The Big Car Database


Hispano-Suiza (literally: Spanish-Swiss) was a Spanish automotive/engineering company and, after World War II, aFrench aviation engine and components manufacturer.

It is best known for its luxury cars and aviation engines pre-World War II. In 1923, its French subsidiary became a semi-autonomous partnership with the Spanish parent company. In 1946, the Spanish parent company sold all its Spanish automotive assets to Enasa. In 1968, the French arm was taken over by the aerospace company Snecma, now a part of the French SAFRAN Group. Hispano-Suiza designed the first 4-cylinder 16-valve engine and the car considered to have been the first sports car, the Hispano Suiza 45 Cr.

Industry Automotive/engineering, aviation
Fate Automobiles: defunct
Aviation: now part of Safran
Founded June 14, 1904
Founders Emilio de la Cuadra, Marc Birkigt
Products Automobiles, aviation components


Early years

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

Yet another restructuring took place in 1904, creating La Hispano-Suiza Fábrica de Automóviles, under Castro's direction, also based in Barcelona. Four new engines were introduced in the next year and a half; a 3.8-litre and 7.4-litre four-cylinder and a pair of big six-cylinder engines were produced. This company managed to avoid bankruptcy and its largest operations remained in Barcelona until 1946, where cars, trucks, buses, aero engines and weapons were produced. Other factories in Spain were at Ripoll,Seville, and Guadalajara.

In 1910 Jean Chassagne competed with a Hispano Suiza together with Works drivers Pilleveridier and Zucarelli and in the Coupe des Voiturettes Boulogne and the Catalan Cup Races he gained 2nd and fourth places respectively. France was soon proving to be a larger market for Hispano's luxury cars than Spain. In 1911, an assembly factory called Hispano France began operating in the Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret. Production was moved to larger factories at Bois-Colombes, under the name Hispano-Suiza in 1914 and soon became Hispano's main plant for producing the largest, most costly models.

World War I

With the start of World War I, Hispano-Suiza turned to the design and production of aircraft engines under the direction of Marc Birkigt. His chief engineer during this period was another Swiss, Louis Massuger. Traditionally, aircraft engines were manufactured by machining separate steel cylinders and then bolting these assemblies directly to the crankcase. Birkigt's novel solution called for the engine block to be formed from a single piece of cast aluminum, and into which thin steel liners were secured. Manufacturing an engine in this way simplified construction and resulted in a lighter, yet stronger more durable engine. Thus, Birkigt's new construction method created the first practical, and what are commonly known today as, "cast block" engines. His aluminum cast block V-8 design was also noteworthy for incorporating overhead camshafts, propeller reduction gearing and other desirable features that would not appear together on competitor's engines until the late 1920s. Another major design feature, for the later HS.8B line was the use of a hollow propeller shaft for both the 8B and 8C gear-reduction versions, which when used for the HS.8C versions specifically engineered to accommodate one, to allow heavy calibre (usually 37 mm) projectile firing through the hollow propeller shaft, avoiding the need for a synchronization gear, a feature used in future Hispano-Suiza military engines. Hispano-Suiza's aero engines, produced at its own factories and under license, became the most commonly used aero engines in the French and British air forces, powering over half the alliance's fighter aircraft.


After World War I, Hispano-Suiza returned to automobile manufacturing and in 1919 they introduced the Hispano-Suiza H6. The H6 featured an inline 6-cylinder overhead camshaft engine based on the features of its V8 aluminum World War I aircraft engines and had coachwork done by well known coachbuilders like Hibbard & Darrin andD'Ieteren.

Licences for Hispano-Suiza patents were much in demand from prestige car manufacturers world-wide. Rolls-Royce used a number of Hispano-Suiza patents. For instance, for many years Rolls Royce installed Hispano-Suiza designed power brakes in its vehicles.

In 1923 the French arm of Hispano-Suiza was incorporated as the Société Française Hispano-Suiza, the Spanish parent company retaining control with 71% of the share capital. The French subsidiary was granted a large degree of financial and project independence to bring design and production direction into closer contact with its main markets. This further increased the importance of the Bois-Colombes plant in the production of luxury cars, and while the Spanish operations continued to produce luxury cars, mostly the smaller, less expensive models, production in Spain also moved increasingly to the producing buses, trucks, and aircraft engines, at several plants located around the country.

Through the 1920s and into the 1930s, Hispano-Suiza built a series of luxury cars with overhead camshaft engines of increasing performance. On the other hand, in the 1930s, Hispano-Suiza's V-12 car engines reverted to pushrod valve actuation to reduce engine noise.

During this time, Hispano-Suiza released the 37.2 Hispano-Suiza car built at the Hispano works in Paris.

The mascot statuette atop the radiator after World War I was the stork, the symbol of the French province of Alsace, taken from the squadron emblem painted on the side of a Hispano-Suiza powered fighter aircraft that had been flown by the World War I French aceGeorges Guynemer.

In 1925, Carlos Ballester obtained permission to represent Hispano-Suiza in Argentina. The agreement consisted of a phase in which the chassis were imported, followed by complete domestic production in Argentina. Thus Hispano Argentina Fábrica de Automóviles (HAFDASA) was born, for the production of Hispano-Suiza motors and automobiles, and also the production of spare parts for other car, truck, and bus manufacturers.

Spanish Civil War and WWII

After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, the regional government of Catalonia, on behalf of the Second Spanish Republic, collectivized control of Hispano-Suiza's Spanish factories and placed the company on a war footing. The company was divided into three divisions:

  • aircraft engines and cannons
  • cars and trucks
  • machine tools

Because of the international isolation of the Spanish republic, the Spanish arm of the company suffered from shortages.

In 1937, the French government took control of the French subsidiary of Hispano-Suiza with a 51 per cent share of the capital for the provision of war materiel, renaming the company La Société d’exploitation des matériels Hispano-Suiza. In 1938, the French company ceased automobile production and concentrated on aircraft engine production. At the time, Hispano-Suiza had just introduced a new series of water-cooled V-12 engines and the Hispano-Suiza 12Y was in great demand for practically every type of French aircraft. However, without the Spanish factories, Hispano-Suiza lacked the capacity to deliver enough engines for the rapidly growing French air force, and many new French fighter aircraft remained grounded for the lack of an engine when World War II began.

A development of the era were a series of 20 mm autocannon, first the Hispano-Suiza HS.9, followed by the Hispano-Suiza HS.404. The 404 was licensed for production in Britain 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 BMG 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. A variation of the 20 mm guns used on the Lockheed P-38 Lightning aircraft were produced by International Harvester. In 1970 Hispano-Suiza sold their armaments division to Oerlikon, the HS.820 becoming the KAD.

In 1940, Hispano-Suiza, together with the Spanish bank Banco Urquijo and a group of Spanish industrial companies, founded the 'Sociedad Ibérica de Automóviles de Turismo' (S.I.A.T.). This led to Spain's first mass-production car maker, SEAT. After the civil war, Hispano-Suiza in Spain was severely affected by the devastated economy and the trade embargoes imposed by the allies. In 1946, Hispano-Suiza sold off its Spanish automotive assets to ENASA, the maker of Pegaso trucks.


After the Second World War, the French arm of Hispano-Suiza continued primarily as an aerospace firm. Between 1945 and 1955, it was building the Rolls-Royce Nene under licence, designing landing gear in 1950 and Martin-Baker ejection seats in 1955. The company's attention turned increasingly to turbine manufacturing and, in 1968, it was taken over and became a division of SNECMA. In 1999, Hispano-Suiza moved its turbine operations to a new factory in Bezons, outside Paris, using the original factories for power transmissions and accessory systems for jet engines. In 2005, SNECMA merged with SAGEM to form SAFRAN.

The marque may be seeing a revival in the automotive sector with the showing of a model at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show .


Model Year N° of cylinders Horsepower (CV) Engine displacement(cc) Brakes Gearbox Maximum speed
10 HP 1904 6 10 ~ ~ ~ ~
14–16 HP 1904 6 From 14 to 16 ~ ~ ~ ~
Armoured type Birkigt 1905 4 20 ~ ~ ~ 87 km/h (54 mph)
20–30 HP 1906 ~ From 20 to 24 ~ ~ ~ 100 km/h (62 mph)
40 HP 1906 ~ 40 ~ ~ ~ 100 km/h (62 mph)
60–75 HP 1907 6 From 60 to 75 ~ ~ ~ ~
12–15 HP 1907 ~ From 12 to 15 ~ ~ ~ ~
20–30 HP 1908 4 From 20 to 30 ~ ~ ~ ~
24–30 HP 1908 4 From 24 to 30 ~ ~ ~ ~
30–40 HP 1908 4 From 30 to 40 ~ ~ ~ ~
Alfonso XIII 1912 4 64 3620 Drum brake in back wheels (front wheels without brakes) Manual transmission, 3 gears and reverse 121 km/h (75 mph)
15–20 HP 1909 4 From 15 to 20 ~ ~ ~ ~
20–30 HP 1909 4 From 20 to 30 ~ ~ ~ ~
T21 1913–14 ~ From 15 to 30 ~ ~ ~ ~
T22 1913–14 ~ From 18 to 60 ~ ~ ~ ~
T23 1913–14 ~ From 30 to 90 ~ ~ ~ ~
T26 1914–15 ~ 20 ~ ~ ~ ~
T30 1915–24 ~ 16 ~ ~ ~ ~
32 HP 1916 ~ 32 ~ ~ ~ ~
H6B 1919–29 6 135 6600 4-wheel drum brakes with Hispano Suiza power-assisted brakes Manual transmission, 3 gears and reverse 137 km/h (85 mph)
T48 1924 4 90 3746 ~ ~ ~
T49 1924–36 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
T64 1929–33 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
T60/T60 RL/T60 1932–43 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
H6C 1924–29 6 160 8000 4-wheel drum brakes with Hispano Suiza power-assisted brakes Manual transmission, 3 gears and reverse 177 km/h (110 mph)
T56 1928–36 6 46 ~ ~ ~ ~
J12 1931–38 12 220 9500 ~ ~ 185 km/h (115 mph)
K6 1934–37 6 120 5200 4-wheel drum brakes with Hispano Suiza power-assisted brakes Manual transmission, 3 gears and reverse 140 km/h (87 mph)

The models H6B (1919–29), H6C (1924–29), Hispano Suiza Junior or HS26 (1931–32), J12 (1931–38) and K6 (1934–37) were made by the French division, the rest were manufactured in Spain.