The first car to be registered in Palma. It was a Clément-Panhard, which was built at Gustave Adolph Clément’s factory in Levallois-Perret near Paris. | archive


The sixteenth Classic Car Rally takes place this week. The cars will undergo their trials in the Tramuntana, heading to Pollensa, Campanet, Sa Calobra, Esporles, Puigpunyent, Es Capdella and Andratx. The whole of the mountain range is thus covered, and in order for it to be covered, these classic cars do require being at least reasonably well powered, something which cannot be said of Majorca’s most classic car of all - the very first one on the island.

It was the eighth of April, 1897. The newspaper La Ultima Hora reported the arrival in the port in Palma of a carriage car. It had been transported from Marseille by the Isleño steamship. Anticipation was great: “Soon we will see this new class of vehicle circulating on our streets.” The people of Palma were to have one Vicente Juan Ribas to thank for this excitement. Well, they would have had him to thank if all had gone to plan, which it didn’t.
Vicente Juan was from the family which had established a textiles business in the early part of the nineteenth century. Well off, Vicente Juan was willing to part with 4,420 francs to purchase a De Dion Bouton model Petit. He had seen five cars exhibited by a certain Emile Roger in Paris in 1896.

As well as the car, Vicente Juan ordered a kind of early moped. A pedal tricycle, it was also powered by a De Dion Bouton engine. This was with the same consignment as the car, and when the two vehicles were taken off the steamship, customs officials were apparently placed in a bit of a quandary. What, from the point of view of import duty, was this car thing? In the end, or so it would seem, they decided that it qualified as a luxury carriage. Vicente Juan would presumably not have found this duty to be especially onerous.

It was once that the car was on Majorcan land that things began to wrong. The car made it as far as one of Vicente Juan’s properties, or it might be assumed that it had made it, as it must have been transported rather than driven. A mechanic had to go to the property in La Vileta, Palma in order to tune the car and get it to start. This much was successful, and so off the car went with Vicente Juan in it. It journeyed along some lanes of the estate for a few minutes before coming to a halt - for good.

While Majorca possessed at least one mechanic capable of getting a car to start, the island was not blessed with mechanics who could fix cars. So, on top of the 4,000-odd francs he had paid plus the costs of shipping and the import duty, Vicente Juan now had to arrange for two mechanics to come from France. They were put up at the estate in La Vileta, and it was a garage on the estate into which the car was eventually pushed and where it was to remain. The French mechanics couldn’t repair it.

For Vicente Juan, as you can no doubt imagine, this was something of a blow. The people of Palma were anticipating seeing the car, and he himself had been anticipating showing it off and fulfilling the excitement of the locals. Unfortunately, they were deprived of witnessing this miracle of technology, but there was always the engine-powered tricycle. Indeed there was, but not for very long.

What appears to have happened was that a wheel of the tricycle collided with a railway track. It turned over and thus had the misfortune to be recorded as the first accident involving an engine-powered vehicle in Majorca. The tricycle was taken to the estate in La Vileta, where it shared garage space with the unrepairable car.

Three years later, and with greater success, came the first car to have a registration number. There were no manufacturers of early automobiles in Spain, and there were hardly any cars either. Consequently, no one had really given registration much of a thought, but when they did, they came up with a system whereby a car would have two registrations - one for the municipality and one for the province. This wasn’t to occur until 1907, but in 1900 (the thirty-first of October to be exact) a car in Palma was registered. It was not only the first registration in Majorca, it was the first anywhere in Spain. Indeed, it is reckoned to have been the first registration anywhere in the world.

It had the number PM-1, and was a Clément - a Clément-Panhard, which was built at Gustave Adolph Clément’s factory in Levallois-Perret near Paris. Its proud owner was a retired naval officer, Josep Sureda of Santa Catalina.