The Compañía de Autobuses de Ciudadela (now Transportes Menorca, S.A.)
started running a scheduled passenger service in 1907, two years after another
company which had opened in Mahon.
However, it was the company from Ciutadella which would continue alone until
1908 the company’s founders, who were memebrs of the nobility (including the
Count of Torre Saura, who acted as director) issued partnership shares for the
value of 100 pesetas each. Juan Vilafranca and Gabriel Cardona were the company’s
first drivers, as well as being the first people in Minorca
to take the test for a driving licence.
Vilafranca Barceló reminds us that the first bus company in Minorca started at
the turn of the century and was based in Mahon.
However, like all beginnings, the company’s first steps were difficult and its
development was plagued with set-backs and problems.
In 1907, a number of members
of the nobility of Ciutadella (amongst them the Count of Torresaura, the Baron of
Lluriac, Pedro Salort Martorell, Joan Simó Olivar and others) decided to found
a new company which was to be called Compañía de automóviles de Ciudadela, with
the Count of Torre Saura acting as its director while Salort Martorell held the
position of manager. In order to finance the new company, its backers issued
bonds in 1908 worth to the value of 50,000 pesetas which were divided into
partnership shares of 100 pesetas.
shares it stated (under the heading “Compañía de Automóviles Ciudadela”) that
the bearer was participating in “the operation of the automobile service on the
island of Minorca, in accordance with the conditions recorded in the articles
of association of said company”. They were signed by the director of the
company, the Count of Torresaura, and were dated 1 January 1908.
Scheduled Passenger Service
company, whose history began in 1907, was founded with the aim of establishing
a scheduled passenger service between Ciutadella and Mahon. It was the second transport company to
be founded in the island, after the one founded in Mahon in 1905. One interesting fact is that
the first coaches used by the company from Mahon were steam powered and coal fired, and had
solid wheels. The coaches, which reached Mahon
in 1905, were built in France
by the Dion Bouton company and arrived at the port disassembled. They arrived
on 9 September, but as they still had to be assembled on the island, they could
not start work until 3
March 1906. These coaches held few passengers (they had 18, 20 and
24 seats) but it is worth noting that they were the first to be registered in the
Balearics, and had the registration numbers 8, 9 and 10.
astonishment these vehicles generated amongst the pedestrians who saw them driving
around (even though their speed never exceeded 30 kilometres per
hour) was such that the people of Minorca soon
named them "the fiery beasts".
Autobuses de Ciudadela
As for the
bus company founded in Ciutadella in 1907, it is worth mentioning at first that,
unlike what was said about the one from Mahon above (whose first buses ran on
coal), the first passenger coaches in Ciutadella (two 24 horsepower Delahaye with
10 and 19 seats) had petrol-powered engines.
At first, the
company’s coaches were driven by a Frenchman, who soon taught this novel occupation
to two Minorcans: Joan Vilafranca Saltó (who was of Catalan roots, but was
resident in Ciutadella) and Gabriel Cardona Carreras. They were the company’s
first official drivers, until, between 1918 and 1919, they took over the older
The new company
was given the name Automóviles Menorca, and later went by the name of Vilafranca
y Cardona, S.L. until 1951 when it merged with Roselló y Compañía. This is how
the company came to be called Transportes
in 1961, the name it still goes by today.
A Historic Driving Test
As we saw
above, Joan Vilafranca and Gabriel Cardona were the first drivers on the Ciutadella-Mahon
route. Joan Vilafranca’s career started as a ship’s engineer and as such he sailed
on the Bilbao-Liverpool route with the ship “El Turia”. Vilafranca was a
Catalan (originally from the town of Vilaseca)
who came to live on the island when he married a Minorcan woman called Ángela
Pons. At first, the couple lived off a small workshop that they set up in the
For his part,
Gabriel Cardona was from Mahon
and married Anita Sampol de Palós in Ciutadella. He was a blacksmith by trade, although
he had previously worked as a mechanic in the Military Engineers of Mahon.
Vilafranca and Cardona’s lives were to change radically (at least
professionally speaking) in 1908, specifically on 20 May of that year, when the
engineer Miguel Massanet y Beltrán came to Minorca.
His mission was to test Joan Vilafranca and Gabriel Cardona for their drivers
licences. Massanet was satisfied with their abilities and he passed them,
stating that both candidates had shown that they were capable of driving any
This was a
historic test, as it was the first driving test to be held on the island of Minorca.
The first coaches
in time and in the history of the Ciutadella passenger company, it is worth
mentioning the first coaches to cover the scheduled route between Ciutadella and
pioneers in this task were the Hispano-Suizas which operated between 1928 and
1929. These coaches had 30 and 40 horsepower motors and a capacity of 32, 28 and
22 seats respectively.
Hispano-Suizas were later followed by General Motors Studebaker coaches. The
company had two of these, which arrived in 1934 and 1935. These had a capacity
of 28 and 32 seats, respectively, and had hydraulic brakes. They carried on in
use after the Spanish Civil War, although the shortage of petrol made it
necessary to install wood gas generators, which ran on charcoal made from holm
oak and pine.
type of coach used was the American Chevrolet Master with 35 seats, a lorry cab
and body-work made in Alaior. These were the same as the ones used by the army
at that time. Their approximate price was 35,000 pesetas: a fortune at that
time. Juan Vilafranca still recalls their registration numbers: PM 7711 and PM
7772. There were also British-made Bedford
coaches which were petrol-powered, and which later had 6-cylinder Perkins
motors installed. Their registration numbers were PM 7566 and PM 7562. The bodies
of these coaches (which were made of wood) were made in Arbucias, Girona by the
Ayats factory. Vilafranca says there was also a manufacturer of this type of
bodywork in Minorca in Alaior (Gabriel the coach-builder),
although the ones made in Girona turned out to have better suspension.
Later on the
Pegaso coaches arrived, with body-work made in Zaragoza by the Escoriaza y
Fabro company, although their chassis were made in Barcelona in the former Hispano Suiza factory.
Despite being far from the best coaches, this type of was purchased because of the
protectionist policies followed by Franco’s government, which favoured Spanish
companies and in the face of a currency shortage prevented the purchase of vehicles
So many memories
Vilafranca Barceló (the grandson of Juan Vilafranca Saltó) followed his
grandfather’s footsteps into the world of driving and coaches, and, like his
father (Juan Vilafranca Pons) and his uncles Adolfo and Ángel, he was also to work
as a driver with Automóviles Menorca.
Vilafranca recalls that, in around 1950, he drove an Italian Lancia, which was
a survivor of the First World War and did not have a battery or other any
electrics either. As there was no starter motor it had to be started manually
using a starting-handle. This coach ran on wood gas and had mechanical brakes
and a solid iron steering wheel. A battery was eventually fitted to this coach,
which was only used for the lighting. With such a venerable vehicle, the Ciutadella-Mahon
route could become a real adventure if it broke down after night-fall as there
was virtually no road traffic in those days and the driver could find himself
obliged to wait where it stopped until dawn, hoping for a passing vehicle to rescue
This is a
far-cry from the present day, when all of Transportes Menorca’s buses (built by
Pegaso, Iveco and Daf) have air conditioning and the highest standards of
comfort. The fleet, consisting of some 20 units, guarantees the comfort and safety of our passengers. In the whole history of the company (over 90 years) there is
no record of any fatal accident. Juan Vilafranca concludes by saying that, far
from a desire for wealth, what has always characterized the company has been a
spirit of service to society.
like to thank Luis Negro Marco for his help in compiling this information.