Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Grand Years Of Mallorcan Motoring

October 1900 is a month that has significance in the history of transport in Spain. It was in that month that the first motor car was registered: a three-wheel Clement. José Sureda y Fuentes, a retired naval officer, was its owner, The vehicle was a hundred kilos in weight and it boasted two and a half horsepower. It was given the registration PM-1. Yes, the first motor vehicle to be registered in Spain was registered right here in Mallorca.

There is an old photo from the collection "Fotos Antiguas de Mallorca" which shows a car of rather greater sophistication on the mountain road from Lluc to Inca. The year that the photo was taken was 1923. One of the curiosities of this photo is that the car is being driven on the left. Cars in Spain have always been driven on the right, haven't they?

Well actually, they haven't. In Madrid, they were driving on the left until a change was made to the right in 1924, a move which brought the city into line with Barcelona. But elsewhere, the rule was not well observed either way. It wasn't until the 1930s that a formal national rule was introduced, and right it was.

The early years of motoring in Spain, those of the first quarter of the last century, were marked by haphazard rule-making, some rather grand motor manufacturing and some shortlived attempts at cracking the market. Driving on both the left and the right was indicative of the anarchy that prevailed on the roads. A reluctance to actually register cars - PM-1 was comparatively unusual in this regard - reflected an owner desire not to pay tax. A month before PM-1 was registered, the "Regulation for the service of cars on roads" had been published. It was widely ignored for several years.

But what were those early drivers actually driving? The rudimentary Clement was soon joined on Mallorca's roads by a more advanced vehicle. It had four wheels for  a start. It was manufactured in Barcelona and it was the Hispano-Suiza 10CV. It appeared on the roads for the first time in 1904 and by 1908 the company was so successful that it had to find proper and large premises.

The car in the photo on the Lluc-Inca road may be a later Hispano-Suiza. It is possible to detect on its bonnet what may be the distinctive stork that became its symbol. It was a car manufacturer of some distinction, and not just because of the stork. Among its clients was King Alfonso XIII, but his patronage was to prove to be a mixed blessing. He ceased to be a client when he went into exile in 1931, and the company was looked upon disapprovingly during the Second Republic because it was associated with the aristocracy. It made a comeback, and the official vehicle that took Franco on his celebratory parade in Madrid in 1939 was an Hispano-Suiza, but in 1946 it became part of the nationalised ENASA.

But while Hispano-Suiza represented the years of grand motor manufacturing, there was a motor company whose short life exemplified enthusiasm for the still new industry and the uncertainties that came with it. A technician from Renault turned up in Mallorca. His name was Albert Ouvrard. He made contact with two businessmen - Antonio Ribas, whose interests were mainly in shipping, and Rafael de Lacy, who represented the Belgian Minerva car brand on the island. In 1920 they formed a company, the name of which combined the first letters of their surnames - Lacy, Ouvrard, Ribas y compañia. The company was Loryc, Mallorca's first motor manufacturer. In November of the following year, a car with the registration PM-507 took to the roads. It was the first Loryc model to be registered and it was not unlike an Hispano-Suiza. Then came a sports model that was nicknamed the sardine. It was powerful, it took part in races and it pushed Loryc into the top five by sales of brands in Spain.

But no sooner had success been gained than it was snatched away. The elimination of tariffs on finished cars and a quadrupling of them for components caused the company's demise. It had been going for only three years when the factory doors were closed in 1923.

All this was a long time ago. Now, the Loryc is returning. "We are back" says the legend on a restored Loryc. A German enthusiast and businessman, Charly Bosch, has revived the brand and given it an electric motor. It will appear in Mallorca next spring. Its price, 45,000 euros. When the Loryc factory closed in 1923, its vehicles were being sold for as little as 5,000 pesetas; the cost of its Citroën engine alone had risen to 4,500 pesetas. It's no wonder that the old Loryc didn't survive.   

* Photo: Find Fotos Antiguas de Mallorca on Facebook.

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