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ONE OF the world’s first sports cars was named after an auto enthusiast who was also a king. The Hispano-Suiza Type 45CR, introduced in 1911, possessed everything sporting of the era and soon became known as the Alfonso XIII.
Alfonso succeeded his late father Alfonso XII to the Spanish throne from birth. As Alfonso XIII, he fled Spain when the Second Spanish Republic was proclaimed in 1931. In 1941, in exile, he abdicated in favor of his son Juan and then died six weeks later.
Throughout his life, Alfonso was an avid motor sports enthusiast, establishing the Catalan Cup for voiturette racing in 1909. From the firm’s 1904 beginnings in Barcelona, Hispano-Suiza motor cars attracted his interest.
In The Alfonso Hispano-Suiza, one of the Classic Car Profiles, English classic car authority Bill Boddy observed “King Alfonso had a number of these Hispanos and drove them far and fast; legend has it that the purpose of some of his high-speed journeys at the wheel of these cars was better left undisclosed…!”
Not incidentally, Alfonso was the father of six illegitimate children in addition to his six legitimate heirs.
The name Hispano-Suiza reflects this automaker’s Barcelona origin and the Swiss nationality of Marc Birkigt, its immensely talented engineer who led design of the company’s cars and aero engines.
As the 20th century drew to a close, Birkigt was one of 26 nominated as Car Engineer of the Century. Other honorees included Ettore Bugatti, Henry Ford, Gabriel Voisin (see “Les Autos Voisin,” http://wp.me/p2ETap-JU) and William Edwards Deming (see “W. Edwards Deming—A Man of High Quality,” http://wp.me/p2ETap-h0). Ferdinand Porsche won.
The Hispano-Suiza Type 45CR, soon to be graced by King Alfonso XIII with his name, was efficient and lithe. In an era of 10-liter behemoths, its Birkigt-designed inline-four displaced 3.6 liters. The engine was mounted low and aft in the chassis, giving a low center of gravity and nimble handling.
Other aspects of the car enhanced its voiturette nature, though were less innovative. The engine had a T-head, its inverted valves actuated by pushrods and twin camshafts residing in the light-alloy block. Boddy noted that the valve stems and springs “were quite naked and unashamed.”
Brakes were typical of the era. Primary retardation was provided by a pedal actuating a transmission brake directly on the driveshaft to the rear axle. Rear wheels had drum brakes operated by a right-hand lever. No front brakes were fitted.
Wrote Boddy, “But, in its day, what a fascinating motor-car it was!” The Alfonso was capable of 85 mph in standard tune, very quick for the era. And, recalled Boddy, his particular Alfonso “was certainly capable of climbing the old Birdlip Hill out of Gloucester without coming off second speed.”
Your car’s wire wheels glinting in the sunshine, its steering wheel a’twitter in your hands, the wind tousling your cap—all this and a royal heritage. What more could a sporting driver desire? ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015