Henrican Motor Corporation (HMC)

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.

We’ll begin with the Type 93, a hatchback made from 1979 to 1984. The GT model shown above was HMC’s first foray into hot hatchbacks, and more info on it can be found here- Hot hatches thread

It was also their last rear-wheel-drive small car, a layout carried over from its predecessor the Type 87. The Type 93 is considered to be among HMC’s greatest hits, an affordable, decently fast, fun, reasonably practical car.


HMC’s best-selling model in its entire history is this, the Type 128. Known externally as the HMC Go, it was sold from 2008 to 2017 with a choice of three engine sizes (1.2 to 1.5l) and as either a 3-door or 5-door hatchback. There were three specifications- the Vive, a base model with steel wheels, bare plastic exterior trims and no air conditioning or radio; the Confort (shown above in green), a comfort-spec version with smaller alloy wheels, optional leather trim and, from 2013, optional sat-nav; and the Sportif (shown above in blue), a sportier model with black trims, bucket seats, white dials and a leather steering wheel.

The Go was the best-selling car in France every year from 2009 to 2014- though it remained in the top 5 for the rest of its time on sale- and also topped sales charts in Spain, Belgium and the UK. It was the vehicle of choice for motorists from all walks of life- driving instructors loved the 1.4 Vive manual; young drivers who wanted something cool bought into the Sportif; fairly wealthy city-dwellers who desired style and compact dimensions liked the Confort, which became an extremely common sight in the rich suburbs of London and Paris.

The Type 93 was succeeded by the Nebula in 1984, and although the first-generation Nebula had a turbocharged model, the rapidly rising insurance costs and theft rates of hot hatchbacks in the early 1990s meant that its successor did not have a truly sporty model.

By the time the third-gen Nebula arrived in 2005, though, things had changed. There was now call for a sport model, and HMC went all-in to create one. The Nebula RS had a 2.5-litre, 219hp V6- the last ever new six-cylinder HMC engine- and had to be limited electronically to 155mph. An even more extreme version, the MM (named after the Mille Miglia, the race in which HMC had seen the most success in its heyday), was stripped out and came with semi-active roll bars and even harsher suspension.

The HMC Nebula RS, with its screaming V6 up front, reminds me of an Alfa 147 GTA in terms of its mechanical layout - especially in hard-edged, track-focused MM form.

1 Like

The 4th-generation Nebula arrived in 2012, with styling much more influenced by the Go (as did all new HMCs after 2008) but less emphasis on sportiness. General opinion was that the old model was better, but the new car was still commendable, and sold decently well in Eastern Europe, where the saloon body was more desirable. The saloon, in 1.5 Confort form, is shown above in a feature of a Polish car magazine, being group-tested against the Holborn Vexxer (silver) and the Duke Segundo E (pink).

The first HMC to get an actual name was the 1980 Type 94 (above). HMC had been planning an expansion into North America, and the Type 94 was meant to be the midsize sedan at the forefront of HMC US- a company division set up in late 1979 in Pittsburgh, PA. The head of HMC US was a big baseball fan, and it was his suggestion that the car be named after his local team- and so the Type 94 became the Steeler.

The expansion failed- the Steeler was deemed too ugly and too inefficient (just 21 US mpg from its 2.8l V6) to take off in the US, and a planned import version of the Type 93 was also scrapped. The Steeler was quite popular in Europe, though, with base models becoming ubiquitous in taxi form.

The Steeler got a smaller brother in 1984- the Type 98/Pitcher (below). This new model showcased some less controversial styling ideas, so at its launch the Steeler also got a facelift to match it. In the photos above, the facelifted Steeler is shown at the front, with the older model further from the camera.

Perhaps the least successful venture in HMC’s recent history is the Lander (above), an SUV produced from 2011 to 2014. It was a joint venture with Voitures de Sabre, HMC’s main French rival, who sold the badge-engineered SUV as the Sabre Triomphe (below). At the time, cheap SUVs were not yet mainstream, and neither HMC nor Sabre (who actually did most of the engineering on this one) had enough of an upmarket reputation to be able to sell such a car. Even worse, to secure their end of the deal Sabre prevented HMC Landers using the top-of-the-range Triomphe’s 3-litre V6, as well as a good deal of luxury equipment. The result was that most Landers were sold with 2-litre, four-cylinder engines which struggled to power a car that weighed nearly 2 tonnes even in base-spec.

The few people who did buy a Lander or Triomphe remarked that they were actually quite competent family cars. However, a premium model that was not German or Swedish simply did not fly in Europe, especially when the majority of Landers sold were low-spec 2-litre manuals- not in any way fancy, but not agricultural enough to be billed as a proper 4x4- despite AWD being standard, a locking differential was optional on all models and all-terrain tyres were not offered at all.

1994 saw one of HMC’s most ambitious projects finally come to fruition. Known as the PDM108 (French for Modular Design Project/Type 108), it produced a model that, with multiple body styles, could serve multiple markets while the underpinnings remained the same throughout, saving money. The PDM108 replaced both the Pitcher (above right) and the Nebula (above left), and gave the latter a bustleback.

Covering two markets at once meant the PDM108 range (externally known as the Nebula Mk2 and Pitcher Mk2) was immense. The very cheapest model would be a Pitcher 1.4 Vive, with almost no extraneous electrics such as radio or power steering- and the range worked up to a Nebula 2.0 Lux, a plusher model with plenty of equipment as standard including leather and wood trim, CD changer and air conditioning. Shown above are a Pitcher 1.8 Terre (an economy model, a Vive with further fuel-saving measures) and a Nebula 1.8 Prime (fairly high-spec, though still having cloth upholstery).

The PDM108 was phased out in 2000, and the Nebula and Pitcher (renamed Monaco from this point forward) became separate entities. Part of the reason for their assimilation was to prop up sales of the second-gen Steeler (1990-98), which was struggling as its market sector died out. With the Steeler dead, the Nebula and Monaco could be separated. Above is the third-gen Nebula (2000-05), in this guise equipped with an updated version of the Type 93GT’s 1655cc, SOHC I4.

With the death of the Steeler, the Pitcher was allowed to grow in size for its next iteration- however, it was now called the Monaco. There was nothing really remarkable about this car apart from its popularity with taxi companies across Europe, especially in France. It was available with engines from 1.65 to 2.0 litres, 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmissions, and had a pretty average equipment list for the day. Unlike their predecessor, the Monaco and Nebula Mk3 did not have hydropneumatic suspension- the system was deemed too expensive to continue production.

The Monaco name lasted 2 generations, though the 2nd gen (introduced in 2006) struggled to make sales in the UK against more prestigious German rivals. By the end of that model’s lifespan, sales averaged 40 per month. So the decision was made to not engineer the replacement for right-hand drive, and not sell it in the UK.

The replacement, which was revealed in 2013, was actually rather good, and snobby British buyers were missing out on all-new features- the new car, the DQ/Type 136, was the first HMC saloon to be offered with AWD, direct injection on a new 2-litre engine, vented rear disc brakes, and a new infotainment system.

Before its official unveiling, a finished (though debadged) prototype (shown above, it was a 1.8 with FWD only) was parked on a street in Frankfurt and the public were asked their opinion on the car without knowing what it was. They were also asked what they drove, in case any were HMC enthusiasts who recognised the car from spy shots in a club magazine that had been published the previous month. The response was overall quite positive, and many were surprised to learn that the car was not German.

HMC had been making vans since the pre-war era, but a passenger version of the same body had never been considered. However, a new market was emerging for such vehicles in the 1980s, and so they were quick to jump on board the minivan/MPV trend, introducing the Millennium (above) in 1987. This got the biggest launch event the company had done in over two decades, with massive celebrations, and showing off the car’s ability, lasting two days and offering potential customers the exclusive chance to order a personalised Millennium. The first 101 of these minivans (to signify that this model’s codename was Type 101) were custom examples, with unique extras ranging from shag-carpeted load bays to a full motorhome conversion (though HMC did not do these themselves, so Millennium #52 was instead sent to a specialist to have this done).

HMC’s first real offroader came in 1996. Called the Overlander, it was judged by journalists of the time to be one of the best utility vehicles around, with impressive offroad capability, surprising comfort thanks to HMC’s Hydrofluid (hydropneumatic) suspension (also seen in the PDM108), and a load capacity of over 1.5 tonnes.

A second-generation Overlander was produced from 2006, with an updated version of the old model’s 2899cc pushrod V6. Now, there was no 3-door option, the spare wheel had been moved to a mount on the chassis, and the interior received a few more comfort features to make it more bearable. This was not enough to save the dying model, though, with sales only peaking in September 2007 because UK customers (Britain being the Overlander’s biggest market) could get their new HMC on the new 57-plate. The Overlander was discontinued in mid-2008, with the very last one, a metallic green 2.9 Confort, being registered to the estate of a minor noble in northern England.

The Overlander was by no means HMC’s first crack at the 4x4 market. That honour goes to to 1978’s Type 92. Powered by a 2.5l V6, this 4x4 had impressive credentials as a utility vehicle, and was very popular with French farmers. It remained in production until 1989, the longest production run of any HMC at the time, and sold over 500,000 units in that time. However, rust claimed most of them at a young age, and the Type 92 is now very rare.

While it’s 4am the morning after Halloween, here’s something a little spooky. In 1987, British coachbuilder Allan & Horne started making hearses out of the HMC Steeler. To make these beasts they started with a top-spec 2.8 Lux wagon, rebuilt the entire body and chassis from the A-pillar backwards, refitted the interior and tuned the Hydrofluid suspension for a balance of comfort and load capacity. Between 1987 and 1992, nearly 200 of these hearses reached funeral directors across the UK.

Here is possibly the most infamous car ever to leave the Limoges plant. The Type 75 “Trattacura” is a vehicle which I gave some information on in the introduction to this thread, but here are some more details.

The one surviving racer, at the back of shot, belongs in a museum collection. At the front of shot is a road-going homologation, the 75R- it was billed in advertising of the day as no different to the racer, and while in many respects this was true (same transmission, gear ratios, brakes, suspension, aero parts and engine block) the 75R did see a few changes. The roadgoing model could be optioned with a plusher interior- though not many were, as the company already made a GT coupe (the Type 71), and had more restrictions on the engine, with different exhaust and intakes to reduce noise. It also had the effect of reducing the 4.8l V12’s power output from 313 to 288hp- such blatant false advertising landed HMC in an even bigger hole than the '62 LM race had already dug, and the company nearly went bankrupt trying to rectify the problem and get their reputation back.

HMC had been relying on the success of the Type 75 to advertise a new range of engines they were putting into their passenger cars. The first of these new models was the Type 76, the release of which had to be delayed while the 75’s problems were dealt with. It eventually came to the public in June 1963, and was a mid-tier saloon- an ideal family car, they claimed. The 76 may have been slow and ungainly, base models having a 53hp, 1505cc DAOHC I4 that meant 0-62mph took nearly 20 seconds, but it was cheap, and that was what mattered at the time, so it sold reasonably well and was instrumental in the company getting back on track.

The 76 heralded a big change in HMC’s styling philosophy- all of HMC’s post-war models up to and including the 75 had four aircraft-esque vents on the side, to symbolise how shortly before the war, the company president retired and left it to his four sons. The Type 76, in an attempt to move away from the old ways and start afresh, instead split the grille into four. This would become a feature common to all HMC models to this day, as a few other cars show below.

From right to left: Massis (2007), Steeler Phase 1 (1982), Type 93 (1978), Artisan (2010), Go (2008).

With the 1966 Type 80, HMC aimed to make the most capable utility vehicle outside the world of military trucks. Leaf-sprung front and rear, and powered by a very simple- and torquey- transverse-mounted 1750cc pushrod I4, this van had a load capacity of 1280kg but was priced very low, at just £540 even with a 25% profit margin. It was a hit in north-western Europe, especially France and Belgium, and in nearly 10 years on sale over 2 million were made.