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The hard take-off of the Diesel engine (I): from Rudolf Diesel to Eduardo Barreiros


Rudolf Diesel worked for MAN AG, owned by the Krupp group of companies, which at that time was engaged in the development of high-capacity engines that would improve the timid thermodynamic ratio of the engines used until then. The first prototypes used palm oil as fuel and the fundamental difference compared to the current engines was that the ignition of the fuel was produced autonomously by pressure under certain temperature parameters, which is generated by the combustion of the stoichiometric oil/air mixture introduced into the engine cylinder. This characteristic is due to the fact that Rudolf Diesel was inspired by the operation of steam engines.


As I do not intend to give a chemistry lesson, I will tell you that the thermal contribution to a Diesel cycle engine (without the accent, please) is only necessary at start-up, which is why diesel-powered engines (this does have an accent) are equipped with glow plugs or "glow plugs", because once started, it is the combustion process itself that provides the heat necessary for its operation.

Without wanting to give a physics lesson now, I will tell you that if we were talking about single cylinder blocks it would be necessary to provide external heat until the engine reached operating temperature, but in engines with two or more cylinders the movement is guaranteed from the start by the alternation of the explosion in the various cylinders (in a Diesel cycle engine can not speak of "ignition").

Going back to the history of the Diesel cycle engines, as I have already told you, they were initially powered by palm oil, but this was only the first phase of the project, because what Rudolf Diesel was really developing was the use of peanut oil as fuel, studies that earned him the Order of Merit imposed by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers.Once the studies on the viability of peanut oil as fuel were completed, Rudolf Diesel came to the conclusion that his engine was commercially unprofitable due to the very high cost of production of peanut oil, so in 1897 he decided to start testing using as fuel the light oil used for street lighting, better known as gas-oil or diesel.


The tests were a success in the sense that they were the beginning of what today is a Diesel cycle engine, but it is fair to recognize that the life of Rudolf Diesel was twisted when one of the experimental engines exploded and was about to lose his life. It was from this accident that Rudolf Diesel's life began to fade away little by little until the night of September 29-30, 1913, when the German engineer "disappeared" from the ship that was on its way from Antwerp to England.

It took only two days to find his body and to this day there are still speculations about the reason for his death: an accident on the deck of the ship, suicide due to his delicate economic situation or the involvement of the German secret services who considered that Rudolf Diesel's state of bankruptcy could lead him to sell his discoveries in England. Conjectures...

As an anecdote, and by the application of the customs in force in those years, once all the documentation and personal objects that Rudolf Diesel was carrying when he was found were recovered, his corpse was thrown back into the sea.

The "first" Diesel engine in series

These Diesel engines found their way into heavy-duty vehicles and ships due to the large size of the first blocks produced. Some cars were also manufactured with this type of engine, but always in a very handmade way. It was not until 1936 when a Diesel engine was introduced in the assembly line of a car.

At this point, I imagine that many will be thinking of the Mercedes-Benz 260D of the W138 series and that very few will remember the Hanomag 6/32 PS Typ 15, better known as Hanomag Record.


And why do I say this? Well, if we make an undemanding search on the first passenger car with diesel engine we will find 99% of results that will tell us about the Mercedes-Benz W138 260D presented at the Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung (IAA) held in 1936 in Berlin and of which 170 units were made with body type "Landualet" intended only for use as taxi vehicles. They were known as "Nullserie" and were equipped with a six-cylinder engine of 2,545 cubic centimeters and 45 horsepower at 3,100 revolutions per minute that transmitted its power through a three-speed manual gearbox and overdrive.

But it so happens that at the same event the Hanomag 6/32 PS Typ 15 presented a diesel engine type 1,910 cubic centimeters and 35 horsepower of which 1,074 units were manufactured in just under four years and that were available to the private driver. Mercedes-Benz did not sell its diesel engines to individuals until 1937 with the launch of a second series of its W138 260D made on the frame of the W143 and equipped with a four-speed synchronized gearbox.

That said, it is not very clear which was the first passenger car with a diesel engine to be marketed. What is clear is that the Second World War paralyzed the production of both cars and that once the horrors of war only Mercedes-Benz dared to launch a car with diesel engine type, the W171 170D, with a four-cylinder engine of 1,767 cubic centimeters and 40 horses mounted on an evolution of the frame of the Mercedes-Benz W136 170V of 1935.

I will leave aside this dance of numbers and letters and affirm that these diesel-powered engines mounted on a passenger car were only well received by the public sector, especially by taxi drivers, who were attracted by an approximate 35% reduction in operating costs. Many years would have to pass before the private customer was attracted by diesel-powered vehicles.


Diesel in Spain - Eduardo Barreiros

In the case of our country, due to the import restrictions imposed by Franco's regime, it can be said that diesel engines did not arrive in Spain but were developed directly in our country. However, in this section we must recognize the figure of Eduardo Barreiros as a great promoter of diesel engines in our country, although this does not mean that he was the precursor.

At the beginning of the 1950s, the Catalan companies La Maquinista and Automóviles Elizalde were already developing their own Diesel engines, but the forced nationalisation of Elizalde by the former Instituto Nacional de Industria and its subsequent conversion into the Empresa Nacional de Motores de Aviación, S.A. (today CASA) brought it to a complete halt. (today CASA) brought the project to a complete standstill. This would be taken up again years later by La Maquinista, which presented in 1959 the 10HP Diesel engine developed by Sebastián Nada and commercially exploited through the subsidiary Motores Matacás under the name of 904-B.

These first engines had 2,000 cubic centimeters, offered 51 horsepower and were sold at a price of 45,000 pesetas in the offices of AICSA, the only official distributor of Motores Matacás and that made a great business with the sale of these blocks to taxi drivers who wanted to mount them in the Seat 1400. In spite of the success achieved, the adventure of the Maracás engines ended in 1966 when EASA bought the parent company and cancelled its production.

For its part, the Empresa Nacional de Motores de Aviación had entered into talks with the German company Mercedes-Benz for the manufacture of up to 10,000 diesel engines per year from 1959 for the conversion of Seat 1400 and 1500 taxis and for their installation in DKW vans manufactured by Imosa. This commercial relationship was so successful that once the DKW vans ceased to be manufactured in 1963, Imosa began to manufacture the Mercedes-Benz N1300 vans, being the best-selling vehicle in its category in our country for several years.

At this point, many of you will have noticed that it seems that the sale of vehicles with diesel engines was almost reserved for professionals, but that's how it was. It had to be Eduardo Barreiros who brought diesel to the private customer.

Eduardo Barreiros was born in Orense in 1919 and throughout his life he was a businessman, transporter, builder... but above all he was a great businessman with international recognition who became the most important motor businessman in Spain, in spite of the constant obstacles that Franco's regime put in his way through the National Institute of Industry. Eduardo Barreiros' activity was frenetic in many business fields, but in order not to extend myself too much, I will focus on his relationship with the automotive industry and the Diesel engine.

What is important in order to understand Eduardo Barreiros' activity in the automotive field and the obstacles of the current government, it is important to clarify that once Franco's autarkic regime was over, it was the Spanish government itself that had entered into "conversations" with the United States for the Spanish industrial reconversion, which also included being able to benefit from the advanced American technology applied to the automobile, which was light years away from the Spanish one.

I want to clarify that I put "talks" in quotation marks because this process of European industrial renewal was part of the Marshall Plan and it is still unclear today whether this Americanization of European industry was a European intention or an American imposition.

Returning to the life of Eduardo Barreiros, it is important to say that his passion for the world of transport was actively participated in by his father, first a manufacturer of sieves and later the manager of a bus line. In fact, the first automotive activity that Eduardo Barreiros carried out was the restoration of motorcycles with parts obtained from scrapyards, an activity that he carried out together with his cousin Celso when they were both still teenagers.

It was not until 1949 when Eduardo Barreiros investigated how to modify gasoline engines into Diesel engines. He started with aviation engines bought in the auctions of the Air Force and later the engines of the Russian trucks ZIS-5, known as the "three communist brothers" by their initials in Cyrillic language. In 1954 he founded in Madrid the company Barreiros Diésel, S.A. for the manufacture of two-cylinder diesel engines for industrial use, mainly tractors, but he quickly began to investigate with engines of the English firm Perkins and, evolving on these, he launched his EB-6 engine for trucks of up to 6 tons.

That same year Franco's regime gave him a strong blow when the company bought a plot of 20,000 square meters in Villaverde (Madrid) and was subsequently denied a manufacturing license. This setback did not stop the intentions of Eduardo Barreiros, who solved the issue of the licence in a way that is still very common today: he included relatives of the head of state, such as Francisco Franco Salgado-Araujo or Constantino Lobo Montero, on the board of directors of Barreiros Diésel, S.A.

With these political aids he created in 1956 the company Compañía Anónima de Bombas Sociedad Anónima -CABSA- for the manufacture of pumps, injection equipment and the first Diesel type engine for tourism, the EB-4. In 1957 with the economic support of the Barco de Vizcaya he founded the company Motor Naciona, S.A. -MOSA- for the commercialisation of Barreiros products and for the manufacture of cylinder heads and blocks specially adapted to the Diesel cycle, as its level of experience in this type of engines and commercial knowledge allowed it to obtain more profits by manufacturing new engines than by modifying the existing ones.

Even with the express prohibition to manufacture trucks, Barreiros decided to become a truck assembler of the Polish Star. It acquired the bodies and already in Spain it assembled the EB-6 engine. In this business there was no monetary transaction, since the "payment" to the Polish Star was not made with money but with Diesel engines. He was clever, wasn't he?

In the following years, Eduardo Barreiros' activity was centred on agreements with several European companies to assemble his products in Spain, always of an industrial nature. In 1958 he began to manufacture the Puma TA-261 lorry in collaboration with Carrocerías Costa, in 1959 the Hanomag-Barreiros tractors in collaboration with the German company Hanomag, in 1961 the Tempo van in collaboration with the also German company Vidal & Son Tempo-Werk GmbH and in 1962 buses and dumpers in collaboration with the British company AEC Ltd...

In short, a frenetic activity that earned him the Grand Cross of Civil Merit in 1961.

To be continued...

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