1956 Pegaso Z102
1956 Pegaso Z102. Click image to enlarge

Story and photo by Bill Vance

Although Spain was not one of Europe’s main automakers, it has produced vehicles ranging from the massive Rolls-Royce class Hispano-Suizas of the 1920s and ’30s, to the tiny 1950s single-cylinder Biscuter minicars. It also built a rare and exotic sports car called the Pegaso, named after Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology.

After the Second World War, the state-owned ENASA (Empresa Nacional de Autocamiones SA, or National Truck Manufacturing Co.) in Barcelona wanted to glamorize its image, demonstrate Spain’s technological prowess, and introduce something exciting for its apprentice tradesmen to work on. If it revived Spain’s auto industry, that would be a bonus.

To capitalize on the rising popularity of sports cars, ENASA decided to produce one that was technically equal or even better than the world’s best. ENASA’s lead engineer for the project came with solid credentials. He was Spanish-born-and-educated Don Wilfredo Ricart who had been Alfa Romeo’s technical director before joining ENASA.

Ricart began designing the new sports car in 1950. He chose a V8 engine, an unusual configuration in Europe at that time. He fitted double overhead camshafts, a feature that had been confined to competition vee-type engines, although they were used on Jaguar’s famous XK120 inline six. It was an indication that Ricart intended to create in the Pegaso a car that was almost Grand Prix racing technology dressed in street clothing.

In addition to the four cams, the engine had other competition oriented features such as sodium-filled exhaust valves for cooling, dry-sump lubrication, and an oil cooler. It made extensive use of light alloy.

One, two or four Weber carburetors could be fitted, and compression ratios ranged from 7.8:1 to 9.0:1 to cope with post-war Spain’s uneven gasoline octane.

The engine displaced 2.5 litres in its original form and was said to produce some 165 horsepower. This was soon be enlarged to 2.8 and then 3.2 litres, with supercharging available.

Power reached the rear wheels through a rear-mounted, five-speed manual transaxle unit. Braking was by huge finned and ventilated drums, outboard at the front and inboard at the rear, with twin hydraulic systems. Unfortunately they would prove to be inadequate for serious competition.

Suspension was by torsion bars all around, longitudinal in front and lateral at the rear, where a solid De Dion axle was fitted. The Pegaso was relatively small car, riding on a wheelbase of only 2,337 mm (92 in.).

The Pegaso Z102 was introduced at the 1951 Paris Auto Salon where it created considerable interest for both its exotic specifications and its Spanish origin. No one quite expected a cutting-edge sports car from a truck and bus company, especially one located in a country without a strong automotive heritage.

The factory fitted its own body, or would prepare the chassis for custom coachwork from the styling houses of Italy or France.

Performance of the 998 kg (2,200 lb) car was quite strong for the era. England’s Autocar magazine recorded zero to 80 km/h (50 mph) in 8.3 seconds, and zero to 161 (100) in 35.0 seconds with a 2.5 litre Z102. Top speed was over 161 km/h (100 mph).

ENASA tried to establish the Pegaso’s reputation in competition, but with mixed results, due in part to bad luck. Two roadsters were entered in the 1952 Monaco Grand Prix, held as a sports car race that year, but withdrew due to poor handling.

Some successes were had in hillclimbs, and two cars were entered in the 1953 Le Mans 24-hour endurance race in France. Unfortunately a factory fire damaged them so badly they could not compete. A quickly prepared replacement car was entered, but crashed heavily, killing the driver.

To demonstrate its top speed capability a supercharged Pegaso was taken to the Belgium’s famous Jabbeke highway where it reached 245 km/h (152 mph) for a flying kilometre, and 241 km/h (149.76 mph) for a flying mile. Everyone was suitably impressed until Jaguar went to Jabbeke a few weeks later with a nearly stock XK120 roadster and ripped through the flying mile at 278 km/h (172.41 mph).

Pegaso’s principal racing exposure in North America came in the 1954 Carrera Panamericana, better known as the Mexican Road Race, a border-to-border dash through Mexico. The Pegaso had risen to challenge the front runners before crashing and burning on stage four of the race.

Pegasos were largely hand-built, so production was never high. By the mid-1950s demand for the company’s commercial vehicles was straining its facilities and the car took lower priority. Ricart designed a new pushrod overhead valve V8, which came in displacements as large as 4.7 litres, but few were made.

Pegaso car production ceased in 1958, and the company returned exclusively to trucks and buses. It is estimated that between 100 and 125 were built, making it one of the world’s rarest production cars.

Double overhead camshafts, alloy engines and five-speed transmissions are common today, but they weren’t five decades ago. The Spanish flying horse was truly ahead of its time.

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