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Hispano-Helvetica Automobile Enterprise (Aragonese: Interpresa Automobil Hispano-Helvetica, Catalan: Empresa Automòbil Hispano-Helvetica) was founded by an Aragonese industrialist from Barcelona and Helvetian investors in 1904, hence the company’s name.
Aragon wasn’t a large market for luxury cars by then and countries like France, the Holy Roman Empire, northern Italian states and Austro-Dalmatia proved soon to be much larger market for Hispano-Helvetica’s cars. In 1911 Hispano-Helvetica entered in history by becoming the first automotive multinational company after building a factory in Zürich, Helvetia, under its subsidiary Hispano-Helvetica of Helvetia (Helvetian: Hispano-Helvetica da Jelbatz) aiming to build cars closer to company’s largest markets. Initially Helvetian made cars were the same models as in Barcelona factory and progressively gaigned more independence producing locally concepted models, larger and most costly differenced from Aragonese models by J (for Jelbatz, Helvetia in Helvetian) nameplates. Aragonese nameplates started by H (for Hispano) followed by the number of cylinders.
Since its beginning it manufactured solidy built luxury cars, gaigning notoriety when King Carles V of Aragon adopted a Hispano-Helvetica as the official state car, in 1912, replacing the horse pulled carriages. He was soon followed by the king of Helvatia and Pope Pius X. The brand started to gain the reputation to produce cars for the high society competing against Rolls-Royce among others.
Another subsidiary, Hispano-Helvetica de Riu de L’Argent, was established in Bons Aires, Riu de L'Argent (1925). At first it imported cars from Europe but later also produced its own models and motors. But competition from imported North American luxury cars was harsh and by mid-1930’s local car production ended being totally replaced for the production of parts for other car and trucks manufacturers. The subsidiary itself was shut down in 1953.
During the 1920’s Hispano-Helvetica grew becoming one of the top luxury car manufacturers in Europe, becoming even the second largest during early 1930’s (in terms of sales figures) after Mercedes-Benz. It was not only one of the favourite brands of the European elites but also one of the most apreciated among Indian rulers either who acquired many one-off cars. Beside complete cars Hispano-Helvetica also sold chassies which were bodied by some of the most prominent coachbuilders of Europe. It was the golden age of the brand.
Hispano-Helvetica participated in car racing 1910 onwards. Its cars had much success in endurance races like the Targa Florio (in the Two Sicilies), wining in 1923, 1926, 1927 and 1933, and in the Mille Miglia, wining in 1931, 1933 and 1936. Only ALFA Lorena was more successful in racing during this period.
Late 1930’s wars and the Second Great War
Aragon took advantage of its neutrality in the Spanish Civil War (1935 to 1939) by selling weapons to both sides in conflict. Hispano-Helvetica diversified its markets by producing armoured vehicles and cannons making the company even richer. Soon military industries proved to be much more profitable than luxury cars.
In 1934 the Holy Roman Empire invaded Helvetia in the so-called Helvetian Takeover. Hispano-Helvetia da Jelbatz was then taken by the Helvetian government (in 1935) and forced to manufacture weaponry and military vehicles abandoning civilian cars industry. Factory in Zürich was heavily bombed by German forces and the company bacame defunct in 1938. It is now considered Hispano-Helvetica da Jelbatz as the predecessor of the upcoming First Carquake.
From 1939 onwards much of Europe was submerged in the Second Great War. In most of the countries civilian car makers were converted to military industries. Aragon and the Scandinavian Realm remained the only major car making countries in Europe for few more years. Hispano-Helvetica briefly became the largest European civilian car manufacturer in 1941 and 1942, but car production was halted in 1944 being completely replaced by military manufacturing sold mainly to France. Volvo then took the number one position but eventually also ended car production after the Scandinavian Realm joined the war in 1945.
Unlike most of the surviving car makers Hispano-Helvetica never moved down market so as didn’t re-introduce pre-war models when hostilities ended in 1949. A new model was presented in Paris in 1950, luxurious as in pre-war days but also with a dated design. It was hardly what Europe needed in post-war years in terms of transportation of people. While makers like Ti Frojta Motorverki or Volkswagen made then fortunes by selling to the masses cheap and simple cars Hispano-Helvetica saw its profits diminishing every year. Even the rajahs, involved in the War of the Rajahs, stopped buying cars. As economy improved in Europe by late 1950’s Hispano-Helvetica was no match against luxury car makers like Mercedes-Benz or Rolls-Royce. Only in the NAL there was some hope, among the rich and powerful. But even here local luxury brands didn’t left much market share to Hispano-Helvetica.
Hispano-Helvetica returned to races in 1951 but was unable to get new victories. Competition against ALFA Lorena, Mercedes-Benz, SS and, now, newcoming Porsche was too harsh. Until 1957, the year the Aragonese team left racing, the best position it got was a humble seventh place at 1955 Targa Florio. Days of glory were over. The brand started to suffer from neglect from its parent, increasingly interested in military industries.
Final blow happened in 1958 with the start of the Second Carquake when right hand traffic vehicles were forbiden to be sold in left hand traffic countries. Hispano-Helvetica, made in a right hand traffic country, lost then its last important export market. In 1962 last Hispano-Helvetica rolled off the production line in Barcelona and the brand became dormant since then, expecting for better days. The parent company remained a weaponry maker until nowadays making fortunes.
Rebirth and death
In 1988 Toyota bought the rights of the automotive brand Hispano-Helvetica. Both car enthusiasts and automotive press were sceptical to next developments. Toyota built a car factory near Barcelona with the purpose of the rebirth of the legendary car brand. When first new Hispano-Helvetica cars were presented, in 1991, the public was shocked. These new models were far far away from the ones which built the brand’s reputation in the past.
After five years trying to convince European car market Toyota’s operation ended as a major flop. No one cried for the end of Hispano-Helvetica, and the marque died, some would say for the best, in 1996.
ALFA Lorena and Hispano-Helvetica enjoyed a rather amical rivalry. It all started in the second edition of the Mille Miglia (1931) when Lorena Mazzotti, only daughter of ALFA’s founder, had a fatal crash close to Brescia at the near end of the race while she was in first position. A Hispano-Helvetiva won the race but the pilot offered the cup to Lorena’s father, Lodovico Mazzotti. Such was never forgot by ALFA’s tifosi. In the 1933 Targa Florio race the Hispano-Helvetica car came out of fuel close to the end of the race. In second place was an ALFA Lorena pilot who gave his fuel to his rival permiting him to end the race and to win. The winner came back and helped his rival to pull the ALFA to the finish line.
Built in 1931 for Meher Quder Shah the so-called Hispano-Helvetica J8 Rajah of Awadh is believed to be the most expensive car ever made. Instead of chrome it shined in thick gold. During the summer monsoon of 1932 Meher Quder Shah had an accident and the car ended inside the Ganges. He survived (remaining ruler of Awadh until 1961) but the car was lost triggering a massive unsuccessful treasure hunt. The nickname of the car was erroneous, Awadh has a nawab as a ruler and not a rajah.