Constructing (auto)mobility system in a peripheral European country in the 1930s: visions and realities of the authoritarian Portugal

Research output: Working paper


The 1930s watched two simultaneous and apparently opposed trends: the rising of authoritarian regimes in several European countries and an intensive cooperation between international governmental and non-governmental organizations in settling common standards and policies. Reflecting automobile’s main use in the first decades of the twentieth century, leisure (and not transport in a strictly utilitarian sense), even in developed/central countries, one cannot ignore the roles of non-governmental organisations related to tourism (AIT – Alliance International du Tourisme) or to automobile sports (AIACR – Association Internationale des Automobiles-Clubs Reconnus) in establishing standards for elements of the ‘automobile system’ in issues such as road signs and international circulation (the issuing of documents such as the ‘carnet de passage en douane’). There were also other important transnational organizations, governmental and non-governmental, which contributed to the construction of this system, such as a more technical organization on roads (AIPCR, Association Internationale Permanente des Congrès de la Route) (Schipper, 2008). The 1930s in Portugal was a period of institutionalization of the dictatorship that would last more than 40 years, particularly with the issuing of its corporatist legal basis. The Automobile Club of Portugal (ACP), which had had, at least since 1911, an important role in Portuguese automobile system construction, reclaimed keeping the main role, namely as being the Portuguese member at AIT and therefore the organization that issued the documents for international circulation. There were rivalries between Automobile and Touring Clubs in Europe on this matter, which also happened in Portugal. It is at the level of the mediators (Oldenziel et al., 2005) that the analysis will be made. The visions of the construction of the automobile system were produced both by organizations that preceded the dictatorship and those that were created after the 1926 coup d’État that began it, such as corporatist organizations (for instance of commercial companies that sold automobiles) and of State agencies related to roads or fuel. These visions of how automobility, tourism and road construction should evolve were discussed in several national congresses such as the first and second National Congresses of Automobility and Civil Aviation (1935 and 1937), the first National Congress of Tourism (1936) and the first National Congress of Transports (1939). One finds also ‘imported’ visions on automobility from other European countries, such as Germany, in the specialized press, namely the ACP journal. The reality of automobile use, tourism and road construction was somehow different as the statistics of the modal split or the special statistics made on the religious pilgrimage to Fatima show.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages25
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2010

Publication series

NameTensions of Europe & Inventing Europe Working Paper Series


  • authoritarian Portugal (Estado Novo)
  • automobility
  • tourism
  • interwar roads’ plans
  • European standards (circulation on the roads)


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