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The exciting story of Spain’s automobiles

The exciting story of Spain’s automobiles

A true passion for racing, inspired by the raging bulls of Pamplona and fuelled by the people’s desire to achieve automotive immortality

The fight for survival

The 2021 F1 Spanish GP in Catalunya may be in the history books, but this challenging track still remains as the one of the most well known and enjoyed by most, if not all drivers. So what is the history of the cars, engineered and built in Spain?

The beginning of this story was difficult, as the very first automotive company La Cuadra, created in 1898 by a Spanish artillery captain called Emilio de la Cuadra, which quickly changed ownership and then went bankrupt in just five years, and with only two concept cars to show for. A major restructuring took place in 1904, creating La Hispano-Suiza Fábrica de Automóviles (Spanish-Swiss Automobile Factory) based in Barcelona. Four engines were introduced in the next year and a half – a 3.8L and 7.4L four-cylinder and a pair of big six-cylinder engines were produced. This company managed to avoid complete collapse and its largest operations remained in Barcelona until 1946, where cars, trucks, buses, and even aero engines were produced.

Under the inspired leadership of the talented Swiss engineer Marc Birkigt, Hispano-Suiza launched a full range of luxury models in quick succession. Birkigt also recognised the marketing benefits of competing in races. When he learned that Spain’s King Alfonso XIII would present one of the trophies during the nearby 1909 Catalan Cup, Birkigt quickly readied Hispano-Suiza’s first racing car.

Hispano-Suiza Alfonso XIII (1909) – Credit: Hispano Godo

From ruin to racing

Instead of turning one of the existing models into a competition car, Birkigt opted to start from scratch. The four-cylinder engine differed from any of his earlier designs in that it was constructed from a single block as opposed two blocks of two cylinders. Displacing just over 1.8L, the straight-four featured an innovative ‘T-head’ with twin lateral camshafts, actuating the side valves through push-rods. The engine was mounted so far back in the chassis, behind the front axle for better weight distribution that it actually amounted for a mid-engine car! Despite having relatively little time to prepare and test the company’s first racing car, Hispano-Suiza entered three cars in the Catalan Cup. The Spanish King saw one of the Hispanos get an early lead, but eventually all succumbed to issues and were forced to drop out. Birkigt continued the development of the cars, increasing the displacement and fitting stronger wheels. The work paid off and in 1910, Hispano-Suizas placed first, third and sixth in the prestigious Coupe de l’Auto race.

While continuing the development of new competition cars, Birkigt also used the Coupe de l’Auto winning machine as the basis for a new production model launched in 1911. Officially dubbed the Type 15T or 15/45 hp depending on the market, this high performance Hispano-Suiza is better known as the Alfonso XIII. It received this nickname after the prototype was gifted to the Spanish monarch by his wife. Mechanically the Alfonso XIII shared its basic design with the successful racing car. The biggest change was a further increase of the engine displacement to 3.6L. The engine, in unit with the three-speed gearbox, was mounted again in the middle of the chassis, and added rigidity to the new steel ladder frame. The new Hispano-Suiza’s suspension followed convention with semi-elliptic leaf springs all around. Cable-operated drum brakes were fitted to the rear wheels only.

Hispano-Suiza Alfonso XIII Jaquot Torpedo – Credit: PebbleBeach Auto
New gold standard

Considered one of the first ever sports cars, the Alfonso XIII was available with a basic roadster body that featured wooden fenders on the earliest examples. Some were also supplied to specialist coach-builders to be clothed with more lavish bodies. In 1913 various revisions were carried that included the introduction of a four-speed gearbox, a longer wheelbase and rear suspension with triple quarter-elliptic leaf springs on each corner. For obvious reasons, production ceased in 1914. By that time a very impressive 500 examples had been produced. In addition to being a sales success, the Alfonso XIII also established Hispano-Suiza as a serious manufacturer. It is with this reputation that company re-emerged after the war as one of Europe’s premier luxury manufacturers. Rarely seen today, the Alfonso XIII ranks among the finest cars produced before the Great War.

Between the two world wars Hispano-Suiza became a benchmark for engineering and luxury throughout Europe. Licences for Hispano-Suiza patents were in serious demand from prestige car manufacturers world-wide. Even the British Rolls Royce used a number of Hispano-Suiza patents – for instance, for many years Rolls Royce installed Hispano-Suiza designed power brakes in their vehicles. After WW2 the company remained more concentrated on military contracts and less so on continuing their standard-setting car success. The company’s attention turned increasingly to turbine manufacturing and after a takeover, and various mergers, it disappeared from the automotive industry. The brand saw an attempt at revival with the showing of a concept at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show. However, the planned production never materialised.

The quest for speed

Pegaso was born in 1946 from the former truck division of Hispano-Suiza, initially under the name of Enasa. By the 50s the company had established itself as a reliable manufacturer of various utility vehicles, but the general public was unaware of the racing car that had been developed behind the curtains. Pegaso’s chief technical manager was Wifredo Ricart who formerly worked as chief engineer for Alfa Romeo, and designed the Alfa Romeo Tipo 512. The Z-102 started life as a pair of prototypes in 1951 with coupe and drophead body styles. Both prototypes had steel bodies which were determined to be too heavy and Pegaso made the decision to switch to aluminium bodies to save weight. However, the cars were still quite heavy and difficult to drive, so racing success was virtually nonexistent. Three cars entered the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1953, one crashed with more than 200 km/h and the team withdrew the other two. Because the cars were built on a cost-no-object basis the car soon proved too costly to warrant continued manufacturing and the Z-102 was discontinued in 1958 after just 84 cars being produces.

Pegaso Z-102 Coupe – Credit: RSF Motorsport

The fastest pegasus

But even with the lack of racing merits, Pegaso had a winner in their hand. The Z-102 was the fastest production car in the world at the time of production! The car had a steel chassis with an aluminium body. Everything was produced in-house at Barcelona at Pegaso’s own factory. The Z-102 was powered by a V8 engine and had a 5-speed non-synchromesh transaxle. The car entered production with a 2.5L engine, the same as in the prototypes, though later variants used a 2.8L and 3.2L DOHC 32-valve V8 engines with multiple carburetors or an optional supercharger. Power ranged from 175 hp to 360 hp and was sent to the rear wheels through a five-speed gearbox. The base model had a top speed of 192 km/h. The supercharged version proved the real worth of the Pegaso. On September 25, 1953, in Jabbeke (Belgium), a Z-102 Touring BS/2.8 driven by Celso Fernández, broke four official R.A.C.B. (Royal Automobile Club de Belgique) world records. Of these records the most prominent was its speed in the flying-start kilometre. The supercharged Z-102 achieved a 243.079 km/h average speed, a record previously held by a Jaguar XK120. This made the Z-102 the fastest production car in the world at that time.

After that endeavour proved to be not as successful as Pegaso were hoping for, they went back to their roots at building utility vehicles, before Iveco took over the company in 1990.

Small Italian Miracle

SEAT was founded in the 50s by a large Spanish consortium with the goal to produce vehicles domestically. Unfortunately, the initial financing meant creating a car from scratch was just not feasible. So a partnership with FIAT was signed and the production, albeit in low volumes at the beginning, of licensed model was the moving force behind the brand. Now people are going to say that SEAT has no place here, since it’s been producing licensed models under their brand, but there is an important part of the story, that SEAT was instrumental for.

The SEAT 600 was basically a FIAT 600, but this little car started what’s called “The Spanish Miracle” – an economic boom that gave Spanish people a much needed boost of mobility and in terms gave a shove to the whole economy. It was small, cheap to buy and run, but in 1958 it accounted for an enormous growth in personal vehicle ownership. By 1972 SEAT sold nearly 800 000 of their licensed model 600 in Spain alone! Of course, nothing lasts forever – SEAT and FIAT separated after a financial dispute and then VW stepped in. We all know the rest of that story.

1963 SEAT 600D Convertible – Credit: Car Pixel

Track day aquarium

Nowadays a glimpse of Spanish engineering can still be seen mostly from small companies. One such example is Tramontana, which does a track car with 720 hp Mercedes V12 engine. It’s certainly fast with a 0-100 km/h time in just 3.6 seconds and a top speed of 325 km/h. It has an open top version, but the closed top is . . hilarious. Probably inspired by Hammerhead Eagle iThrust a.k.a. GEOFF. It’s basically a road-legal open wheeler, made of all the exotic material (carbon fibre, magnesium) to be light, fast and agile.

Tramontana – Credit EVO Media

Spanish Caterham

Then there’s Aspid (IFR Automotive, S.L.) named after the viper species “Vipera aspis” found in northern Spain, where the company is based. They’ve started in 2009 with the IFR Aspid, which may look like a Panoz Roadster clone, but in fact is quite innovative. It’s powered by a 2.0L Honda S2000 engine that has been tuned to produce 270 hp in naturally aspirated form and can go all the way to 400 hp in the supercharged version. 0-100 km/h is just below 3 seconds with the supercharger and the car’s cornering capabilities are impressive with a claims of 1.6G. What separates the Aspid from anything else in the world is that it holds four unique patents for technologies used throughout the car.

The first patent is for a twin brake disc system, consisting of two lightweight stainless steel discs with large turbine shaped slots designed to maximise brake cooling and efficiency as well as being 70% lighter than a conventional brake disc setup. The second patent is for the aluminium extrusion chassis, developed for maximum rigidity and to fit the Aspid’s double wishbone suspension system. The chassis then has a lightweight aluminium honeycomb overlaid on top for added strength. With these advancements IFR has been able to reduce the weight of the Aspid’s chassis to only 55 kilos. The third patent is for Dual Lip Reinforcement wishbones which used almond shaped spars with strengthening beams going through the centres to improve rigidity and aerodynamics. Lastly, the 4th patent is for a modular wiring loom which cuts the amount of harness needed to 1/3 of what it originally was as well as reduce its weight by 70%. The Aspid also uses a removable F1 style carbon fibre steering wheel complete with data logging and telemetry abilities as well as a slew of other features to control various aspects of the car such as rev limit, ride height, brake balance, valve timing and others, which is a feature almost never used in street cars. Additionally the Aspid is fully compliant with FIA safety regulations, as well as European homologation standards, from stock and as such can be taken to the track and raced with little to no additional modification needed.

IFR Aspid – Credit: Car Images

Raging Bulls

The Spania GTA Spano was introduced 11 years ago, it is a very limited production sports car, yet it’s a very popular name around the world. Now why would that be? Maybe because it was created by a racing team. Yes! Not a road cars manufacturer, but a proper and successful racing team from Valencia, called GTA Motor Competición. The team was founded in 1994 and has been racing continuously in various GT and Junior Formula championships, even recording a win at the Superleague Formula in 2008. So when the team principal decided they are good enough to spread their racing heritage, he immediately received support within the team. And in 2010 the first generation of GTA Spano was presented. It had an enormous 8.4L twin-turbo V10 from a Dodge Viper and a weight of just 1350 kilos. It was pushing 900 hp and 1000 Nm of torque. 0-100 km/h was 3 seconds flat and the top speed was 350 km/h.

GTA Spano First gen – Credit: Zastavki

The Second generation in 2015 saw a power, as well as styling upgrades. The engine lost displacement at 8.0L but it was now pushing 925 hp and a monstrous 1220 Nm of torque! As a result of the changes, the car gained a little weight at 1400 kilos. But the 0-100 km/h time was now just under 3 seconds and the top speed was 370 km/h.

GTA Spano Second gen – Credit: TopSpeed

What happened then?

As it was the case with Portugal, the car industry in Spain never received an adequate government help. Two world wars and a prolonged civil war also took a toll on the young Spanish industry. But the desire for speed is still there and small companies like Spania GTA and Aspid are indicating that the Spanish racing spirit is not dead. Spanish drivers in top level motorsports are also a pretty good indicator about the developed racing culture and their fighting spirit has been an inspiration on future generations.

WAS THAT STORY UNEXPECTED? WHICH COUNTRY SHOULD WE EXPLORE NEXT? COMMENT BELOW:

C​an-Am Racing – the forgotten madness of motorsport

C​an-Am Racing – the forgotten madness of motorsport

A​ ludicrous sport made for ludicrous people.

T​here are a great many types of racing categories under the umbrella term of ‘motorsport’ – you’ve got Formula 1, Formula E, Nascar, Rallying, Rallycross, Touring Cars, you get the idea. There is a huge and extensive list of different things to talk about when it comes to racing. But one that doesn’t seem to be brought up very much, or at least not to my knowledge, is the absolute madness known as Can-Am racing. And so today I’ve decided I’m going to do that becuase I just discovered what Can-Am actually is and I want to write about it.

C​an-Am, standing for Canadian American (as in Canadian American Challenge Cup) was originally formed as a solo racing class following the Group 7 set of rules (meaning unlimited engine capacity, no horsepower cap, as many lightweight materials as you can cram in, etc.) For context, the Formula 1 ruleboook at the time was over 100 pages long, whereas the Group 7 rules consisted mostly of four enclosed wheels, two seats and some safety precautions. That was all. Of course, this made it a big favourite of racing drivers, and an even bigger favourite of car manufacturers, who now finally had the opportunity to show what their purest, unrestricted racers could do.

It began very humbly, beginning with just two races in Canada and four races in America – hence the name. Group 7 racing had already become incredibly popular in England and Europe along with hillclimbs, and it began to morph into a worldwide obsession by the late 60s.

T​o put into context how insane these machines were, for those who haven’t heard of this sport before, some of the cars were boasting over 1000 horsepower whilst running on 1970s brakes, tyres, safety, and suspension. It was a truly fantastic time to be a petrolhead, watching all these wedge-shaped racers hurling down the straights and then barely making it round the corners at the end. Such racing had never really been seen before and hasn’t been seen since either.

F​or the first season of 1966, a large variety of teams entered – most of which bringing along modified versions of their racers from other divisions. I daresay that from the world Go, most manufacturers were hooked on the idea of creating a racer that represented the very best they could do, as I’d imagine winning with that would definately get people into the showrooms. The winner of the first season, and indeed quite a few seasons after that (in one form or another), as the Lola T70 MkII Spider.

Lola Cars was a small, British racing team that ran from 1958 all the way up to 2012, where they worked on some of the Honda F1 cars from that period. They’re quite sparcely known but very well respected for their brutal racing cars back in the 60s and 70s. However, i​n its day, the MkII Spider was considered pretty tame compared to the rest of Lola’s racing lineup – which was a big parting from what the company was known to do. But that’s not to say it was delicate by any means.

It was sporting a 5.3L Ford V8 producing about 400 horsepower, which created a rocketship in a pretty much bare chassis that only weight 720kg. It could do 0-60 in 3.8 seconds, which is still blistering even today, and the fastest speed it ever clocked was around 193mph. Lola apparently experimented with fitting a bigger, GM-sourced 7.0L V8 in some of the prototypes, but to no avail; the engine was simply too unreliable for racing use.

T​he very late 1960s is when Can-Am racing really started to pick up speed. More professional teams were starting to get involved, and the lunacy really began to take off. You’ve probably seen images in the past of older racecars with enormously tall rear spoilers; those were Can-Am cars. In 1970, the governing body running the sport ended up banning those massive wings, which meant the teams needed to find a way to create enough downforce to keep all that power on the road, or risk a potential fatal crash as drivers tried to contain the ridiculous amount of horsepower the machines were making through the corners. And this is where a small American team called Chaparral had a rather radical idea.

A​nyone who’s played Gran Turismo 5, as I did when I was younger, may or may not immediately recognise the name Chaparral, as their cars seemed to be a particular favourite for the AI racers. Gran Turismo 5 is a great game for Can-Am cars, if you’re interested in having a go in some digitally. Just thought I’d put that out there. Chaparral Motors was in its day a pioneer in building and racing cars, doing so over a relatively short 7 year period – from 1963 to 1970. However, that time was still long enough to create a few interesting enough race cars to get themselves featured in a PS3 game and have their name burned into my memory.

W​hat Chaparral came up with in response to this new rule was this – the 2J. A pretty unassuming looking car from the front, fitted with a solution was pretty far from just fitting a massive spoiler. What the company did was take two fans, taken I believe from the radiator of a tank, and fit them to the back of the car. They powered these fans with an additional two-stroke, 49 horsepower, twin-cylinder engine from a snowmobile that they had fitted to the car. On top of that, they also fitted a pair of plastic skirts to the sides, in a similar fashion to the idea of Ground Effect that dominated Formula 1 in only a few year’s time. There was even rumours at the time that the fans alone could push the car along at up to 40mph.

Besides the funky downforce generating, the car was fitted with a 7.0L Chevrolet V8 (similar to the one they wanted to fit to the Lola, I assume?). There seems to be a wide spectrum of results online about how much power that V8 produces, but the general consensus seems to be that it’s somewhere around the 650 horsepower mark. It could do 0-60 in 3.2 seconds, and could apparently reach a top speed of 245mph, and sometimes even corner that fast! For what it was, it was also incredibly light – the fan car with two engines only weights about 820kg. That’s a lot less than… almost any car at all.

S​adly, the 2J was killed of before it ever got its time to shine. The SCCA (the governing body for the sport) had been in a feud with McLaren for quite some time over whether the 2J should be allowed. Before this debate popped up, they had actively been encouraging teams to use “moving aerodynamics” in place of spoilers, but between the 1970 and 1971 seasons they eventually ruled that no car in Can-Am should have any engine fitted that doesn‘t power the wheels. Which seems like a bit of a weird way to phrase it, but I digress.

I​t was at this point that the sport was starting to come to a close – the growing popularity of Formula 5000 and the looming threat of the oil crisis were slowly killing off some of the most ludicrous V8 racers the world had ever seen. The costs for competing in the sport were also o the rise, and fewer and fewer teams were deciding to join the ranks, and yet fewer still were deciding to stay there. However, just before the sport went away forever, we got one gem, this time coming all the way from Europe, where a fancy little endurance car known as the Porsche 917 had been dominating races like Le Mans. And so what did Porsche do?

T​hey simply converted it into a Can-Am car. This is the Porsche 917/30, otherwise known as one of the most powerful racing cars ever built. Under that wedge-shaped exterior – which was basically a standard 917 short-tail body with the roof and nose stripped away – was a 5.3L twin-turbo Flat-12 producing a claimed 1,500 horsepower in racing tune. Rumour has it that a Flat-16 was also tested, but the turbocharged twelve-cylinder was apparently superior. According to some very non-official looking statistics I found, the 917/30 could do 0-60 in just under 2 and a half seconds, although some sources say it could get there in just 1.9 seconds, and carry on to a top speed of 225mph. This was the true halo car of the sport – absolutely dominating in every track it raced on. But good things can’t last forever, and Porsche’s growing concerns with the sport lead them to pulling out of the ranks, and then it just… faded.

A​nd there’s my summary of Can-Am racing. It was a fantastic sport, with awesome cars and some fantastic drivers – like Bruce McLaren himself, for example – but it was just a bit too crazy for the oil crisis to handle. I don’t have anything else to write here.

FASA Renault 8, the family sedan that revolutionized Spanish motorsport

FASA Renault 8, the family sedan that revolutionized Spanish motorsport

Launched in 1965, the FASA Renault 8 was more than a comfortable family car. With the R8 TS, it became a key part in the Spanish motorsport history.

During the early 60’s, the automotive world was trying to find out what was going to be the hegemonic layout for the automobile in the future. The Morris Mini / Austin Se7en, launched in 1959, showed the world all the benefits of the transverse mounted front engine and front wheel drive: More space efficient, and much better road holding and driving quality. The FWD was, however, more expensive to build and more complex. At the same time, the rear engine and rear wheel drive layout was blooming as well. Easier and cheaper to build and design, it provided also a good interior space for the passengers, but most of those vehicles had cooling problems and were more difficult to drive under certain conditions.

Many manufacturers put their bets on the RR layout. Between 1959 and 1964, brands like FIAT (850), SIMCA (1000), Volkswagen (Type 3), NSU (Prinz IV), Rootes (Hillman Imp), BMW (700), Skoda (1000 MB) or Hino (Contessa) launched rear engine small or midsize cars. Even the most powerful motor company in the world, General Motors, launched a compact, for the American size perception, rear engined vehicle: The ill fated Chevrolet Corvair.

The Renault 4CV was the first post war Renault model. And the first rear engine car of the company, a kind of layout that would yield a lot of success during the following decades

Nevertheless, if there was a manufacturer that was convinced of the use of the RR layout, it was, apart from Volkswagen, Renault. Owned by the French government since the controversial nationalization of 1945, most of its models were rear engined. In 1946, the Regie Nationale des Usines Renault (RNUR) launched the 4CV, a small four door rear engined, powered by a 767cc engine and developed during World War II. The small, affordable and pretty little Renault was a success in Europe, but also was key to put Japan and Spain on wheels. In the U.S., however, was a failure.

The 4CV was followed in 1956 by the Dauphine. Mostly an evolution of the former, the Dauphine and the luxurious Ondine and the sporty Gordini siblings, became the backbone of the Renault range all across the world from the mid-fifties until the mid-sixties. The little sedans, featured a gorgeous rounded four door body, that was moved by an evolution of the Ventoux engine used on the 4CV. The 845cc unit now developed 28hp or 36hp on the model tuned by Amédée Gordini.

The Dauphine was a key product for Renault, as it was the vehicle RNUR wanted to use to conquer USA in a market not yet dominated by the Beetle. Also, it was the base for the first sports cars launched after the War, the Floride / Caravelle and the Alpine A108.

The Dauphine was key on the Renault expansion strategy during the fifties and sixties.

While the Dauphine failed to conquer the American market, forcing Renault to retreat from the other side of the ocean, it became a true worldwide car, built not only in France, but also in Italy (by Alfa Romeo!), Spain, built by FASA, Brazil, built by Willys, Argentina, Built by IKA, and was also assembled in Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Mexico or Belgium.

However, the Dauphine was far from perfect: Its engine was underpowered, and the stability was problematic. The “Aerostable” suspension, offered as an option starting in 1960, didn’t solve the problem, and by then Renault was working on its replacement.

1962: RNUR launches the Renault 8

The new boxy Renault 8, was a step ahead over the Dauphine

By the early sixties, the Dauphine star was starting to fade quicker than expected. The reason was probably its reputation, tarnished by the failure in the US, where some stock units were left to rot at the warehouses due to low sales until they were repatriated some time later. The dubious stability of the car didn’t help either. New competitors were ready to be released as well, and especially one, the SIMCA 1000, was a strong contender. Aware of its weakened market position, Renault began to develop a substitute that keeping the RR layout, could be able to address most of the problems of the Dauphine.

Designed in house by Gaston Juchet and Philippe Charbonneux, and developed in record time, RNUR launched its new model in June 1962: The Renault 8, or Renault R8 as it was known for the first two model years. The R8 featured a new engine, named “Cleon Fonté” by Renault and that had been introduced months ago in the sporty Floride S. It had a displacement of 956cc and developed 40hp, 30% more power than the Dauphine and 12% more than the Gordini. With that engine, the R8 was able to reach 130 km/h. The rear suspension was also modified, notably improving the Dauphine stability issues. It also introduced a novelty never seen in a car of its category: Four disc brakes.

The Renault 8 also looked more modern, featuring a boxy body, that seemed to be inspired in the Alfa Romeo type 103, especially the vee shaped bonnet. The R8 was longer and taller than the Dauphine, but was marginally narrower. The interior space was, however, superior on the new model.

The Renault 8 was introduced to the international press in Madrid in May 1962, and rumours about FASA building it locally began almost immediately. However, the R8 took a bit of time to arrive to the Valladolid assembly line.

¡Atención! ¡Frenos de disco!: The Renault 8 arrives to the Spanish market.

Apparently an exact copy of the French model, the FASA Renault 8 had many differences with its trans-pyrenean brother.

1965 was a key year for FASA. That year, FASA and RESA (Renault España S.A.) merged. Until then, both were independent companies, with FASA building the cars and RESA distributing and selling them, but in March 1965 both companies formed FASA Renault, with RNUR now owning 49% of the stocks. That would prove to be very important for FASA, as it went from just a licensee to become an industrial partner for RNUR.

After many months of waiting, in December 1965, the first Renault 8 rolled off the FASA assembly line. Despite looking almost exactly like a RNUR 1964 R8, the Spanish car had a notable difference: for cost reasons, the rear discs used on the French model were replaced by drums. In the other hand, the FASA product had a fully synchromesh four speed gearbox, unlike the earlier French models, that were available with three or four speed and with no synchromesh first gear.

The FASA Renault 8, despite losing the ones on the rear axle, was the first Spanish production car with disc brakes, and the first units proudly displayed a sticker on the rear screen that read “¡Atención! Frenos de disco (Warning! Disc brakes). Priced at 108900 Pesetas (Around 17000€ today) the Renault 8 became the first true middle class car built in Spain.

“It’s more of a car!” was the catchphrase used by FASA Renault to make clear that the Renault 8 was superior to its two main rivals: The Barreiros Simca 1000 and the SEAT 850

After 2017 units built in month and a half in 1965, 1966 was going to be the first full sales year for the FASA Renault 8. During that year, its two main rivals were going to be launched: the Barreiros SIMCA 1000 in January and the SEAT 850 in April. Both of them were rear engine models, similarly priced, with similar displacement engines and around the same power level. The 850 became a more serious rival once the two four door versions were launched in 1967. To make clear the (supposed) superiority of its product, FASA Renault used the slogan “¡Es mas coche!” (“It’s more of a car!”) in all Renault 8 related advertising material. And it worked, as the customers perceived the R8 as a better car than its rivals. Something helped by the fact that until the launch of the R8 derived Renault 10 in late 1966, the Renault 8 was the FASA top of the range.

In 1967, FASA refreshed the Renault 8 for the first time. While the exterior remained untouched, the interior adopted the Renault 10 seats, more comfortable and luxurious than the ones used before, and the dashboard gained a wood imitation fascia and air vents taken from the R10 as well. That made this version of the Renault 8, still available in just a single version unlike in France, unique for Spain.

Nevertheless, the true revolution was going to arrive, as it happened in many other aspects in life, in 1968.

A race car for everybody: The FASA Renault 8 TS

 

The Renault 8 TS became the first sports sedan built in Spain. It was an absolute game changer.

While in France, the Renault 8 evolved fast, abandoning the 956cc engine in 1966 and launching two sports versions, the Gordini and the Gordini 1300, in Spain the R8 remained as an unique model until October 1968.

That month, FASA launched the Renault 8 TS, inspired in the French Renault 8 S, launched just two months before. The R8 TS featured a 1108cc engine, the same used on the Renault Caravelle, that developed 56hp, 16 more than the normal version. That engine allowed the R8 TS to achieve 145 km/h, a more than respectable figure for a mid size family car. The TS also featured a four-lamp front end, sport seats finished in leather and fabric, a new dashboard with extra instruments and a different steering wheel. Unlike the Renault 8 standard available in a great variety of colours, the TS was only available in blue, yellow and orange.

Family car Monday to Friday, race car on weekends.

Priced at 140400 Pesetas (Around 19000€ today) the Renault 8 TS was fast, affordable and became the first sports sedan ever manufactured in Spain. Since its launch, every weekend many motor fanatics raced their TS in different amateur circuit races or local rallyes. FASA, aware of that, had an idea that in the end, changed the Spanish motorsport forever.

More than a car, a race driving school. The Copa TS is born.

Looking at the condition of the cars, we can clearly see the races at the Copa TS were not exactly relaxed.

For many years, motorsport in Spain was reserved for the elite. For example, one of the most renown Spanish racing drivers from the fifties and the first one to drive a Ferrari in a Formula 1 grand prix, the ill fated Alfonso de Portago, was an aristocrat, Count of Portago and Marquis of Mejorada. Like him, other great racing drivers of that era, like Jorge de Bagration, Julio Gargallo or Juan Fernández were aristocrats or wealthy entrepreneurs who could afford to import the best machines available: Alfa Romeo, Porsche, Lancia… that made them unbeatable.

That was a problem, as there were a great amount of young racing drivers that couldn’t show their potential, as they could not afford such machines. And therefore, they could not develop all their skills to become professional racing drivers.

FASA, was aware of that situation, and in 1969, was going to change it forever. Taking advantage of the Renault 8 TS popularity, FASA and the Spanish Motorsport Federation reached an agreement to develop and launch the first single-model championship ever held in Spain.

Too many angry R8s, too little space.

Inspired by the success of similar championships held in France or Brazil, FASA and the Federación Española de Automovilismo designed a championship with simple, but clear rules: All the drivers would drive the same car, a street legal Renault 8 TS, only modified with safety features like roll cages and some experienced drivers were banned to enter the competition.

With those rules, the “Copa TS”, as the event was called, became a true racing driver’s school, as all them were driving the same vehicles, under the same specifications and only their skills would decide the winner of each race.

The races were absolutely spectacular, with up to 35 Renault 8 TS fighting, in some cases literally, for the victory in racing circuits like the Jarama, but also in street circuits like Alcañiz.

Not as glamorous as Montecarlo, but the urban circuit of Alcañiz saw some of the fiercest battles of the Copa TS

The success of the Copa TS in 1969 was absolute, and the event was held again in 1970, where some rally races were also included. The Copa TS would be held without interruption until 1976, when the Renault 8 was finally discontinued, but the game had already changed. Even if the following editions were held using different models, like the Renault 5 Copa or the Renault 5 GT Turbo, the imprint left by the Copa TS was impossible to erase. Renault made the motor racing affordable and thanks to the bravery of FASA organizing such event, a generation of excellent Spanish racing drivers, like Salvador Cañellas, “Correcaminos” Sornosa, Zapico or Villacieros was born, changing the face of the Spanish motorsport forever. And many more came after them using the path opened by the small sport sedan. Quite an achievement for the R8 TS.

The golden years: production record and exports.

In 1972, the whole range received the four headlight front end, exclusive for the TS until then

The early 70’s were the golden years for the Spanish Renault 8. the “Erre Ocho” was the best selling car of the whole FASA range and production kept increasing. In 1970, almost 35000 cars left the factory, while in 1971 were more than 39000. The Renault 8 was regarded as one of the best cars built in Spain in terms of quality and reliability, and sales reflected it.

The car evolved slowly. A new interior was added in 1971, with a new instrument panel, similar to the one of the 8 TS but without rev counter and oil pressure dial. Also the seats were renewed, featuring now leatherette sides and the steering wheel was also renewed, featured now a padded center. In September 1972, the Renault 8 received the four headlamp front end in the whole range, as well as new wheels and hubcaps.

Even more important was the rise of exports. With production at the Flins plant ending in 1971, from there and until 1973, when RNUR discontinued the Renault 8 in Europe, the European markets received FASA built vehicles. It was not the only export destination for the FASA sedan: The R8 built at the Mexican plant in Ciudad Sahagun, were made out of Spanish CKD kits as well.

Revalorizado: The Spain-only final restyling.

While the car was discontinued in Europe as the demand for rear engine cars dwindled, the Renault 8 was still a good seller in Spain. FASA kept the model alive until 1976

The seventies was a time of change in the automotive world. The oil crash of 1973, killed the gas guzzlers and muscle cars, and manufacturers focused on small and fuel efficient cars. Also, the front wheel drive cars became majority in the small and medium car segment. That meant the end of the rear engine cars, that were discontinued slowly, but without a pause along the de decade.

The Renault 8 was some kind of dinosaur in the European Renault range by 1973. All the rest of the models, except the Alpine, were front wheel drive. However in Spain, in a market still over protected by the government, the choices were limited and the Renault 8 was still a “safe value” as FASA called it on the advertising material.

So, in May 1973, and while preparing the launch of the R8 forthcoming substitute, the Renault Siete, FASA launched a unique restyling for the Renault 8.

This rear end received changes as well, although not as deep as the ones on the front end.

Available in both standard and TS versions, with the 956 and 1108 cc engines developing the same outputs as the old models, the new Renault 8 “Revalorizado” as FASA called it, received a new front end featuring a new, flat bumper, four headlights and new rectangular indicators, now positioned under the bumper. The wheels were new with a new design and a new size of 14 inches. The hubcaps were also new, similar to the ones used on the Renault 5 950. The rear end received a new bumper as well and new, bigger trapezoidal tail lights. The interior got new seats, very similar to the ones used on the Renault 5, with reclinable backrests as an option.

The Renault 8 TS received also two new colours: White and lemon green, although both were very rare.

The Renault 8 TS was also available in this second series, although not many were built.

Very few changes were made to the renewed Renault 8. In 1974, for the 1975 model year, the car received new rubber guards for the bumpers and a new steering wheel, with a bigger padded area. By then, sales began to diminish in Spain too, and when FASA launched the Renault Siete in late 1974, the Renault 8 was doomed.

The figures are crystal clear: In 1973, 25989 R8 and 1026 R8 TS were built. In 1974, the last sales year before the Siete, the production was 21372 R8 and 881 R8 TS.

In 1975, with the demand dwindling and the Siete on the market, only 11133 R8 and 498 R8 TS rolled off the assembly line. It was clear that the time for the glorious rear engined Renault, had come.

1976 was the last production year for the FASA R8. 3352 R8 and just 49 R8 TS were built until June, when production finally stopped. That day, FASA not only said farewell to its most succesful product until then. It also said goodbye to a car that had become a legend.

259547 cars were built in eleven years, with almost 10000 of them exported. Those figures meant quite a success back then, in a time before the Ford decreets where exports were not as big as they became later in the decade.

Epilogue

The Renault 8 was part of the Spanish landscape until the 90’s.

FASA was founded in 1951, and with the 4/4 and the Dauphine range, got a moderate success. It was however, the Renault 8 the car that definitely turned it into a serious contender for SEAT.

Born as a compact family sedan, the launch of the Renault 8 TS in late 1968 changed the image of the car and the Spanish motorsport forever. The Copa TS became the best racing school any young driver could image, and with it, motorsport was no longer a sport for the wealthy elites.

The R8 was a common sight on the Spanish streets for many years. Its building quality and legendary reliability kept them as daily drivers well into the 90s. After that, the age and the government scrapping schemes thinned the number of survivors quickly. By the early noughties it finally earned the cult classic car status it always deserved.

Its awesome how a car, that by the end of its commercial run was seen as vestige of the past, could have changed the Spanish motor scene so deeply. Kudos to the little Renault!.

Top 7 Most Beautiful Le Mans Race Cars Of All Time

Top 7 Most Beautiful Le Mans Race Cars Of All Time

7. 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR

1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR

Named the 300 SLR, this car made a massive impact on the motorsport world. Raced by Sir Stirling Moss and the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio. It was actually not new at all, as it used the running gear and suspension of the luxury sedan. Despite the 300 SL production car roots, this beautiful car was immediately successful, winning the 1952 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Carrera Panamericana. The 300 SLR retired from racing and was further developed into the legendary 300 SL ‘Gullwing’ road car we know of today.

  • Power: 231.2 kw / 310 bhp @ 7400 rpm
  • specific output 103.96 bhp per litre
  • bhp/weight 344.44 bhp per tonne
  • torque 317 nm / 233.8 ft lbs @ 5950 rpm

6. Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato

Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato

The DB4 GT Zagato was easily one of the most beautiful and exciting British sports cars. Its body built by Zagato of Milan. It was primarily sold to private race teams, but at least 4 of the 19 cars were built as road cars. Losing to the Italians motivated Aston Martin to take the DB4 to the next level. The DB4 Zagato raced on the track at many important races alongside cars such as the Ferrari GTO. Sadly, due to low rigidity and over steer, it was still beaten by the Ferraris. But, the car was originally developed as a road car. Even so, the DB4 Zagato is one of the most desirable Aston Martins

  • Engine: Aluminum, Twin Spark, Inline-6
  • power 234.2 kw / 314.1 bhp @ 6000 rpm
  • specific output 85.59 bhp per litre
  • bhp/weight 256.41 bhp per tonne
  • torque 376.92 nm / 278.0 ft lbs @ 5400 rpm
  • redline 6500
  • body / frame Aluminum Alloy over Steel & Aluminum Chassis

5. Jaguar D-Type

Jaguar D-Type

The Jaguar D-Type is one of the most noteworthy race cars ever devised, no doubt about that.. The D-Types won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1955, 1956, and 1957. And Jag also used the monocoque chassis design for the race car as well. And with the beautiful bodywork pulled taught over the wheels, engine, and passenger compartment, the D-Type is one of the most stunning, race cars and cars in the world. Don’t forget the fin also!

  • Engine type: 3,781 cc DOHC inline six-cylinder engine
  • Output 300 HP
  • Transmission Four-speed manual
  • Top Speed 160 MPH
  • 0 to 60 mph 5.7 seconds

4. Aston Martin DBR1

Aston Martin DBR1

Now this absolute legendary car is a beautiful one. Raced by the one and the only Legend, Carroll Shelby! It is one of the most famous race cars in the world, at a whopping $22.6 Million it becomes the most expensive British car ever! The Aston Martin DBR1 was a sports racing car built by Aston Martin starting in 1956. It is most famous for winning the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans, Aston Martin’s only outright victory at the endurance classic. With the legend himself behind the wheel.

  • Engine: Aston Martin 2,493 cc / 2,922 cc, Straight six, FR Layout
  • Chassis: Multi-tubular, space frame design
  • Power: 255 bhp (190 kW)

3. 1958 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa

1958 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa

This beautiful car is one of the most stunning and most famous race cars. And one of racing history’s most beautiful cars. Made by Ferrari of course for the 1958 Le Mans. It was made for the World Sportscar Championships rule change that restricted engine displacement to a maximum of three liters. Ferrari fixed and updated their car to a two-liter 500TR to accommodate the Colombo 3-liter V12, and they also fixed the bodywork for improved aerodynamics. The 250 Testa Rossa, would come to dominate international sports car competition throughout the late ’50s and early ’60s, winning three constructors’ championships for Ferrari between 1958 and 1961. In its debut season, the 250TR would gain victory in the 1958 24 Hours of Le Mans.

2. Porsche 917

Porsche 917

Not only is the Porsche 917 good looking, and one of the most legendary race cars of all time it also sounds even better! The Porsche 917 is a sports race car developed by the well known German manufacturer, Porsche. The 917 gave Porsche its first overall wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1970 and 1971. The 917 engine initially had 520 horsepower, and went knot to 60mph in 2.5 seconds! It also had a top speed of close to 250 miles per hour! And guess what? The engine was capable of far more than that! I would recommend checking it out on YouTube! Its total ear porn!

  • Engine: 4.5 L Type 912 Flat-12; 4.9 L Type 912 Flat-12; 5.0 L Type 912 Flat-12
  • Capable: 0-62 mph (100 km/h) time of 2.3 seconds, 0–124 mph (200 km/h) in 5.3 seconds
  • Top speed: of 362 km/h (225 mph)

1. 1966 Ford GT40

1966 Ford GT40

This car needs no introduction. It was and still is arguably the best race car in the world. The GT40 won every 24 Hours of Le Mans race from 1960 to 1965. The GT40 broke Ferrari’s streak in 1966 and went on to win the next three annual races. And if you know the famous Ford V. Ferrari story, you know that Carroll Shelby was a huge part of this car and design. The story of how Ford beat Ferrari and how Ken Miles was robbed, is one of the most famous and if not the most famous racing stories of all time. The GT40 program became the single biggest racing investment in Ford’s history. In 1965, Henry Ford II turned to Carroll Shelby to help Ford beat Ferrari at the world’s most famous race – the 24 hours of Le Mans. Ford and Shelby developed a car that won 4 consecutive 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The 1966 Ford GT40 is powered by an eight-cylinder 90-degree v pushrod engine, with a wheelbase of 95 inches and a weight of 1835 pounds.

The Story Of The Mercedes-Benz CLR That Flipped 3 Times At Le Mans

The Story Of The Mercedes-Benz CLR That Flipped 3 Times At Le Mans

“I Believe I Can Fly”

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is one of the most famous endurance races for 24 hours straight. It goes through the dangerous night, through tight corners while reaching a top speed of 200 mph on the Mulsanne straight, not knowing whether your brakes would fail coming up to that first corner. It was a test against the drivers and most importantly the manufacturer’s engineering. Although, the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans proved to be a very… striking one. For many reasons. As it is known, Mercedes has had a very significant stance in the 24-hour race and motorsport of its self. Yet, one specific year, the German manufacture failed immensely. Mercedes’ failures are very uncommon, but when they fail, they fail abundantly. So what really went wrong for Mercedes?

Well, it was the year 1999. And Mercedes-Benz had just revealed their all-new racing car developed with Mercedes-AMG. It was called the Mercedes-Benz CLR. One of the most famous Mercedes racing cars… but let’s just say, it isn’t known for the right reason. Since Mercedes retired all their cars in the 1998 Le Mans, in 1999 they wanted to prove something during one of the most famous motorsport events. And they definitely did prove something.

Mercedes wanted to be on the top step again. So they made this, the Mercedes CLR, a very slick and smooth designed race car. The CLR was part of the evolution of the infamous CLK GTR models. Although, it was completely different from its 90s predecessor. During testing, the CLR wasn’t really that satisfactory nor was it awful. Nevertheless, on Thursday qualifying awful isn’t even the right word to describe it. Formula 1 driver, Mark Webber was driving in the number 4 Mercedes, the Aussie would have never expected how wrong qualifying was about to turn out. The Mercedes CLR out of the blue launched into the air while flipping over and landing back onto the track. Even though there is no filmed evidence of this, Mark explained the horrific moment.

“I did flip and I saw the sky and the ground and the sky and the ground. so it was a horrible experience and the car was very good in terms of the impact, but obviously that those cars were dangerous in that situation.” mark webber

The Mercedes CLR was very safe in the situation of an accident, but in everything else, it was the exact opposite of safe. After Mark’s crash, Mercedes did make a few changes to the rear suspension, they also added some cascades to the fenders for more downforce. Unfortunately, there was no time to improve, so those little added changes didn’t really make a difference.

If Mercedes were told before that this would happen, they wouldn’t believe their eyes. And yet again during the warm-up session, Mark Webber took off and was launched into the air for the second time that week. I can’t even imagine the frustration and horror that Mark went through. Probably why he never returned to Le Mans since 1999, until Porsche convinced him to return. Anyways, Mark flipped through the air and thankfully avoided the track. He flew into the trees and landed back on the track again this time he landed on his roof. Thankfully, Mark escaped unharmed. That’s one Mercedes out of the race, now let us get to the other one.

Peter Dumbreck was in the number 5 CLR. Now, at this specific moment, Mercedes wasn’t too sure if there was something really wrong with the CLR. So they were reliant on number 5 to bring them to the top step of the podium. They definitely got to the top alright. Yet again, horror-struck. Five hours into the 24-hour race, lap 75, the unpreventable occurred as the second Mercedes CLR was shot into the air again, flipping over three times. You heard that right… a triple flip into the air. It went over the barrier landing into the trees and back onto earth. Peter thankfully made it out and was taken to the hospital. But, Mercedes had a bigger problem to deal with.

Good evening everyone, you are flying with Mercedes International Airport. We have taken off! Never mind, we’re back on the runway again…

BUT WHY DID THE CLR DO THIS?

Good question. It is a question many have asked these past few years and decades. The automotive YouTube channel, Chain bear, has answered that question. So let us break it down. If you are a car enthusiast, a racing fan, or just a nerd for engineering you may know the term, drag. Drag is a force that acts parallel and in the same direction as the airflow, drag slows down a vehicle moving at high speeds. That is why reducing drag as much as possible is important. Although, there is a fine line between reducing some drag, and messing with the downforce. Downforce is a force that pushes the car down. Downforce assists the car to stay on the ground, to go faster, and to grip on the track. Components of downforce include rear spoilers, wings, and diffusers to help generate downforce, but they also increase drag.

Mercedes wanted the CLR to be a very sleek, smooth, and slippery race car with very little drag. No drag equals decreased downforce parts, no downforce parts mean no downforce, which means no force pushing the car to the ground. They wanted the CLR to be so quick without anything disturbing it that they almost took all the downforce components away. And the Circuit de la Sarthe is a track filled with pots holes and some big elevation changes which did not do Mercedes justice. Besides, the downforce wasn’t the only issue adding up to this horrendous car. A car and a race car is supposed to have aerodynamic stability, but also a balance in the body and car. Every car is made to be equally proportionate, when a car is equally spread out between the parts, it is stable. As you can tell, Mercedes messed with the proportions of the CLR.

While racing on the Le Mans circuit, the cars have to go under immense pressure. Such as hard braking corners, full-throttle straights, fast corners, and fast chicanes. It is a test of power in a car, but it is also a test of how that car can handle that power on such a difficult and extreme track. The race cars need to have a balanced trade-off between having low drag to reach insane top speeds but also having downforce to go through the high-speed corners and chicanes. Somehow Mercedes didn’t think of that, and they only thought of reducing drag.

Remember when I mentioned proportions? Well, I’m mentioning them again. The Mercedes CLR’s and most race cars during this era had very long bodies. It’s common sense that if you have a long car, the wheelbase should be longer and wider, so it keeps the car planted, right? Yes, you’re right, but Mercedes did the opposite. They shortened the CLR’s wheelbase, making it a short wheelbase car. That specific thing ruined the proportions of the car, making it weirdly unstable. This increased the car’s overhangs and made the CLR very unstable through the fast corners, which also caused the car to rock back and forth. Also, there were barely any front and rear diffusers to keep downforce due to Mercedes again, wanting to reduce drag.

The Mercedes would rock back and forth while exiting and entering corners, braking, and accelerating. And when Mark and Peter ran into the slipstream of another car it disrupted the front downforce, causing Mark and Peter’s car degrees to rise so frightfully that the cars flipped into the air. After Peter’s crash, they realized it was their car’s fault, not Marks. Mercedes pulled out of the race, and have not returned since. The only thing I can take away from this deranged event, is that I didn’t know Mercedes had a fly suspension setting?

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