No. 5: Hispano-Suiza K6 (1934)
Hispano – Suiza had an exciting history. It started off as a Spanish/Swiss car manufacturer, but by 1911 it became obvious that their best market for their more costly cars was France. An assembly line was created near Paris, and business at first boomed. Then came the First World War.
The market for high-quality motorcars dried up overnight but there was a new demand – for aero engines. The company threw itself wholeheartedly into aircraft engine design, which was a completely new market altogether - the Wright brothers had after all only just flown the first powered aircraft just over a decade earlier. Their engineers created revolutionary designs including aluminium cast blocks and a hollow propeller shaft which allowed guns to be fired without shredding the propeller, and by the end of the war they or their licensees provided the most commonly used engines in British and French fighter aircraft.
After the end of the war they restarted car production, incorporating many of the design features that they had invented for aircraft engines, and they develop them even further. Even Rolls-Royce licenced several of their technologies from them.
Their founder, Marc Birkigt, was passionate about developing the luxury end of the car market. He realised that, whilst we all appreciate power, many wealthy people are more concerned about comfort. The K6 was designed with this in mind.
Having been at the forefront of overhead camshaft designs he still decided to revert to the less efficient, but quieter, pushrod system for the five litre straight six engine that they designed. The result was not only adequate power to push the car up to around 90 mph, but at least at the lower revolutions this was in virtual silence. They mounted this on a rolling chassis of their own design; this meant that their well-heeled clients could choose whatever bodywork they wanted to fit.
French coachbuilders were more than happy to cooperate with Hispano-Suiza because they knew that the company's high-quality products would enhance their own; and the clients were able to choose whatever sumptuous interior and exterior design they wished. Everyone won out.
The end came, not because of any problems with the car or the company, but World War II. The Spanish Civil War had caused massive problems at the company's factories in Spain, and a huge demand suddenly built up for aero engines, so the French side of the company had to stop car production completely and concentrate on building engines for French military aircraft.
After the war ended there was little demand for luxury cars and the French government virtually outlawed the manufacturer of them, so in 1946 the car manufacturing arm was sold to a truck manufacturer whilst the French arm continued making aerospace products. The K6 had come to the end of it's time.