Welcome to Past Marques, where we look back over the decades at manufacturers whose names have long since disappeared into the exhaust plumes of history…
Benjamin Berkley Hotchkiss was an American arms manufacturer who moved to France and set up business near Paris in 1867. Hotchkiss died in 1885 just prior to the company producing quality car parts for early manufacturers. It finally entered vehicle production itself in 1904. The badge the marque chose featured two crossed cannons in recognition of its heritage.
The Hotchkiss brand rivalled the finest in period and its first car offered mechanical inlet valves, a honeycomb radiator and a sturdy steel frame; much borrowed from Mercedes designs of the time. Entered in the 1905 Gordon Bennett trails, the Hotchkiss enjoyed 18.9 litres and shaft-drive and continuing up until the First World War the smallest capacity engine the company sold was of 2.2 litres. After the War it continued building vehicles of the highest quality and refinement, from saloons to touring models.
In 1928 its engine design AM80 featured a balanced seven-bearing crank in a six-cylinder engine. This three-litre unit powered Hotchkiss to Monte Carlo Rally wins on four occasions and although modified over the years was still installed in the marque’s models up until its demise, 27 years later. The factory was taken over when the Germans invaded in 1940 and post-war Hotchkiss struggled to regain its market share, with just 100 cars built during 1946 and 1947.
The milestone six-cylinder engine was up rated to 3485cc and installed in the model 20CV, which won the Monte Carlo Rally again in 1949 and 1950. Production slowed dramatically with no new designs for the ‘Fifties, except for the over-priced Gregoire front-wheel drive model that failed. While its military vehicles, consisting of Willys Jeeps built under licence, continued until the ‘Seventies, production of its superb cars had ceased totally by 1955.
Above picture: The luxury pre-war French Hotchkiss 20CV of 1936, powered by the AM80 engine that served the marque so well.