It is, in many ways, not a surprise when breakthroughs are achieved by engineers working on passenger vehicles at the luxury end of the market.
Due to their wealth, typical customers can, and do, demand the best and are prepared to pay handsomely for the privilege – even if occasionally their tastes are out of step with the price paid.
Consequently, luxury vehicle projects are afforded far larger budgets than mass-market ones.
This was certainly true for the Hispano-Suiza vehicles which, in the first few decades of the 20th century, were considered the height of luxury.
The manufacturer’s name translated as ‘Spanish-Swiss’. This signified both the production heritage of the vehicles in Spain and the Swiss birthplace of the firm’s hugely influential and prolific engineer, Marc Birkigt.
Birkigt had been persuaded to join the company at the turn of the century and, initially, made a name for himself as a designer of V8 aluminium engines for First World War aeroplanes, with more than 50,000 Allied aircraft powered by the units.
Fresh from his contribution to the war effort, Birkigt returned to passenger vehicles. He is largely credited with developing the Hispano-Suiza H6, which was launched at the 1919 Paris Motor Show and was heralded as the most advanced vehicle design in the world.
The car featured a six-cylinder, 6.5-litre version of his V8 engine, with seven main bearings, full pressure lubrication, an overhead camshaft and a 12V electrical system. But it was his work on the braking system that was truly revolutionary.
Four-wheel brakes had already been developed and integrated into several models but Birkigt’s system was the first to benefit from a pedal-only design and to be power-assisted.