Before the outbreak of the First World War the marque owed its success to its reputation as a state-of-the-art manufacturer, reliable and well-run, and it received great approval in other countries too, notably in England.
At the beginning of the last century there was a real explosion of new car manufacturers, even in countries which today don’t even have any national car makers: among these is Belgium. Back in 1903 Arthur De Coninck, engineer and car enthusiast, founded the Compagnie Nationale Excelsior in a garage on Avenue Tervueren, Brussels. Car production began in 1904 with small models powered by Aster engines of one, two or four cylinders; the transmission used cardan joints and they had a wooden frame.
In 1905 the first leap in quality came; production increased and consisted of three models developed on a steel frame, a real novelty for those days since cars were mainly built over wooden chassis. In 1907 the company moved to a new factory on Rue de Turquie in Saint-Gilles and here the first entirely Excelsior car was built, the 14/20 HP, a name which described the power output from its four-cylinder side-valve engine. Evolutions of this model followed and were in production until 1914; they included the D 14/20 HP (1911) and the D-4 14/20 HP (1913), to which were added the sporty DC 14/20 Rapide version and the B Fiacre. In 1910 the D-6 debuted with a six-cylinder engine. In 1909 the company took over the Belgica factories in Zaventem, near Brussels, which had gone bankrupt and at the same time changed the name of the company to Société des Automobiles Excelsior.
In those years sales were booming, partly due to their participation in competitive motor sport, starting from the 1910 Ostende race and later in the 1911 Coupe de l’Auto, followed by the Grand Prix de Vieux Tacots, but not achieving much success, though results at home improved at the Coupe de Liederkerke. In 1912 Excelsior participated in the Dieppe Grand Prix with a car driven by Christaens, who finished sixth. His first victory was in the Brussels – St. Petersburg race in 1913, which brought more prestige for the company and also worthy of note was the purchase of one of their cars by the Belgian royal family.
Before the outbreak of the First World War the marque owed its success to its reputation as a state-of-the-art manufacturer, reliable and well-run, and it received great approval in other countries too, notably in England. During WW1 production of cars was suspended and this allowed De Coninck to continue to design new technical solutions pending the end of the conflict. In 1920 Excelsior returned to the limelight with a patent from the Belgian engineer, used in the Adex B (Adex stood for Arthur De Coninck Excelsior), powered by a new six-cylinder engine which had a revolutionary braking system based on an X balancing scheme which worked on the brakes of the four wheels by connecting them diagonally (right front wheel connected to left rear and left front connected to right rear), allowing an equal sharing of the braking force, ensuring maximum stability of the car. In 1922 the improved version of this car, the Adex Type C, powered by a six-cylinder overhead camshaft engine, appeared; the sport version could reach a speed of 140 km/h. The mechanicals were extremely modern as per the usual Excelsior tradition. 1926 is remembered for Excelsior’s participation in the Lille Grand Prix with André Pisart (1898-1952) at the wheel, who broke the lap record twice but was hampered by a fuel pump problem which meant he only qualified third, but Excelsior still won the race with victory going to their other driver, Caerels. Subsequently, in 1927 Pisart became Excelsior’s main agent in Brussels.
The final evolution of the Adex, however, came in 1927 under the name of Albert 1 in the Turismo and Sport versions, which were equipped with a brake booster. After this last masterpiece the Belgian manufacturer, like other manufacturers at the time, began to suffer from significantly falling sales, partly due to increasingly aggressive competition from luxury brands such as Hispano-Suiza, Rolls-Royce and Minerva, but also due to events which led to the 1929 financial crash. Van Roggen, who already owned the Imperia brand, a competitor, purchased Excelsior with the intention of bringing the Belgian motor industry together, but this failed to rescue the manufacturer’s fate and it disappeared forever from the automotive scene in 1930. A sad end to a brand which will always be considered the most refined of Belgium’s automotive producers.
Text by Tommaso Lai
Translation by Norman Hawkes
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