Wifredo Ricart (May 15, 1897 – August 19, 1974) was a Spanish engineer, designer and executive manager in the automotive industry, who spent most of his professional career in Italy and Spain.
The Barcelona "Happy Twenties" Edit
Born in Barcelona, with Wifredo Pelayo Ricart Medina as full name in the Spanish way, he graduated in 1918 as Industrial Engineer and his first job was in an Hispano-Suiza dealer, but he soon moved to a company, Motores Ricard-Perez, that successfully produced engines for industral stationary use.
At that time Barcelona swarmed with automotive initiatives, in the wake of the successful Hispano-Suiza. In this technically exciting environment, Ricard became increasingly interested in the car engineering area, and in 1922 he designed his first car with a 4-cylinder, 16-valve, 6,000 rpm, 1.498 liter engine, very advanced for its time, and two of these cars ran in the Barcelona Grand Prix for voiturettes, and one of them won a few months later in its second race.
In 1926 he founded his own company, Motores y Automoviles Ricart, and in october that year he presented in the Paris Motor Show two prototypes of the new Ricart car, whose engines am general specification gained a lot of attention. Nevertheless financial dificulties compelled Ricard to merge his company with the one of the industrila tycoon Felipe Batllo, to produce cars under a new brand, Ricart-España, for which he designed a new model addressed to the high segment of the market, with a 2.4 liter and 6cyl engine. Again this venture failed due to the general economic slump.
In 1930 Ricart became a member of the American Society of Automotive Engineers and he established himself as an independent consultant, working for different European firms.
The Italian period Edit
In Alfa Romeo he designed and developped many engines, from aviation to racing cars. There he met Enzo Ferrari, and it seems that the two characters did collide somehow:
There was no doubt what Ferrari thought when he heard [in 1951] that a Spanish lorry manufacturer was building cars fit to rival his. Ferrari had a long memory, and still smarted over his dismissal from Alfa Romeo before the war. He blamed this on a certain engineer, and in a famous outburst criticized this engineer's designs for an engine whose crankshaft 'revolved like a skipping rope,' and a racing car which was 'outdated, good only for scrap or a museum' (and moreover, killed its test driver). "With sleek, oiled hair and smart clothes that he wore with a somewhat levantine elegance,' Ferrari wrote afterwards, 'he affected jackets with sleeves that came far down below his wrists, and shoes with enormously thick rubber soles.' The reason for the thick soles, this engineer explained to Ferrari, was because, 'A great engineer's brain should not be jolted by the inequalities of the ground and consequently needed to be carefully sprung.' It said a good deal more for Wilfredo Ricart's sense of humour than Enzo Ferrari's that he was taken seriously. Even Vittorio Jano described Ricart as a man of profound intellect. It is true that some of his designs were monuments of complexity, sometimes even impractical, but the same was probably said of Leonardo da Vinci. His fatal Alfa Romeo 512 was a horizontally opposed 12 cylin- der, rear-engined racing car with a centrifugal supercharger giving 335 bhp from 1V2 litres. He had already abandoned the Type 162, which was a 3 litre planned to give 560 bhp, with two carburettors, 3 stage supercharging with five compressors, 16 cylinders, and 64 valves. By 1940 he was working on a 4-bank 28 cylinder radial aero-engine, and the following year designed a unitary construction road car for postwar production with all independent suspension, a twin-cam 2 litre engine, and a gearbox integral with the final drive — a radical layout not unlike that eventually adopted for the Alfetta Coupe of 1974.
Back to Spain. Building Pegaso Edit
In 1945, with Italy desvastated by the II World War, Ricart returned to Barcelona, and shortly he managed to be hired by the American Studebaker corporation, but just before leaving for the USA, he was proposed to lead the creation of a new Spanish automotive group, Enasa, to be built over the remainings of the Spanish arm of Hispano-Suiza. He accepted, and for several years he struggled to get a modern, technically advanced, car and truck maker from an underdevelopped country, materially and morally devastated itself from a Civil War.
In the early fifties, the results of Ricart's efforts were visible: In october 1951, in the Paris Motor Show a newcomer attracted all the looks; it was an incredible sophisticated sports car, the Pegaso Z-102. This was above all an image coup, as the real objetive of Enasa creation was the massive industrial vehicles production. But in this respect, Ricart had too every reason to feel proud: the Pegaso Diesel and Z-207 trucks, the Z-403 and Z-404 coaches or the Z-501 trolleybus, and last but not least the new from scratch Enasa plant in Barajas (Madrid) were not only technical successes, but situated Spanish automotive industry in the best starting point to cope with the impressive economic development Spain undertook in the 60s and 70s.
The final years Edit
Ricart resigned as Enasa CEO in 1959, criticized for paying more attention to technical innovation than to economic realities. From then on he returned to his free lance consultant activities, as he was widely recognized as one of the most skilled and experienced automotive engineers. In his last years he increased his significant collaboration with several professional bodies, like S.A.E., F.I.S.I.T.A., and S.T.A.
- ↑ Eric Dymock, "Postwar sports cars. The modern classics".