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Hispano-Suiza was an originally Spanish and then Spanish-French automotive and engineering firm best known for their car, engine and weapon designs in the pre-World War II period. Today they are part of the French SAFRAN Group, while the Spanish arm in 1946 was taken over by Enasa, the maker of Pegaso trucks and sport cars.
In 1898 a Spanish artillery captain, Emilio de la Cuadra, started with electric automobile production in Barcelona under the name of La Cuadra. In Paris, De la Cuadra met the talented Swiss engineer Marc Birkigt (1878 -1953), and hired him to work for the company in Spain. La Cuadra built their first gas powered engines from Birkigt designs. At some point in 1902 the ownership changed hands to J. Castro and became Fábrica Hispano-Suiza de Automóviles (Spanish-Swiss Car Factory), but this company also went bankrupt in December 1903.
Yet another reformation took place in 1904, creating La Hispano-Suiza Fábrica de Automóviles, also under Castro's direction. Four new engines were introduced in the next year and a half. A 3.8L and a 7.4L four cylinder engine were produced as well as a pair of big six cylinder powerplants. This version of the company managed to avoid bankruptcy, and in Spain remained in operation, as a car, truck and aviation engine producer, with is main plant located in Barcelona, until 1946. They mass-produced cars, trucks and buses, and a number of hand-built racing and luxury cars, some of which ended up being owned by King Alfonso XIII of Spain.
However by this point in the early years of the century, France was proving to be a much larger market for their luxury cars than Spain. In 1911 a new factory, known as Hispano France, was set up in the Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret'. In 1914 they moved to larger factories at Bois-Colombes, and took the name Hispano-Suiza.
World War I
With the start of World War I the company turned to the creation of aircraft engines under the direction of Marc Birkigt. His solution to building aero engines was unique, instead of machining separate steel cylinders and then screwing them to a crankcase, he used cast aluminum blocks into which thin steel liners were screwed. This made the engine overall much stiffer, easier to build, and lighter. His design was the first of what are today known as "cast block" engines, and also sported overhead cams, propeller reduction gearing, and a host of other features that didn't appear on most other engines until the late 1920s. Another major design effort was the use of a hollow propeller shaft to allow a gun to be fired through the propeller spinner, thereby avoiding the need for a synchronizer gear. This design would be a feature of all future Hispano-Suiza military engines.
After World War I, they returned to automobile engine design, and in 1919 introduced the H6, earning them a reputation similar to that of Rolls-Royce in England. Through the 1920s and into the 1930s they built a series of luxury cars of increasing refinement.
The mascot statuette atop the radiator used by this firm after WWI was the stork of the province of Alsace, taken from the squadron emblem painted on the side of the aircraft of the renowned WWI French ace (and Hispano-Suiza customer) Georges Guynemer, which was powered by an Hispano-Suiza engine. At the time this was an emblem of revanchism.
World War II
In 1936 with another war clearly looming, Hispano-Suiza was told to stop production of cars and turn solely to aircraft engines once again. At the time they had just introduced a new series of water-cooled V12 engines, and the Hispano-Suiza 12Y was in huge demand for practically every French aircraft. However Hispano was never able to deliver enough of these engines, and many French fighters sat on the ground, complete but for the engine.
Another development of the era was a series of 20 mm autocannon, first the Hispano-Suiza HS.9 and then the more famous Hispano-Suiza HS.404. The 404 was licensed for production in England 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 weapons.
After the Second World War Hispano-Suiza was primarily an aviation firm. Between 1945 and 1955 they built the Rolls-Royce Nene under license, began designing landing gear in 1950, and Martin-Baker ejection seats in 1955. Their attention turned increasingly to turbine manufacturing, and in 1968 they became a division of SNECMA. In 1999 they moved their turbine operations to a new factory in Bezons, using the original factories for power transmissions and accessory systems for jet engines. In 2005, SNECMA merged with SAGEM to form SAFRAN.
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