The Henrican Motor Corporation has gone by a few names in its history- upon its founding in 1894, it was known as HVL (Henrican Voitures de Limoges), but changed that to simply Henrican in 1922, before becoming HMC in 1949. The company has a rich motorsport history, though the last time they entered a race was the Le Mans 24hr in 1962- a disastrous run involving crashes, breakdowns and a PR scandal caused them to back out for good. Since then, they have produced fine, but not exceptional in most cases, automobiles for the people, and throughout their history have used a numbering system for their models, which I will explain as we go along. Each HMC model internally goes by a “Type _” code number. It is only since the early 1980s that their cars have actually had other names.
The founder of HVL was a railroad engineer from Corsica, who emigrated to mainland France for work in his youth. He had been instrumental in the design of a French steam locomotive, and thought the same principles of propulsion could be applied to carriages. He completed his first prototype in 1898, and showed it off at every opportunity, encouraging both investors and customers. His tactics started to work, and by 1905 HVL had Europe’s first production line making a steam car known as the Type 1.
When war broke out in 1914, HVL was requested to make ambulances for the French army, and they were more than happy to do so. However, allied generals complained that the plumes of smoke emitted by the steam-powered ambulances acted like a flare for the enemy to know where they were, and requested an alternate power source. Borrowing a petrol-powered engine from Spanish manufacturer Segovia, HVL then made their first conventional car- the Type 1A.
After the war, a smaller, cheaper model had to be introduced to keep sales up, and so the 700cc Type 2 was put into large-scale production, and even licensed to foreign carmakers such as UK-based Holborn Motor Engineering. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, Henrican (as it was now known, to reduce the cost of casting badges and bonnet ornaments on cheaper models) expanded into virtually every possible market, ensuring their success from that point forward. The Type 2, and a racer called the Type 8R that won several endurance events from 1928 to 1930, were the peak of the French motor industry.
After the Second World War, things only got better, with HMC (as it was known by then, with a new president) taking more victories in the most prestigious racing events than any other manufacturer besides the Italian sports-car maker Centurion. Centurion, though, had not conquered the streets. That all changed in two swift moves- first was Centurion making a cheap, stylish saloon starting in 1960, and second was the 1962 24h of Le Mans. HMC’s entry, the Type 75 coupe, had a mighty 300hp V12, but even the top drivers of the day struggled to handle it- test driver Giulio Armati nicknamed it “Trattacura”, or “handle with care”, because it was so unwieldy. Of the three cars in the race, two crashed spectacularly, one killing its driver and the other wiping out two competitors as it spun backwards across the Mulsanne. The other Type 75 suffered brake failure and had to back out of the event after 21 hours. Not only that, but supposedly the company president had lied about the roadgoing Type 75’s specifications, leading to many disappointed buyers thinking it was just as fast as the ones at Le Mans. HMC never made another sports car, and never competed in high-level motorsport again.
Instead, under new leadership they shifted their focus to cheap people’s cars, and produced some absolute gems during the 1960s and 70s. Though the quality has wavered for cost-cutting reasons, a HMC is still a very much valid choice as far as ordinary cars go.