The origins on NMQ and Authi

Graham Arnold provides a fascinating account of how a one-man, nail-making workshop in a northern Spanish village grew into a prosperous iron and steel industry.

It would one day play a key role in the formation of BMC’s Spanish arm, and would go on to become a public company trading on the Spanish stock exchange in the 1990s.

THE province (or autonomous area) of Cantabria is situated in the north of Spain, including part of the Atlantic coast, bordered in the east by the País Vasco, to the west by the Principado de Asturias and to the south by Castilla and León. Its capital is the beautiful seaside resort and commercial port of Santander.

Early records refer to an area coveted for its industrial promise, bearing in mind the widespread mineral deposits in the area such as iron in the eastern parts of the region and zinc in the west. Cantabria is also in part a very mountainous region traversed by the Cantabrian mountain range which runs more or less parallel to the coast about 10 km inland. For millions of years the courses of many rivers have carved out beautiful valleys in the Cantabrian mountains, where people began to settle. One of these settlements became the village of Los Corrales de Buelna (Los Corrales) about 40 km to the south of Santander. Los Corrales is situated in the valley of Buelna and bathed by the waters of the River Besaya.

The Quijano family were well-established in Los Corrales, with mention being made of a flour mill belonging to the family as far back as the mid-1700s, but it was not until 1873 that this industrial and economic promise was recognised by José María Quijano y Fernández Hontoria. Born in 1843, José María was the son of José Felipe Quijano (a well-known politician in the nearby town of Torrelavega, where there is a street dedicated to him), and studied law at the University of Valladolid, in the north-west of Spain before working as a lawyer in Torrelavega until 1873, when he was 30 years old.

After visiting the Exposición de Paris that year with Benigno Arce – an engineer in a mining firm called the Minas de los Picos de Europa (The Mines of the Peaks of Europe) – José María decided to establish a nail-making business, and promptly installed four new machines for this purpose at one of the family’s flour mills at Los Corrales. Unknowingly at that time he was on the road to becoming recognised as the pioneer of the iron and steel industry in Cantabria. He called his new company Forjas de Buelna (The Foundries of Buelna) and from those humble beginnings the iron and steel industry was to flourish in and around Los Corrales, Torrelavega and Santander, and also, on a smaller scale in several other areas of Cantabria and neighbouring regions.

A panoramic view of Los Corrales de Buelna taken in the early 1970s. The factory chimneys and installations can clearly be seen on the outskirts of the village.
A panoramic view of Los Corrales de Buelna taken in the early 1970s. The factory chimneys and installations can clearly be seen on the outskirts of the village.

Still living in Torrelavega, José María travelled to his factory in Los Corrales everyday until 1877 in a phaeton drawn by two dapple-grey ponies. One of these ponies was called “Espartero” and soon he had adopted this pony as the emblem of his nail-making business.

In 1879 he purchased another flour mill near the local railway station and installed rolling machines to produce plate iron, and also started the manufacture of wire and wire-derived products by “drawing”: a process used in the manufacture of wire whereby wire rods are successively reduced in diameter (thereby extending their length) by repeatedly pulling them through tapered holes in a die. This process of drawing is necessary as it is impracticable to roll such small sections on a commercial basis. This was a very important step in his business as it meant the company did not have to import the raw iron and steel from England and France.

Forjas de Buelna had started out by employing foreign engineers to take charge of production but soon José María Quijano was to introduce training courses for Spanish workers, who then replaced the foreign employees. The factory also saw various techinical advances, with electric lighting being installed in 1880, and a telephone line the following year. In 1892 several cascades were built in the river to obtain greater hydroelectric power.

It has also been reported that José María treated his workers in a very pleasant manner and his company’s forward thinking was reflected in the social benefits which were gradually introduced for their employees. For example, in 1892, he set up a Workers’ Co-operative, subsidised by the company, to provide a pension fund and accident insurance scheme, and he also built affordable houses for his workers. By 1906, Forjas de Buelna was firmly established in the area as a very profitable concern, with a workforce of 600. In the meantime José María had also built warehouses and other buildings on the site to keep pace with the growth of the business. Los Corrales de Buelna remains a thriving industrial area to this day, with a population of approximately 10,000 (compared to just 2,752 in 1900).

The Parish Church of Los Corrales de BuelnaHowever, José María Quijano also set his sights further afield from his hometown, and in 1899 he founded the Sociedad de Altos Hornos de Nueva Montaña (The New Mountain Blast Furnace Company) in the Bahía de Santander (Bay of Santander), becoming the new company’s first president. Other business ventures which he started were the Santander-Bilbao railway line and the Cantabrian railway line. When José María died in 1911, his widow, Soledad de la Colina y de la Mora and their children took charge of the business in Los Corrales, changing its name to José María Quijano, S.A. Two of José María´s sons – Miguel Quijano de la Colina and Ramon – occupied important posts in their father’s companies during this time.

When King Alfonso XIII visited the factory in Los Corrales de Buelna in 1915, he bestowed on José María´s widow the title of Condesa de las Forjas de Buelna (Countess of the Foundries of Buelna) in memory of her husband’s contribution to industry in the area. The following year, in 1916, the countess asked a Cantabrian architect, Leonardo Rucabado, to design and build a parish church in Los Corrales de Buelna. “Iglesia de San Vicente Mártir” (the Church of Saint Vincent the Martyr, pictured here) was inaugurated on 3 October 1925 and still stands to this day in the Avenida de la Condesa de las Forjas de Buelna. The countess also commissioned Rucabado to draw up plans for the old people’s home in Los Corrales.

In 1948, the decision was taken to merge José María Quijano, S.A. and Sociedad de Altos Hornos de Nueva Montaña to form a new company called Nueva Montaña Quijano, S.A. (NMQ). At this time the company also acquired its own means of sourcing iron when it purchased Las Minas del Cerro del Hierro (the Cerro del Hierro Mines), a barium mine located in the north of Seville province in the south of Spain. In 1950, NMQ started supplying single-cylinder petrol and diesel engines to the Spanish assembly plant of a German tractor manufacturer called Heinrich Lanz AG. In 1956 the American agricultural machinery company, John Deere, took a controlling interest in Lanz by acquiring the majority of their shares.

Meanwhile, negotiations had also started with a Spanish company called Fabricación de Automóviles, S.A. (FASA) to supply them with components for the Renault 4cv car that had been introduced in 1953. Régie Renault were one of several foreign motor manufacturers who would opt to enter into partnerships with Spanish firms to build their cars under licence, as this was the only way to gain a foothold in the Spanish market since the Franco government had prohibited the importation of completely assembled vehicles. Headed by Jiménez Alfaro (a Colonel in the Spanish Army), and with the backing of the Bank of Santander and the Bank of Bilbao, FASA were finally awarded the licence to build the 4cv in Spain.

Other companies, such as Fiat (with their Seat operation) and Citroën, would follow suit. In 1956, NMQ started supplying FASA with complete engines for the 4cv, and they were soon producing many other components including sub-chassis, steering and suspension units. NMQ went on to supply FASA with components for successive Renault models such as the Dauphine, 4, 8 and 10, until the French parent company decided to reduce its dependency on outside suppliers by building its own components factory in Palencia in the autonomous region of Castilla and León, in the north of Spain. This decision was to prove disastrous for NMQ, since much of their business had depended on the supply of these components to FASA.

It was then decided that the best thing NMQ could do, especially considering the huge amount of experience that they had gained by building such a vast array of mechanical components for Renault cars, was to venture into car manufacture themselves by assembling fully-built cars. By November 1963 information had already been leaked to the specialised press that the Morris 1100 and Mini models were going to be built in Spain, so it came as no surprise, a year later, when NMQ announced that they had reached an agreement with the British Motor Corporation (BMC) to build these cars under licence in a new factory in Spain. A new company was formed with an initial capital of 20million pts split three ways:

 Investor Capital
Faustino Iraizoz Oyarzun (an engineer by profession) 10,100,000 pts
Nueva Montaña Quijano, S.A. (NMQ) 9,800,000 pts
Crilastic, S.A. † 100,000 pts
† Crilastic, S.A. was one of the companies which, together with Metalauto and Tecniauto, formed the branch of Nueva Montaña Quijano, S.A. in Barcelona. There is also evidence to suggest that the registered offices of Crilastic, S.A. or perhaps the main production facilities were located in Madrid. More information is pending.
NB: A different source quotes the initial founding capital of Authi as 200million pts but I feel that the figure of 20million pts given above is the correct one.

Thus, Automóviles de Turismo Hispano Ingleses, S.A. – better known as Authi – was officially born on 12 November 1966.

This article was written by Graham Arnold.

The author of this article would welcome any further information on the early history of Nueva Montaña Quijano especially concerning the dates of the founding of the different companies mentioned in the text and also details of the Quijano family as there are still a lot of gaps which need filling with accurate information. Please contact us if you feel you have anything to contribute.

El autor de este artículo agradecería cualquier otra información que se podría aportar sobre los comienzos de Nueva Montaña Quijano y en especial las fechas exactas cuando las diferentes compañias se fundaron y tambien cualquier dato sobre la familia Quijano, ya que todavía existen muchas huecos que hacen falta rellenar con datos exactos. Se puede enviar cualquier información que uno tenga a Keith Adams. Gracias.

Keith Adams

1 Comment

  1. Dear Mr. Adams.
    I have read your article with great pleasure and interest. After that, I have tried to clarify or complete some of the information contained in the article, although it has not been possible for me to confirm with official documentation some of the issues that you raise. One of them is the original amount of capital of the Authi company. You consider the figure of an initial capital of 20 million pesetas more reliable and in principle I agree with you, since I have not been able to locate that information in the official bulletins of the time, which in theory should reflect the operation of incorporation of the company, but the official bulletin of the commercial registry has not yet digitized its entire collection.
    Despite this, the various sources that I have consulted repeatedly refer to said 20 million instead of 200, which apparently is the figure for the expansion carried out in 1969. Later, after the entry of British Leyland into the capital of Authi, the figure was increased enormously and as a curiosity I include the attachment ( to some images corresponding to some shares from the capital increase of 1973, which reached 2,400 million pesetas, a considerable figure for the time, since according to the historical exchange rate between the pound sterling and the peseta on December 31, 1973, this was equivalent to just over 18.5 million pounds.
    The issue related to the construction of the Landaben factory, as well as the entire auxiliary industry that was formed around it, has been addressed by some academic papers and I will try to extract some interesting issues among them.
    However, for now as a curiosity I will provide you the attachment ( to a photographic document corresponding to the historical archive of Navarra. The explanation included is as follows: “Content: Partial view of the meeting held in the presidential office of the Palacio de Navarra, in Pamplona, between the representatives of the Provincial Council and the AUTHI company on the occasion of the signing of the agreement Aid regulator for the establishment of a car assembly factory in Pamplona Seated on two armchairs were Félix Huarte Goñi, Vice President of the Provincial Council, and Eduardo Ruiz de Huidobro y Alzurena, President of AUTHI (Automóviles de Turismo Hispano Ingleses S.A.). ”
    Regardless of the above, I will tell you that my family has some historical ties with Authi, since one of my grandfathers owned a small mill in a town near Los Corrales de Buelna, Cartes. Its activity began at 50s grinding sulfur for the agricultural chemical industry. However, in the 1960s my grandfather turned his activity to grinding coal for the Nueva Montaña Quijano smelter. This fine powdered carbon (in spanish “carbón impalpable”) appears to have been used to improve the surface finish of iron and copper foundries since the 1870s. When used the carbon powder protects the mold surface against the action of molten metal. When the metal comes into contact with a casting surface containing carbon dust, a gaseous shell is formed that is resistant to the fusion of the sand with the metal.
    I still remember seeing, when I was a child, numerous invoices in my grandfather’s office addressed to Authi with the logo “Felipe Ingelmo, Molienda de Impalpables”, invoices that were paid with great delay, so much so that my father had to help in the afternoons in that mill after his work in a bank office. Finally, with the closure of Authi in 1976, my grandfather was also forced to cease the activity of his mill.
    Despite this, in my family there has been another close link with Authi, as I can count at least 8 Minis and a pair of ADO16 in my close family, two of the Minis have belonged to my father, one of which I still have after 47 years. held by my family. And as far as other vehicles linked to the company are concerned, my father learned to drive in the 1940s with my grandfather’s Austin Seven and an uncle of mine owned a 1948 Austin in the early 1950s.
    Kind regards.

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