Benjamin Berkeley Hotchkiss was not at all interested in cars. His passion was guns.
He was born in 1826 and his father ran a hardware factory which gave him ample opportunity to experiment. By the time he was about 25 he was a gun maker, producing and servicing the very popular Winchester rifles and Colt revolving pistols. During the American Civil War he worked on artillery shells for the Union army; but he became fed up with the conflict when the Confederacy looked as though they could win, and he was obliged to pack his bags and move to prevent his designs falling into enemy hands.
His aim was to produce a truly automatic machine gun. France seemed to be a safer country to do this in than the USA at the time so by 1867 he had set up a munitions factory near Paris.
By 1870 he was back in the United States again, designing and manufacturing war materials but in 1884 he moved back to Paris to start a new munitions factory. His company started manufacturing a revolving cannon with calibres varying from 37 mm to 57 mm as well as the 'Hotchkiss gun', a rapidfire gun vaguely resembling the Gatling gun.
He died the following year however, at the age of 58. His company continued developing the Hotchkiss heavy machine gun which would take so many lives in the first world war.
By the turn-of-the-century Hotchkiss the making engine components for other companies and then they progressed to making complete cars of their own, the first one arriving in 1903. The war interrupted production but once it was over they specialised in building luxury cars with large engines. By 1928 a series of six cylinder engines cars labelled AM80 were built; these were tough and reliable vehicles and the French government bought a large number with 3 litre overhead valve engines for patrolling their colonial possessions in Syria.
In 1929 an AM80 was entered for the Autodrome de Montlehry endurance run in which it broke record after record, circling the track for 16 days at an average speed of 66pmh despite a big end bearing failure leaving it to run on 5 cylinders instead of six. In all 33 world records were smashed including covering 4,000 miles at an average speed of 78.95pmh and 15,000 miles at just short of 70 mph.
By 1930 sporty versions of the AM 80, designated the AM80S with more powerful engines were developed to take part in the Monte Carlo Rally, which Hotchkiss won in 1932, 1933, 1934 and 1939.
World War 2 and the German invasion of France put a halt to production but after the war military contracts were virtually non-existent and car manufacture was slow to get going again. By 1954 the company had merged with Delahaye, but car production ended in 1955, owing to dwindling sales, although vans and military vehicles were produced, before the Hotchkiss name finally vanished owing to yet another merger. No more Hotchkiss cars have ever since rolled off the production line.