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Standard Factories Abroad

'Imperia' Factory at Nessonvaux

The following is an extract from a History of Imperia‘ Book, written in French. I am grateful to Werner Maurer for the translation of parts of it that will be of interest to Standard owners and enthusiasts. The photographs of the factory site have been provided by My thanks to both of them

The most famous product of the Nessonvaux factory was the Vanguard Cabriolet, this is the only known survivor.

photo:Phil Homer

Introduction (page 9)

In the history of IMPERIA, the studios of Piedboeuf of Liege and the factories of Pieper de Nessonvaux had been closely working together since the beginning of the century. In fact, Piedboeuf, located at no 63 rue de Fragnée, produced cars as well as motorcycles around the year 1900. Pieper de Nessonvaux was a factory building and producing since 1848, cannons, bicycles and cars.

Piedboeuf bought in around 1905 the factories Pieper, rue Gomélevay at Nessonvaux. These factories were bankrupt. Piedboeuf bought these factories in order to build motorcycles. The adventure of producing two wheelers went on for some years at Nessonvaux but were abandoned to produce more profitably "IMPERIA" cars. 1908 was the year of launching the brand "IMPERIA" at Nessonvaux.

The banking on the test track

The test track (1928) (page55)

An important problem occurred at the IMPERIA works.

For months the management of the factory were overwhelmed by complaints, because of the frequent road test on the roads around the factory. More and more tests were necessary and the population got more and more fed up. Chickens, little animals and sometimes people were victims to these "metal monsters". The test drivers used the roads of the village and the roads to Banneux, a road with a lot of bends. Speeding and high revving engines made the population mad and they were no longer willing to support the factory

The works, squeezed between two hills, would not allow an easy solution, so the only solution was to build a test track within the factory and using the football field of the football club of Nessonvaux. The ring started within the factory, then over the roof which gave a track of about one kilometre. Only Fiat had a similar track.

This little test track became an attraction in the region. A little causeway allowed people to climb onto the nearside hill to watch the spectacle of car testing over the factories roofs.

Another view of banked end of the test track, on the factory roof

The success of the front drive cars (1936) (page 69)

For some years, the front wheel drive cars were very successful for IMPERIA and the development costs of the years before were well recovered.

In 1936, serious strikes in order to get holidays paid were shaking the IMPERIA factories at Nessonvaux. These strikes caused problems both in preparing and the quality of the cars, signed up for the 24 hours race in Francorchamps, 11th July 1936, and as a consequence their 1900cc engines, were not run in enough and they had to abandon the race.

At this time a worker was responsible for assembling an engine totally with the help of an apprentice who was responsible to provide all the parts from the storage and he was responsible to ensure that all the connecting rods had the same weight. At the end, the worker had to put the engine no. (e.g. 4803) on, together with his personal no. (e.g. 17) which made the engine number(e.g. no. 4803-17) and this number was registered in the factory. This was a quality measure because if in case of a breakdown it was known exactly who had done the job. This kind of responsibility, though exaggerated, was effective.

A number of other drastic measurements, like strict non-smoking were common. This climate of responsibility associated with new machines were probably the best years of IMPERIA.

New models were developed, still using the same chassis already in existence. The model TA-9 with 1645 cc, was very aerodynamic designed by the French specialist Andreau. The car was capable of 140 km/h. It was shown at the motor show in Brussels in January 1948, but went never in production.

There was also a very elegant TA-11 Jupiter with a 1910 cc engine also designed to use an already existent chassis with a maximum speed of 115 km/h as well as the new TA-9 with a boot at the rear.

All these innovations were made thanks to the very successful sales of cars made before the war.

The Standard and Triumph cars (1947)

A few months after the war, IMPERIA re-launched the production of cars on a new basis.

Not only the cars typically IMPERIA with Hotchkiss engines but also under their license. It was in 1946 when a contract was signed with Standard Motor Company.

This agreement meant at the beginning, importing the Standard 8 and 14. In order to make these cars more popular, IPMERIA organised 1947 a rally, titled " Rally IMPERIA-STANDARD-TRIUMPH", ending at castle Tervuren.

A lot of IMPERIA drivers took part and quite a number of trophies could be seen in the trophy room on the first floor of the factory.

Assembling Vanguards (1948)

After signing the contract with Standard Motor Company it was decided in 1948 to assemble the Vanguard, the cars with an engine of little over than two litres, which seemed to be promising. The contract stipulated that all the parts had to be imported from England in order to assemble the cars at the IMPERIA factories in Nessonvaux. This new activity, together with assembling Adler motorcycles allowed the retention of trained staff. In addition, the use of various Belgium parts were also favourable to the Belgium economy. Assembling these allowed the provision of cars, through the company in Nessonvaux to the home market as well as the market abroad.

Therefore at Nessonvaux the tradition and the English quality were united to tradition and Belgium quality for the production of the Standard-Vanguard.

The first Vanguard left the assembling line in August 1948. It was sold at the price of Frb. 95,000. The delay in delivery varied from day to day, as 800 cars were ordered following the motor show in January 1948. All the necessary elements for assembling the Vanguard’s arrived by train in big wooden boxes. A new assembling line was inaugurated on May 9, 1949 which allowed a daily output of 15 cars per day which would give about 300 cars per month from 1950 on. This goal was never achieved, the maximum was 10 cars which could be tested daily on their own factory track.

Le Standard Vanguard was a classic car, engine in front, driving the rear wheels. The suspension was by 3 semi-elliptical springs. Hydraulic brakes by Lockheed on all four wheels. It was recommended that in third gear the speed should not exceed more than 105 km/h, changing of the gears was by lever at the steering column. During the first 800 km of the running in period of the car, 3% oil had to be added to the petrol. Every 5000 km the oil in the rear axle had to be changed. It was also mentioned that the colour of the body would be high quality and long lasting.

In 1950 Nessonvaux received an order from Madagascar for 50 Vanguards with a particular modification The interior had to be changed of that that the rear seats could be lowered (like now in modern cars) These cars were painted yellow and served for the transport of the workers as well as for the transport of bananas during the period of the harvest. Encouraged by this order, IMPERIA decided to develop and to commercialise this type of car. The "pick-up" Vanguard was born.

In 1952, a new model. The Vanguard "Belgium" was sold at Frb. 111,000, with a better styled saloon body which was more elegant. These details were possible through the ingenious ideas of the department responsible for the body of the cars. The chassis of the open car was reinforced and lowered by 45 mm to improve the driving quality and the road holding. The back of the car got two separate wings in a more elegant form. The car was equipped by a multiple overdrive which could be activated without declutching. The car body was protected against rust by "Bonderizing". One could order the car with leather interior, wireless set and overdrive.

In 1950, the following IMPERIA-STANDARD-TRIUMPH cars were produced, Standard Pick-up, Standard Estate-car, Standard cabriolet, Triumph Renown, Vanguard, Triumph- Mayflower and the Triumph Roadster.

On May 17, 1952 a Vanguard finished 3rd in the Grand Prix for normal cars in the race of consumption on the circuit of Francorchamps.

Cabriolet "Nessonvaux" 1951 (page 163)

In January 1951, at the Motor show in Brussels, stand 103 in the Palais 5 one could see the Vanguards.

The normal Vanguard was shown, as well as the new cabriolet "Nessonvaux" a special Belgium construction, approved by the Standard Motor Company. At this motor show the main aim was to show the overdrive Laycock de Normanville, imported from England, with hydraulic function, activated manually or electric. In all of the cabriolets, the overdrive was standard.

This cabriolet from the IMPERIA factory was built on the Vanguard chassis with a 4 cylinder engine of 2088 cc with 69 horse powers at 4200 rev. with a three speed gear box plus overdrive, single disc dry clutch. Transmission was by prop shaft on the rear wheels. The rear axle was semi independent. The weight was 1244 kg and needed 12 litres of petrol per 100 km. There were three models:

Normal, inside artificial leather and the roof only one layer

De Luxe, inside real leather and the roof double layers

Grand luxe, like the luxe but with everything in chrome.

This shot clearly shows the building's history as an armaments factory

I am aware that there are other cars and information that could be added to this site to make it more comprehensive, so if you have material and photographs, please let me know.  Please send me, Phil Homer, a message at: Phil Homer