TN an article which appeared in “MOTOR SPORT” some half a dozen years ago, Mr. Lionel Martin ascribed the first appearance of the real sports car to the introduction of the 30/98 h.p. Vauxhall in. 1914. While I entirely agree that the real definition of a sports car does not include racing cars fitted with wings and a windscreen, nor on the other hand touring models modified by fitting a less comfortable body and different gear ratios, I do contend that real sports cars existed before the introduction of the “30/98,” as for instance in the shape of its immediate predecessor, the Prince Henry Vauxhall. To arrive, however, at the matter really in hand, I think that every one who is so fortunate ever to have had any experience of it must admit that the Alfonso Hispano-Suiza was a sports car in the strictest sense of the term. I am perhaps somewhat biassed in this matter, as an ” Alfonso ” was the first car that I ever owned, and will always remain in many ways my ideal of a sporting model, and it was thus with great pleasure that I heard that one was still going and that I could write it up in the “Veteran Types” series.
While in no sense of the term a racing car, the Alfonso Hispano was developed as practically every good sports car always has been, as the result of racing experience. The origin of the Hispano-Suiza dates back now nearly a quarter of a century to a time when some Swiss capitalists and with them a brilliant Swiss designer named Marc Birhigt decided to begin the manufacture of cars at Barcelona in Spain. A year or two later they decided that the best way to try out and improve the excellent cars which they had built was to test them in the hard school of racing, and in 1909 they entered three cars in the Coupe de l’Auto voiturette races at Boulogne-surMer. The regulations for the race limited the bore of 4-cylinder engines to 65 mm., which dimension was employed by the Hispano-Suizas in conjunction with a stroke of 140 mm., which gave a capacity of 1,860 c.c. These engines ran at 1,800 to 2,000 r.p.m., but although the three cars driven by Pilliverde, Zucarelli and Denny all finished, they could not live with the French singlecylinder racers in the matter of speed. The next year, however, the firm returned to the charge with three new cars. The bore of the new engines remained at 65 mm., but the stroke was increased to 200 D
mm., and thus the’ ‘capacity to 2,656 c.c., while they developed some 45 h.p. at their maximum speed of 2,300 r.p.m. The old reliability still remained, for the three cars which started all finished the race, but this year the Hispanos had found more speed and Zucarelli came home the winner of the race, beating the Peugeot with the 80 x 280 mm. 2-cylinder engine, and his teammates, Jean Chassagne and Pilliverde were third and sixth, the winner averaging 55.6 m.p.h. for 280 miles.
One is tempted at this point to describe the HispanoSuiza cars built for the 1911 Voiturette Race, which were not ready in time, but which were perhaps the first racers employing forced induction contrived by mechanical means. These cars, however, are quite irrelevant to our narrative which should now pass on to the appearance in 1912 of the famous sports model officially known as 15T. This car was a direct development of Zucarelli’s successful racer of 1910, and as a result of the favour which it found with the King of Spain, it became famous as the Hispano-Suiza, model Alfonso XIII.
It was a car of this type that I recently came across, and after a few contretemps had intervened to prevent earlier success we finally set out one Spring evening to go and see it. The car was at Brooklands, and the owner kindly offered to motor me down there from London. We chafed for what seemed hours in a quite inexplicable block at Putney Bridge, but at last we had skirted Weybridge and swung in at the gates of the deserted Track. A few minutes later we had descended, and were surveying with unmixed joy the beauties of a specimen of the genus Alfonso. The engine is a 4-cylinder unit with the cylinders cast en bloc. The dimensions have been materially modified from the somewhat exaggerated relation of Zu.carelli’s racer caused by the limited bore regulations, but the stroke, although reduced to 180 mm. still seems enormous nowadays when compared to the bore, in spite of the increase of the latter to 80 mm. which gives a capacity of 3,614 c.c. Otherwise the design of the engine follows closely that of the 1910 racer. The valves are very large and their size is rendered possible by their position one at each side of the cylinder, operation being by two camshafts in the crankcase driven by timing
wheels at the front of the engine. These half-speed wheels in turn each drive another pinion, which operate on the near side of the engine the water pump and on the off side a Bosch ZU4 magneto, that joy of all discerning motorists. The latter supplies current to four plugs which are mounted in the centre of the cylinder head, exactly, that is to say, where they should be. The carburettor is on the off side of the engine and in Zucarelli’s car and originally on the Alfonso model was of HispanoSuiza construction. On my own car before mentioned, however, it was replaced by a Zenith and on the car immediately in question by an S.U.
The lubrication system for the engine is interesting as showing the care with which the detail work on the car was worked out. A fair-sized tank is slung on the chassis on the near side, and into this one normally pours the oil. From the tank the oil runs down a pipe, which can be closed by means of a tap, to a float chamber fixed to the side of the sump, in which it keeps the oil always at the correct level. In the crankcase a pump delivers oil under pressure to the troughs whence it is splashed onto the cylinder walls and to the little ends of the connecting rods. The only objection to this system is that oil being a somewhat viscous fluid, the needle valve in the float-chamber sometimes finds it rather hard work to seat properly, and as a result if the car is left standing for any length of time without turning off the tap on the tank, oil is inclined to seep past the needle valve, and one is greeted with clouds of blue smoke when one next starts up the engine. Notwithstanding this fact, however, some owner of the car at present under consideration had apparently come to the conclusion that the oil did not get a chance to get through to the sump quick enough, and in consequence he had connected up the disused hand-pump of the old pressure system to the oil-tank in order that the lubricant might be speeded on its way.
The Autocar “of 1909 describing the freakish nature of the cars which ran in the voiturette race, remarks of the Hispano-Suizas, “even they were not, properly speaking, standard models, for we presume that the Hispano-Suiza concern have no intention of selling cars with engines running at 2,000 r.p.m.” Yet a year or two later the firm were actually selling cars with engines running at this formidable speed. While with regard to the engine, the specification of my own Alfonso Hispano, which was built early in 1913; and that of the one I am now describing, which dates from 1914, do not vary materially, there are important differences in the rest of the chassis. In the 1914 car, power is transmitted from the engine through a leather cone clutch, whereas in my 1913 model the latter was a very small multiple plate affair with between forty and fifty plates kept in engagement by a fork and external coil spring. My car also had a 3-speed gear-box built up in unit with the engine, but the 1914 car although still having only two selectors has a 4-speed box, the lever having to pass through the first speed position to engage reverse. The propeller shaft is open with two universal joints and the back axle, bevel driven. The 1914 car also has felliptic springs at the rear while my car had felliptics and those extraordinary back dumb
irons of pre-War days with curly ends, which rude people call pieces of bent wire. The foot brake operates in a drum on the propeller shaft and the hand brake in drums on the back wheels, which are Rudge-Whitworth.
This 1914 Hispano has a most attractive body which would disgrace no modern sports car, and which is tastefully painted black and white. It also has some most modern refinements such as a dynamo which not only supplies current for the lights but also starts the engine (at least sometimes). When, however, we had finished our first admiring inspection of the car we decided that the latter operation had better be done by hand, and quickly set about it.
Climbing into the car we took a short run round to get the engine warmed up a bit, and then the owner decided to go and visit a friend of his at the Flying Club and handed Alfonso over to me. By now the shadows of evening were falling fast, and as I took my place in the driver’s seat, with the car’s engine rumbling pleasantly, I had a most curious feeling of stepping back into the past. “The leather cone clutch takes up the drive much more sweetly than ever the old multi-plate used to,” I thought to myself as we moved off, and then Alfonso gave a few hearty ” plop-plops ” in first, before the lever was pulled back into second. Before top was engaged I was marvelling, as I have often done before, at the extraordinary features of the Hispano gear-box. I wonder why other makers cannot succeed in constructing boxes such as these, in which all changes can be made with consummate ease, either straight through or without using the clutch. There is something almost uncanny in the way one can pull the Hispano lever about just as one wishes with practically no thought or discretion.
Ticking over at 65 m.p.h.
Now Alfonso is in top, there is just a pleasant burble from the engine, and the car is surging along. About 65 m.p.h. or a little more is the maximum, but I know from experience that given a suitable road these cars will cover ten miles in as many minutes, which is far better than an exalted ” spot ” maximum speed. The steering of the car is perhaps a little odd to modern ideas, but that great broad bonnet in front of one, necessitated in sober fact by the T-headed engine, gives one a wonderful feeling of confidence.
The top gear ratio on this 1914 Alfonso is even higher than it was on my old 3-speed model, and third is certainly a delightful gear. I am not quite sure, however, whether the 4-speed box has such enormous advantages over the 3-speed, for with so light a chassis and such a comparatively large engine one can afford to have a very high first, on which however, I have proved that it is very nearly possible to climb Alms Hill under fairly adverse conditions. The joy of Alfonso, however, is not so much when he is barking joyously on the indirect ratios—a thing which many a modern car can do as well—but when that high top gear is engaged, and one sweeps along with the engine just turning over comfortably. And so as darkness was falling we sped back to the flying sheds, the burble of the exhaust just beating reassuringly, music which for nearly twenty years has delighted the heart of
many a true enthusiast. E. K. H. K.