain, the book (it seems, the last bet of Ymelda Navajo as Planeta's editorial director) transcends the mere biographical story to become a fresco of the Spanish history of the last century, and not only in its industrial aspect. The analysis is in-depth, even too deep (in a display of erudition Thomas exhibits his knowledge of the political troubles that surround the months and weeks before and immediately after the military uprising of 1936, throwing the reader into tirades that are irrelevant, given that the biographer, despite fighting on the rebel side due to his Carlist conviction and his religious faith, did not harbor the slightest interest in politics).

On the other hand, it can be said that Barreiros would do good Franco's famous sophist pun "do as I do, don't get involved in politics", although despite himself he had to do it - he put the dictator's own first cousin, Francisco Franco Salgado-Araújo , on its board of directors - due to the suspicions it aroused in certain sectors of the regime itself. The leaders of the time, mostly military, disliked that someone was free, and EB did not belong to any particular small group.

Barreiros truck known as "El Abuelo"
Barreiros truck known as «El Abuelo»

Eduardo Barreiros, the Spanish King Midas

Defined by the North American press as "the Spanish King Midas who turns everything he touches into gold" -in 1954 he is on the cover of the magazine Life- He is a man of strong personal magnetism who transmits solidity and arouses the trust of his interlocutors. Barreiros does not break into the automotive industry like an elephant in the china shop, but rather with a long experience in transportation, public works and the mechanical industry in general, and is supported by a team of stalwarts, his three brothers and a group of engineers, lawyers and economists (some of which they will pursue careers in this or other areas, such as Iñigo Cavero or Juan Miguel Antoñanzas), while financially they have the support of Tomás de Bordegaray, director of the Banco de Vizcaya.

Barreiros was once one of the most advanced companies in the country - psychotechnical department, suggestion box, social benefits ... - governed by a paternalistic leader who conceived his mission as a whole, with a certain mystical point but, according to testimonies, devoid of messianism that sometimes characterizes that class of characters. Certainly, he must have had a good grip on his own ego.

EB took his company to a high level and opened its eyes to Europe, while the government put beats in its wheels and the strong industrial lobby in Spain - Babcock Wilcox, Euskalduna, Motor Ibérica ... - tried to annoy him as much as they could. The industrial policy established by the INI seemed aimed at stifling private entrepreneurship, which, paradoxically, it viewed as a threat.

The Dart 270 with a transparent plexiglass roof used for factory visits by personalities
The Dart 270 with a transparent plexiglass roof used for factory visits by personalities

But the National Stabilization Plan of Navarro Rubio and Ullastres, enacted in 1959, represents a full-blown attack on the INI structure, the Suanzes farmhouse, and opens the door to export to Barreiros, which thus begins its golden age. The demolition of the autarkic system allows not only to begin to test foreign markets, but also to open up to foreign investment. Making passenger cars is the next goal.

EB begins the dance in several European countries in search of a brand with which to associate or produce under license. In the UK he talks to David Brown (Aston Martin), William Lyons (Jaguar) and Lord Rootes (Rootes group). The German Borgward goes through low hours like Simca, still independent. Both Ford and General Motors demand that the Spanish company become a mere subsidiary. In the end he stays with Chrysler.

And with the colossus of the pentastar we have come across. According to Thomas, "EB made a misjudgment that can be attributed mainly to his satisfaction in maintaining close relationships with a giant." For one of the witnesses of the time, the lawyer Javier González Gurriarán, who worked with Íñigo Cavero and later with EB,

[su_quote] “We could all see that Chrysler would force us to make more and more investments of such a size and scale that a family business could not afford. Valeriano was concerned from the beginning. But Eduardo no, at least not at that time (1963). He was only concerned with two things: selling his trucks and building his cars. " [/ su_quote]

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However, neither the Dodge Dart was suitable for our country (a basic model in the US but too big, expensive -almost twice as much as a Seat 1500- and gastón, whose quality left a lot to be desired) nor the Simca 1000, later included in the production plans after passing the French brand under control of Chrylser, came to sell as expected by having to compete with other all behind, the Renault 8 and the Seat 850 and 600, already established in the national market.

Our historiography has been holding that Barreiros was used by Chyrsler as a bridgehead to settle in Spain. And this also seems to be the thesis of Thomas in a work in which some readers believe they have captured a certain exculpatory bias, on the one hand of the assumption colaboracionismo of EB with the Franco regime and the dictator himself, and on the other of his condition as a victim of the shady dealings of the North American corporation.

For García Ruiz and Santos Redondo, who have investigated the matter most thoroughly,

[su_quote] «The entry of Chrysler seems to be EB's crucial mistake (…) The mix of purchases tied to the parent company, the poor choice of the model and, above all, the size of the annual production, would make the company profitable that it was Barreiros in 1963, even with cash flow problems due to the volume of its installment sales, became a company with millionaire losses and accumulation of stocks, especially of the luxurious Dodge. " [/ su_quote]

Sara Montiel aboard a Dart. Barreiros advertising poster
Sara Montiel aboard a Dart. Barreiros advertising poster

Did Chrysler betray Eduardo Barreiros?

Can it be said that, in a way, Chrysler betrayed Barreiros? It is true that he relied on the global network of the American company to deliver the industrial vehicles that it manufactured in Villaverde, but as he himself wrote in his resignation letter, this was not the case.

[su_quote] «We gave up the majority because we saw that the company would have a higher volume (…). Chrysler promised to increase exports by relying on its global network and committing not to bring to Spain more than the personnel strictly necessary for certain technical departments. The results have been completely opposite. [/ su_quote]

That EB was liable - alone or jointly - for the huge miscalculation (planning a production of 20.000 cars a year and selling 5.000 in four) does not seem to exempt Chrysler from its intention to play along until it suited its interests. It was not necessary to dismiss the indigenous partner: he only got into the mousetrap and on top of it paid the duck, assuming the lion's share with his own participation in the capital. The Galician was a skillful company captain while he sailed through familiar waters - industrial vehicles, Spanish partners - but he missed the course by entering the stormy ocean of international capitalism and falling (or being caught) in the nets of the pentastar corsair. Still, there are still things that seem to have no explanation.

Eduardo Barreiros, at the wheel of the roofless Dodge, showing his factory to King Feisal of Arabia
Eduardo Barreiros, at the wheel of the roofless Dodge, showing his factory to King Feisal of Arabia

Therefore, the testimony of an anonymous retired Chrysler engineer is extremely interesting, who experienced the events closely and reflects this in the following comment, published in October 2010 on the Barnes & Noble website, which I quote below, translated from English:


“The Chrysler investigation leaves a lot to be desired. Thomas only interviewed Spanish executives, whose main interest was to cover their backs. His statements range from mistakes to lies. EB was in front of everything. He listened too much to subordinates, especially Carranza and Baquero, who told him what he wanted to hear. And he made two fatal mistakes. He calculated an annual production of 20.000 units of the Dodge Dart, against the 5.000 of Chrysler, which he had decided to give free rein due to the success shown in the past. The advisers came at his request but they had no authority, and they stayed out of the day-to-day operations. His task was to help in the implantation of systems already proven in the USA. "

EB authorized the purchase of 20.000 sets of components, and then the hiring of the required labor. Their mistake was compounded by starting mass-scale production rather than gradually, thereby ensuring the suitability of new facilities, new machinery, and new items supplied by local suppliers (Chrysler had manufactured 2,5 million of vehicles, so the quality of the body parts it supplied was proven) and the correct training of inexperienced employees. I was one of the Chrysler engineers who recommended a gradual product launch, which was the norm in the auto industry. EB chose to reject this advice. The results were highly predictable: cars with missing parts, poor adjustments, water and air leaks, electrical problems, etc. "

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Barreiros technical service DKW F89L van
Barreiros technical service DKW F89L van


“The quality of these first units was a serious blow to the image of the Dart in the Spanish market. Sales were well below expectations. And the company had to drag a heavy burden on stock and labor costs for years. The coup de grace came later, when it was said that the ownership of a Dart showed that one had an annual income of more than a million pesetas at least. (Note: The Dart was a highly successful model elsewhere, built in plants around the world, spent 16 years in the making with a total production of nearly 4 million units, and No. 1 in sales in multiple markets). "

I spent three years as a consultant in Madrid, and I consider myself a Hispanicphile, as Thomas seems to be. But I could not sit idly by and put aside these criticisms without replying, as some of my colleagues are no longer here to defend themselves. We did everything possible to help Barreiros become a successful company. I left Chrysler more than thirty-five years ago, so I don't owe him any loyalty as an employee, but I must honestly say that Chrysler's relationships with Barreiros were always honorable. For former Spanish executives to imply otherwise is malicious and despicable. Thomas should have caught this bias in his statements and should have talked to some of the Chrysler employees who were involved! "

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In 1969 EB resigned from his positions at Barreiros Diesel, pledging to stay out of the automobile business for ten years, embarked on a farm without even having a clue, and succeeded again. He transformed a five thousand hectare dry land in La Mancha into a huge exploitation, Puerto Vallehermoso. In parallel, he maintained various companies dedicated to the real estate sector, such as Cefi, directed for some time by Pío Cabanillas.

The entire Barreiros range at the end of the 60s
The entire Barreiros range at the end of the 60s

And there the second fall of Eduardo Barreiros took place. Ten years after his departure from Chrysler, the mechanic turned businessman crashed again due to the mismanagement of his administrators: Cefi declared himself in suspension of payments. Some time later, EB put land in between (or rather, an entire ocean) and began a new professional career in Cuba, the last stage of his life, the details of which we will perhaps analyze on another occasion.

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The Barreiros enigma

The central part of the book, full of financial and business analysis, makes it difficult for the non-seasoned reader to follow. And on the other hand, it does not clarify anything about the technology and patents that Barreiros used, precisely one of the issues that has always brought fans upside down: the degree of originality of Barreiros' creations, such as the Perkins theme (p. 174-175), does not make it clear if it is a copy but improved of Ricardo's early projects, a "pseudo Perkins" (p. 252). Because the concept does exist:

[su_quote] “We must not forget that in those days it was not really invented; in a sense, everything was copied (…) At first the Berliet cabins were copied with difficulty by Costa, in Barcelona, ​​and later by Elejabarri. " [/ su_quote]

In this sense, the book perhaps disappoints the gyrophiles in some places. Thomas ventures into the twists and turns of the car, despite handling good sources (Georgano), with comments that reveal a superficial knowledge of the matter, as when he comments on technical aspects - "The Simca Ariane (...) was economical, but the acceleration was bad" -; but the anecdote of Enzo Ferrari and Ricart's rubber soles, that classic gossip in automotive history, is already too hackneyed.

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(Item: despite being a seasoned driver and having owned the best models of the time -Cadillac Eldorado, Mercedes 300 SL, Pegaso Z-102… -, the facts show that Eduardo Barreiros did not understand much about passenger cars, whether they were luxurious or popular, his was clearly heavy mechanics)

Thomas's neatness is endless and, at times, infuriating. The professors document everything, even what is not necessary (page 196), hence perhaps it suffers from excessive citations. There is a certain lack of coordination between the text and the footnotes (some are a bit confusing), as if that cumbersome neatness might have been lost in the otherwise correct translation of Mariano Antolín Rato, which has retained an adjectival britsh style - "sad but stimulating song" -. The epithets that Thomas ascribes to certain characters are, to say the least, debatable; If you haven't met them, they sound somewhat rhetorical ...

Two decades after his disappearance, Barreiros continues to be a public figure. Regarding this book, much was said about EB's relationship with PRISA –he was one of its first shareholders-, about the relationship between this company and him through his daughter Mariluz, ex-wife of the late Jesús de Polanco, and the alleged collusion of the media with the Foundation, or with the British author, and other speculations closer to conspiracy theories than to the simple truth of the facts. At the end of the day, what matters is the existence of the work, with its pros and cons –it has everything-, not what is written from this or another medium about the character. The intelligent reader will appreciate it. In fact, once you have read it, one wishes it would never end, perhaps because you realize that the Barreiros enigma continues.

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What do you think?

Manuel Garriga

Written by Manuel Garriga

Manuel Garriga (Sabadell, 1963), motor journalist specialized in history, has been in the profession for XNUMX years writing articles and reports for various magazines and newspapers, and working as a correspondent for various foreign media. Author and translator of a dozen books on this subject, he has made collections of fascicles, has worked in radio, cinema and advertising, and has just premiered Operació Impala, his first documentary, as a director. After having directed the magazine Motos de Ayer for almost three years, he returns to write regularly for Motor Clásico, where he began his career, and continues to collaborate in the newspaper El País while preparing new projects in the audiovisual field.


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