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Hispano-Suiza Alfonso XIII, the sports pioneer

The Hispano-Suiza is one of the most iconic models in the brand's history. Not only for being his most successful sports car, but also for being able to impose himself on the Peugeot circuits and having witnessed the transfer of production to the outskirts of Paris. In addition, this boattail car body retains all the charm of the golden days intact.

Today Peugeot is one of the main generalist brands in Europe. In this way, in its range we can find multiple models intended for practical and daily use. However, more than a century ago the lion company was also dominating in numerous primitive motorsport cups and trophies. So much so that their models beat those of Hispanic-Suiza and other companies with sporting airs in all kinds of competitions. A sweeping domain. In which even they embarrassed the Spanish brand during the Catalonia Cup. Created by Alfonso XIII to serve as a showcase and testing ground for the Barcelona factory's creations.

However, those early days of motorsports progressed at an exponential rate. In this way, the changes went hand in hand with advances capable of making huge differences. Something typical of a moment in which everything was to be discovered and therefore each step resulted in decisive developments. So things, from 1909 Hispano-Suiza presented an ambitious career plan for “golf carts". A category in which, despite the openness of the regulations, could fit models with less than 2 liters of displacement and a maximum of 750 kilos. In this way, the engineer Marc Birkigt designed a 2665cc four-cylinder engine with about 45CV of power.

With this engine as the main argument, Hispano-Suiza launched himself to face you with Peugeot on the circuits. An adventure that was the winner not so much for power as for reliability. And it is that the Birkigt engine endured as few the onslaught of speed while the Peugeot L3 or EX3 did not seem to be so precise in this regard. In this context, the Hispano-Suiza won the Grand Prix of Ostend and Boulogne in 1910. Two of the most prestigious races of the moment. Whose aura of prestige gave the company wings to mass-produce a model derived from competition. Thus was born the Hispano-Suiza Alfonso XIII in 1911.


After the dizzying and unsuccessful experience of the First Republic, the Spanish political landscape fell back to a regime of consensus and distribution of power known as the Restoration. However, during the last decades of the XNUMXth century the power of workers' organizations grew at the same time as industrialization itself. In this way, the beginning of the new century was marked by numerous strikes and demonstrations. Many of them in Barcelona. City in which the unions stirred consciences in moments like the strike that shook Hispano-Suiza in 1910.

A trance from which he left with a third less production and a multitude of lost orders. Reasons why the management of the company decided to transfer part of its production to the Levallois-Perret factory, on the outskirts of Paris. A change of time of which the Hispano-Suiza Alfonso XIII was the main witness. Which one only the fifteen units of the first series were assembled in Barcelona. A short number. Very far from the 500 manufactured for 1914, the last year of the model in production. However, despite being born at a time of transition for the company, the Hispano-Suiza Alfonso XIII became one of the most successful and desired models of the time.

In fact, even today it is one of the key vehicles to understand the concept of sports car racing. And it is not for less, since its 4-cylinder engine rose above the racing one to reach 3619cc. In this way the power was increased to 60CV, achieving a 120 km / h tip for its 660 kilos thanks to the rear drive and a three-speed gearbox. In addition, the Weber carburettor and other details such as the magneto ignition reaffirmed the good design of Birkigt on the Hispano-Suiza Alfonso XIII. Which happened to have this name after the great interest that the monarch showed in creating a series sports car.


Although it was born as a product of the competition, the Hispano-Suiza Alfonso XIII sold its benefits among driving enthusiasts who rarely entered the races. Thus, only a few units of the model remain ready to compete. One of those with bodywork reduced to the minimum expression and the wheel arch uncovered for greater effectiveness and less weight. Far from this, the reality is that most of the units conserved incorporate details such as headlights or rack. An equipment that made the model a sports car but also suitable for use in the city and on the highway.

Something like a GT of archaic times, which exhibited a sporty approach in details as subtle as the position of the engine. Made visible when seeing Alfonso XIII from the side, noting how the engine protrudes below in longitudinal position but far behind the front axle. In this way, the distribution of weights improves, achieving results that are very different from those of the heavy and understeer automobiles of the time. One of the features that made this model so effective in racing. Of course, being still far from the time when racing cars could be driven by a single person.

For those moments, separated from us by more than a century, the co-pilot was still essential in the category of mechanic. Always aware of changing wheels or pumping gasoline and oil at certain times. And that is not to mention the enormous effort to hold on to life by holding on wherever it was so as not to get thrown around the curves. An extreme use of the Hispano-Suiza Alfonso XIII which, in this elongated chassis unit dated 1913, we do not believe was the case due to the delicate bodywork "boat tail". One of the best preserved - and restored - examples of this entry-level model from the early days of motorsports.

Photographs: RM Sotheby's / Adam Warner

P.D. The unit used to illustrate these lines is the one marked with chassis number 2192. Protagonist of the auction organized by RM Sotheby's in Paris on February 5, 2020. Today it is one of the best preserved examples of the Hispano-Suiza Alfonso XIII.

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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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