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Alfonso XIII Roadster
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  Hispano Suiza Alfonso XIII Roadster
 

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Country of origin:Spain
Produced from:1911 - 1912
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:April 04, 2005
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Click here to download printer friendly versionUnder 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 cars.

Instead of turning one of the existing models into a competition car, Birkigt opted to start from scratch. Particularly 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 1.8 litre, the straight four featured a 'T-head' with twin lateral camshafts actuating the side valves through push-rods. The engine was mounted relatively far back in the chassis for a better weight balance.

Despite having relatively little 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 15/45hp 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. While keeping the ties with the royal family warm, Hispano Suiza also opened a factory in Paris, France.

Mechanically the Alfonso XIII shared its basic design with the successful racing car. The biggest change was a further increase of the 'four's' displacement to 3.6 litre. The engine, in unit with the three-speed gearbox, was mounted virtually in the middle of the chassis, and added rigidity to the 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.

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. A vast majority of these had actually been built in the Paris subsidiary. In addition to being a sales success, the Alfonso XIII also established Hispano Suiza as a manufacturer of note. 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.

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  Article Image gallery (8) 1801 Specifications User Comments (1)