Was that a Hispano Suiza shuttling VIPs around the 2014 Geneva Motor Show? Well, it had what appeared to be a Hispano-Suiza hood ornament, and a prow-like Hispano-Suiza radiator shell and grille from the pre-World War I era. Anywhere else in the world, it would most likely be identified as a Hispano-Suiza. But in Geneva, it wears the name of another auto company. What was it?
The mystery car bears the badge of “Pic-Pic”, an obscure model from automobiling’s turbulent early years. The city of Geneva claims Pic-Pic as its one and only hometown auto maker.
The company, or companies behind Pic-Pic were in business from 1906-1924. But few cars badged as “Pic-Pic” are known to survive.
Brothers Charles and Frederic Dufaux, aspiring race car drivers, came up with the idea of producing an automobile, around the turn of the 20th century. They drew up designs but didn’t have the expertise or equipment to build anything. So they farmed out the construction to an industrial equipment manufacturer, Piccard-Pictet & Cie. Hence the origin of the “Pic-Pic” nickname.
Paul Piccard hated the whole idea of the automobile and bowed out of the project, but his partner Lucien Pictet was gung-ho. In 1905, Pictet started a marketing company, Societe d’Automobiles Geneve (S.A.G.), the name under which he intended to market the cars turned out by the Piccard-Pictet works.
He planned to build from the Dufaux brothers’ designs. But he was acquainted with the Swiss engineer Mark Birkigt who had gone to Spain to work with Emilio de la Cuadra on what became the Hispano-Suiza. Pictet liked what Hispano-Suiza was doing. So much so, Pictet went to Barcelona and met with Birkigt and worked out a deal to sell Hispano-Suizas under license in Switzerland.
So Pictet showed a Hispano-Suiza, wearing an S.A.G. badge, at the 2nd annual Geneva Motor Show in 1906. The cars wore S.A.G. badges until 1910.
S.A.G. started having Piccard-Pictet produce some of its own engines of various sizes, in four, six and eight-cylinder configurations.
It’s not exactly clear exactly when the Pic-Pic badge started showing up on S.A.G.’s Hispano-Suizas, but the oldest surviving one wearing a Pic-Pic badge and designated as a “MIV” (for Model 4) is a 1914 model; that car is being displayed in the Palexpo convention center’s lobby at this year’s Geneva show, with signage touting its “100th anniversary”.
The annals of racing show that cars entered as Pic-Pics won a few grands prix in the years leading up to the start of World War I in 1914. Many Pic-Pics were ordered by the Swiss Army during the war, because they were known for their workhorse engines. But after the war, Piccard-Pictet went bust. So in 1920, Gnome et Rhone, a French aircraft engine manufacturer, took over constructing what was left of the company’s stocks of spare parts – which was mostly Hispano-Suiza stuff. The last car to wear a Pic-Pic badge was a 1924 model shown at the Geneva show that year.
And that car – or one just like it – survives, and is reputed to be the one puttering around at the Geneva show this year. Identifying it was sort of a chore, since it was actually a parts-bin mongrel, comprised of many Hispano-Suiza parts from the pre- and post-WWI models. And so ended the Pic-Pic saga.
Probably not what the long-forgotten Dufaux brothers originally had in mind at all.
March 5 , 2014