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


After failed conversations with Jaguar or Mercedes-Benz, among others, the final agreement came from the hands of the American Chrysler that acquired in 1964 35% of Barreiros Diésel, S.A. in exchange for manufacturing in Spain vehicles already clearly discontinued in the American market: the Dodge Dart. In comparison with the small passenger cars of national production, the Dart was immense.

This vehicle of almost five meters long was an "improved" version of the third generation of the American Dodge Dart (1963-1966). When it was launched in Spain it offered an in-line six-cylinder engine, 3,687 cubic centimeters, 150 horsepower and a price that made it inaccessible to the average Spaniard. Curiously it was launched a few months later cheaper, the Dodge Dart Standard, but without any kind of diffusion.


In 1966 also began to manufacture the Simca 1000 and the few profits it obtained were invested in the development of the EB-55 engine with 55 horsepower in its naturally aspirated version or 73 horsepower in the turbocharged version. This engine would be the one that would be mounted in many Seat 1400 and 1500, but in its naturally aspirated version, because the supercharged version would never see the street. A pity.

At this time Eduardo Barreiros reached his maximum international recognition: he was awarded the Gold Medal for Merit in Work, the New York Times stated that he was one of the six most influential non-American businessmen in the world and Business Week called him the Spanish King Midas... but the money was not coming in because the sales of the Simca 1000 did not cover the losses generated by the scarce diffusion of the Dodge Dart (about 10,000 units between 1965 and 1968). The reason is to be found in its price: more than 250,000 pesetas of the time. The car was accepted by the public administrations and by an opulent public that used to have a chauffeur, who was the one who had to deal with a power steering that forced to turn the steering wheel five times to turn the steering wheel from top to bottom.


The economic situation of Barreiros Diésel, S.A. was made a little tougher by the investment made to launch the Saeta truck and by the repeated refusal of INI to offer it the licence to manufacture vehicles in Spain, which forced Eduardo Barreiros to continue to depend on the suffocating contract with Chrysler, which became a majority shareholder in the Spanish company but in exchange for the refloating of sales. As there was no money to launch a totally new model, the Dodge Dart was modified with a new front end and the launch of two new versions: the Dodge Dart GT with 165 horsepower and the Dodge Dart Diesel or Dodge Diesel a secas.

The Dodge Diesel became the first vehicle with diesel engine assembled entirely in our country because until then there was talk of transformations. It equipped an engine designed and manufactured by Barreiros Diesel of 2.007 cubic centimeters and 60 horses that had a consumption in highway of six liters each 100 kilometers, which meant the half that the model of gasoline. It reached 125 kilometres per hour but its great weight worked against it and it was a car with very slow reactions, especially as soon as the first ramps arrived.

The models with a diesel engine had a very striking and witty aesthetic characteristic. The fact is that the relative success of the modifications made to the Dodge Dart in 1968 allowed to increase the sales of this great luxury car and served the manufacturer to empty the warehouses of parts that had been imported between 1965 and 1968, to the point of running out of some of them, as happened with the rear lights. In these circumstances, Eduardo Barreiros decided that the Dodge Diesels should carry the rear lights left over from the first generation Simca 1000, which had been recently remodelled and had surplus parts.


It is not that the Dodge Diesel died of success, and although there are biographies that speak of a good "reception" by the taxi sector, it is fair to recognize that only 1,381 units were manufactured until 1971 when the production of this model ceased. Of course, Eduardo Barreiros could not enjoy this success because he had been expelled from Barreiros two years earlier when Chrysler took over the whole company and forced him not to work in anything related to the automotive industry for at least 10 years. Curiously, at the same time that he was rejected by Chrysler, he was awarded the prestigious Dad Hammarskjöld prize for industrial merit.

Although each one can make the reading that he thinks convenient, there are many voices that affirm that the confrontation between the companies of Eduardo Barreiros with the State was accentuated as the success of his products was increasing and the number of units of industrial vehicles manufactured was approaching those of his state competitor Enasa.

Acceptance -but not diffusion- of the Diesel engine in Spain

After the acquisition of Barreiros Diésel by Chrysler, the manufacture of diesel-powered vehicles in our country was completely cancelled, but not their adaptation. It was not until 1973 when SEAT began to manufacture the 132 with a Mercedes-Benz diesel engine with 1,988 cubic centimetres, 55 horsepower and a five-speed manual gearbox, manufactured under licence by Mevosa. Its Italian counterpart, the Fiat 132, was not fitted with a diesel engine until 1978, when it introduced the Sofim engine. There is a detail of the SEAT 132 2000D that differentiates it from its petrol siblings and that is that the fuel tank was 60 litres, five litres more than that of the petrol.


In 1977 the SEAT 132 retires its old Diesel engine in favour of another one also of Merceces-Benz origin with 2,197 cubic centimetres and 65 horsepower which is sold under the name 2200 Diesel and which has a limited diffusion because its sale is eclipsed by what may be the first car that popularized diesel mechanics in our country, which was also of Spanish manufacture: the SEAT 131.

Much cheaper than the SEAT 132, the SEAT 131 included diesel engines in its offer when it was first updated in 1978. It was the Perkins engine with 1,760 cubic centimetres and 49 horsepower that barely allowed the car to reach 120 km/h. Its Italian counterpart, however, was powered by the 1,995 and 2,445 cubic centimetre Sofim diesel engines with 60 and 72 horsepower respectively.

Curiously, in the same year 1978, the Spanish company launched its Ritmo model on the market also with Diesel mechanics, although equipped with a 1,714 cubic centimetre engine and 55 horsepower, which made it much more agile than the SEAT 131 Diesel. This is because the SEAT Ritmo was fitted with the same block as its Italian counterpart, the Fiat Ritmo; an engine derived from the one fitted in the Fiat 132.

The Sofim engine would arrive in the SEAT 131 in the third update of the model in 1982. It was only the most powerful block and once again with a differentiating detail with respect to the Italian model: while the Fiat was equipped with a specific ZF manual gearbox, the Spanish model was equipped with the same gearbox as the petrol SEAT 132.

It is clear that it was both the SEAT Ritmo and the third generation SEAT 131 that finally put an end to the Spanish public's reluctance towards diesel engines. Logically, all the brands wanted to take advantage of the commercial pull of diesel-powered engines and from that time onwards the Talbot Horizon, the Renault, the Peugeot... but none of them had the importance of the two SEAT models in terms of the success of diesel engines in our country.

The diesel engine in Europe

In the rest of Europe, both the acceptance and the diffusion of diesel engines was a few years ahead of Spain, although it is also true that the first diesel engines were mainly used in large sedans that were usually within the reach of few pockets. Throughout the seventies, all manufacturers made an effort to develop this type of engine to equip as many vehicles as possible, always starting with the largest vehicles and then adapting these engines to lower segments.

I am not going to explain the evolution of diesel engines in Europe because each country experienced it in a different way, but I am going to name two cars that, more than popularizing, helped Europeans to accept the incorporation of diesel engines in cars thanks in part to its still today recognized robustness and reliability: the Peugeot 504 and the Mercedes W123.

The first of these, the Peugeot 504, was launched in 1968 as the top-of-the-range vehicle that was to replace both the Peugeot 403 and the 404, although the commercial acceptance of the latter meant that it coexisted with the Peugeot 504 until 1978. Although both the Peugeot 403 and the 404 already offered a diesel engine of 1.816 cubic centimeters and up to 55 horsepower, it was the Peugeot 504 that really made the sales of diesel type mechanics take off within the brand, especially in the French market, when in 1970 began to mount the four-cylinder block of 2,112 cubic centimeters and 65 horsepower.

This block offered only 126 Nm of torque at a speed of 2,000 RPM, so it was a very nice car to drive and very economical compared to its gasoline brothers, but very slow: it needed more than 20 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 100 km / h.

In addition, other features of the Peugeot 504 that helped the spread of diesel engines in Europe was the adaptation of its mechanics to the different markets or, rather, to the different fiscal particularities. Thus, for example, in 1974 was launched an engine with less than two liters of displacement especially aimed at Mediterranean Europe. It had 1,948 cubic centimetres and offered 50 or 56 horsepower depending on the target market. I can tell you that the less powerful engine needed 34 seconds to reach 100 km/h.

I don't know what was the secret of the robustness and reliability of these Peugeot Diesel engines. What I can tell you is that during the 80s and 90s of the last century, there was a proliferation of gangs in Europe that stole these cars to be sold in North and Central Africa.

The second European vehicle that collaborated with the acceptance of Diesel type mechanics is also the car that to this day is still a little more than indestructible: the Mercedes-Benz W123. This vehicle arrived on the European market in 1976 to replace the old W114/115, which also had diesel engines, but with a lesser diffusion.

It is fair to recognize that the diffusion of Mercedes-Benz vehicles in Europe is greater than that of any other brand and it is also a manufacturer that even today strives to offer the full range of models manufactured in the largest possible number of markets, unlike other brands that discriminate certain versions according to countries and markets, but it is also fair to recognize that when the Mercedes-Benz W123 began its commercial career did so with a full range of diesel-powered mechanical.

This Mercedes offered the same four and five-cylinder diesel blocks with single-shaft distribution that already offered its predecessor, but suitably evolved. With four cylinders offered a staggered 1,988, 2,197 and 2,404 cubic centimeters with 55, 60 and 65 horsepower respectively. The top of the range was the 300D with a block of cylinders, 3,005 cubic centimeters and 80 horses.

However, to be clear, the least powerful model, the 55 hp 200D, needed 31 seconds to reach 100 km/h.

I do not know the particular characteristic that gave these models the gift of immortality, but even forty years later it is relatively easy to find one of these cars on the street in an acceptable state of preservation.

This Mercedes-Benz W123 was produced until 1985 with saloon, estate, coupe and limousine bodywork with six or seven seats spread over three rows of seats. A total of 2,699,425 units were manufactured, 52.5% of which were equipped with diesel type mechanics, being the first passenger car in the world that, offering both gasoline and diesel powered mechanics, manufactured more units of the latter. In fact, of all its body styles, more models were produced with diesel engines than with petrol engines, with the exception of the coupé body, because it only offered diesel-powered engines in the United States of America.

The awakening of new technologies

Nowadays, diesel engines are equipped with turbo and direct injection, but they were not developed simultaneously, so to finish this article I will remind you of the launch of both technologies.

The "turbo" as a supercharging element is an American invention patented in 1936 by The Garrett Corporation although its application to the automobile was not until 1962 when Oldsmobile launched the Jetfire Turbo Rocket with a huge block of gasoline with eight cylinders in "V". However, and in spite of what I already mentioned about Eduardo Barreiros, its commercial application to the automobile was not until 1978.

If we search again in search engines about this event we will find a lot of information that assures that the first vehicle with a supercharged Diesel engine was the Mercedes-Benz W116 300SD equipped with a 2.998 cubic centimeters and 115 horsepower according to European measurements and 110 according to American measurements. It was offered only with automatic transmission. This vehicle reached 165 km/h, reached 100 km/h from a standstill in 17 seconds and had a homologated fuel consumption of just under 11 litres per 100 kilometres, but it had a problem: it was only marketed in the United States of America.

If we go back across the pond to stay on European soil we can not forget the Peugeot 604 D Turbo, also presented in 1977 and marketed in major European markets in February 1978, which made him the first vehicle with supercharged diesel engine put on sale in European soil. This Peugeot mounted a four-cylinder block with 2.304 cubic centimeters and 80 horsepower that was offered with both 4 or 5-speed manual transmission and automatic transmission and had a very similar performance to the Mercedes-Benz W116 300SD, but with lower consumption, although it was also a smaller vehicle and lower category than the German model.

With direct injection is more or less the same. It arrived on the market in 1988 but there are two manufacturers who fight for the prestige of having been the first one.

From England came the Austin Montego SD Turbo with a Perkins engine of 1,993 cc and 81 hp, but simultaneously came from Italy the Fiat Croma 1.9 td.id with 1,929 cc and 90 hp. Both vehicles belonged to the same category, offered similar performance and homologated the same consumption. In addition, they were two vehicles that despite being manufactured by brands not very "loved" by the market, Austin and Fiat, enjoyed a good reception in most European markets.

To know which of the two arrived first is almost impossible and it would be necessary to determine almost the day, not to say the time, when they were presented, because the information I have been able to gather does not clarify much. What's more, I have even found articles in which in different paragraphs state the same thing about both cars. The real takeoff of diesel engines is already in the 90s, when the magic combination of direct injection and turbo arrives, which gradually allowed to put the gasoline and diesel on par in performance, which increased its attractiveness.

But that's another story...



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