Originality is a priceless commodity in an early automobile, for it is the reference point against which authenticity can be measured. However, unmolested original cars are extraordinarily rare, which is why this 1912 Alfonso XIII Torpedo Sport – just one of only seven known long chassis variants of this iconic model – is such an automotive treasure.
Its paint is the same paint that was applied at the Levallois-Perret (Paris) branch factory of Hispano-Suiza, where Alfonso production had been based since 1911. The painted radiator underlines the fact that not all cars of this period had polished brass coolers; a painted radiator indicated that the car was a quality product, not prone to overheating.
Small details reveal the niceties of contemporary practice: the Stauffeur greasers, bonnet catches, windscreen supports and other items usually seen in natural brass finish on restored cars have also been painted, evidence that time was not expected to be spent in unnecessary polishing of purely functional components.
Other details reveal modifications made to update the car in the 1920s: the installation of a CAV dynamo lighting set saw the addition of a wooden dashboard to house the switch panel, volt meter and ammeter, plus other instruments previously fitted on the wooden firewall; empty mounting holes in the firewall bear witness to the relocation of the fuel and air pressure gauges.
Unlike many cars of the period, Alfonso Hispanos were not abandoned as they grew older, for their sporting credentials meant that these cars were treasured by their successive owners: in 1933 the Dutch owner of a 1912 Alfonso that he had just bought for the equivalent of $40 remarked that his old car could hold its own with anything he met on the road!
If this car’s state of preservation is remarkable, equally so is the fact that, preserved for over 80 years by the same family, this car has survived intact through a turbulent period in Spanish history, for the country was engulfed in a bloody civil war from 1936-39 and many vehicles were commandeered by the forces on both sides. This miraculously original Alfonso is, quite simply, a unique historical record.
Photos – Peter Harholdt
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