The company's first entry into car making came from orders for engine components such as crankshafts which were supplied to Panhard et Levassor, De Dion-Bouton and other pioneering companies and in 1903 they went on to make complete engines. Encouraged by two major car distributors, Mann & Overton of London and Fournier of Paris, Hotchkiss decided to start making their own range of cars and purchased a Mercedes Simplex for inspiration and Georges Terasse, previously of Mors, was taken on as designer.
After an attempt to enter the luxury market with the AK, which did not get beyond the prototype stage, the company decided on a one model policy and introduced the Coventry designed AM in 1923. Later that year the Coventry plant was sold to Morris. Henry Mann Ainsworth (1884–1971) and Alfred Herbert Wilde (1889 - 1930) who had run it, moved to Paris to become general manager and chief engineer of the car division respectively.
In 1926 construction of the new factory in the Boulevard Ornano was completed and in 1929 Hotchkiss got hold of a steel press allowing in-house manufacture of steel bodies. The one model policy lasted until 1929 when the six-cylinder AM73 and AM80 models were announced. "73" and "80" stood for the bore of the engines used, a naming theme picked up again later in 1936 after a brief hiatus.
Although most cars had bodies that were factory built, Hotchkiss still was a luxury car brand, and so coachbuilder Veth and Sons built a small number of bodies for the AM80.
Peter bought this excellent example of the AM 80 about 25 years ago as a barely driveable rolling chassis as a basis for a restoration. In France vintage Hotchkiss cars were famous for having a very strong transmission and as they got older, many of them were converted into light commercials, vans, pickups etc and Initial work started on this vehicle just before WW2 with the intention of it being used as a breakdown truck. Consequently it had massive back springs and various bits of heavy ironwork fitted to it Peter purchased it .However the work was never completed and the car was bricked up in a cellar for the duration of the war to keep the Germans from getting their hands on it ! Peter retains a photo of it in its cellar verifying this part of the story to be true. By the 1980s the car was known about in Hotchkiss circles though it’s exact location was only known to an antique dealer who wasn’t for sharing and it was established that the elderly owner would not sell if the car was going to leave France. However, time passed, the gentleman died and his family were quite happy to have the car move on, and through a couple of hands it came to Peter.
The full restoration then began with a rebuild of the chassis and mechanical parts and as Peter wanted a typical vintage tourer he built a body loosely based on the Hotchkiss that ran in the 24 hour race at Spa in 1931 which had a chassis number quite close to the one on my car. Peter has used the car regularly over the years, although he claims "it’s getting a bit tatty now “,( probably due for another rebuild ), it’s been very reliable and great fun to use.
The first Hotchkiss car, a 17 CV four-cylinder model, appeared in 1903. The engine of the 20 CV type C was heavily based on the Mercedes Simplex except that wherever possible it used ball bearings rather than plain ones (including the crankshaft) and except the Hotchkiss drive. Six-cylinder models, the types L and O followed in 1907. The ball bearing engines lasted until the 30CV type X of 1910. In that same year Hotchkiss moved into a smaller car market with the 2212cc type Z.
With the outbreak of World War I, the factory turned to war production and a subsidiary plant was opened in Coventry, England. Car production resumed in France 1919 with the pre war types AD, AD6, AF and AG. During World War I, they produced machine guns and tested them from the factory roof.
1930 Hotchkiss AM2 was produced from 1926-1932.