FN HERSTAL Automobile

The History of Technique
Modern History
metal, wood, textiles, leather
lenght: 215 cm; widht: 200 cm; height: 200 cm


    Producer: Fabrique Nationale d`Armes, Herstal - Belgia

    Texts: Bogdan COCONOIU, Oana ILIE; Photo: George NICA

    The National History Museum of Romania owns one of the oldest vehicles in Romania: F.N Herstal, produced in Belgium, in 1900. The automobile, produced at Frabrique National d’Armes de Guerre, having the fabrication series number 40, was the first vehicle registered in Bucharest at the beginning of the past century, having the number 1B. The owner of the F.N was Bassil Gheorghe Assan (1880-1918), the son of the industrialist that built in 1853, in Bucharest, the first steam mill (now exhibited at the Technique Museum “Dimitrie Leonida”). The automobile`s body is designed in phaeton style with two seats.  The propulsion is sustained by a two cylinder motor transversally installed in front. The engine works using a crank which, put through the spokes of the left front wheel, it connects with the crankshaft. The ignition is produced by an electric sparks provided by two low voltages magnetos.  A tank of gasoline is placed under the passengers seats, the fuel being propelled through a pipe in a rudimentary carburettor. The water tank is also placed under the seats. A coil radiator provides the cooling. Unfortunately the metal carcass used to protect the radiator is missing. The safety brake band works through a pedal on a drum fixed on top of the connecting shaft. Simultaneously the engine slips out of gear by shifting the belt from the fixed drum on the free one.  The parking brake operates the two drums from the back axle. The transmission has two speeds gear and works through two crossed friction belts. The coupler is a progressive one, with belt, the speed shifting being made by displacing the lever placed on the angle steering column (first transmission left, second transmission right).  From the connecting shaft, the couple is directed by the means of a chain linkage, this technique being used until 1906, when the Rochhet-Schneider acquired licence to produce F.N vehicles. Both axels are rigid, the suspension being provided by longitudinal leaf spring. The steering is produced by the means of a chain and two direction levers. The throttle is manually operated with the help of a hand wheel placed on the angle steering column and a pulleys system. The car is equipped with two oil lamps for travelling at night. The wheels are fitted with rubber lagging.  Regarding this automobile there also exists an anecdotic story: even though Prince George Valentin Bibescu wanted his car to be the first matriculated, Assan`s one has already been given the number 1, so the Bucharest`s Prefecture made a compromise matriculating the Prince`s car with number 0. Even if most of the Belgian cars are associated with the past, the fact that these broke new ground it`s undeniable. F.N Herstal is a very rare automobile nowadays, missing from the biggest collection of Belgian cars, detained by the Auto World Museum from Bruxelles. Although Herstal machine-building plant had been destroyed twice, both in World Wars, its contribution to what it is called “The Golden Age of the Belgian automobile”, was substantial. 

    Frabrique Nationale d`armes de guerre (National Manufacturer of War Weapons)

    Herstal factory (located near Liege town), still working nowadays, specialize in weapons productions, also had produced, in the first half of the past century, bicycles and a variety of vehicles: automobiles (1899-1935), motorbikes (1902-1965), trucks (1930-1966) and buses (1932-1955). The automobiles production started in Belgium in the pioneering period of this industrial branch. The first Belgian automobile was produced in 1894 by a Malines` factory with the brand Vincke. “”The Golden Age” of the Belgian automobiles lasted between 1900 and 1914, companies such as Minerva, F.N., Imperia, Pipe or Miesse producing at that time excellent quality vehicles. The begging of the 30th registered the technological progress of other countries, while the Belgian industry, stroke by the crises, couldn’t cope with the foreign competitors.  The production of their own models has been gradually replaced with the production under licence. National Manufacturer of War Weapons (F.N) from Herstal town is, from more than a century ago, a traditional weapons producer. The history of F.N started in 1889, when the weapon producers from the Liege region gathered to honour the Belgian Government`s order (150 000 Mauser guns). Eight years later the prestige of this factory grew because of the partnership with John Moses Browning, one of the most innovative weapons designers worldwide. Willing to diversify their production, F.N made bicycles, motorbikes and automobile. The first automobile prototype was finished in 1899 and, after numerous tests, the production started in 1899 with a series of 100 copies. The first car constructed by F.N Herstal was designed by an Italian, De Cosmo, that lived in Liege. It was a three seats vehicle, equipped with a two cylinder motor and a mechanical belt with chains. If the automobiles production stopped in 1937, the motorbikes one lasted until 1960, gaining at this market branch numerous innovations. The first motorbike model was produced in 1902, having a mechanical belt and a 133 cm3. This is followed by a world premiere, in 1905, the first motorbike with four cylinder motor. Overtime, the factory have been focusing on designing sport models, gaining, until now, 81 world records at 350, 500, 750 and 1000 cm3 categories. At the same time it is well known for designing military motorbikes. Besides this, it was a major truck producer between 1930 and 1966 and military vehicles between 1945 and 1980.  F.N also produced a hybrid vehicle with three wheels, named “Tri-car” (~1935-1940), composed of a motorbike and a transport room that formed a whole, like a van, so that in the 60s they could build a folding tricycle for the air-born troops, used almost exclusively by the Belgian paratroopers. Nevertheless F.N Herstal remains well known as the most important small calibre weapons producer.  Today Herstal Group SA operates through two subsidiaries: National Manufactory - where cold weapons, guns, alarm systems (for the most part weapons designed for the army) are produced – and Browning Arms Company – where guns and handguns are made.