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Mystery Hispano-Suiza Convertible Sedanette in New Zealand

The Hispano-Suiza was built in Barcelona, Spain between the years of 1904 to 1937 and is regarded by many as one of the best and most luxurious pre-war cars in the world. The design and engineering of the company’s aircraft engines, automobiles, trucks, and buses were under the direction of Marc Birkigt a brilliant Swiss engineer.

The H6 and later H6B models are powered by a 6.6 liter SOHC shaft-driven straight six-cylinder engine designed by Birkigt. This new model was introduced at the 1919 Paris Salon and remained in production until 1930. The H6B was followed by the Hispano-Suiza J12 model powered by a newly designed V-12 engine, it was introduced in 1931 and built until 1937.

Today’s feature photos show what appears to be a J12 with custom convertible sedanette coachwork that was located in New Zealand at the time the images were taken. There are actually two sets of pictures of the car, first when it was registered with license plate 238,528 (above) with bare spun aluminum wheel discs, and presumedly later with plate 401.418 (below) after it may have been repainted. This second set of photos was taken by Barry McKay Industrial Photography Ltd. located in New Zealand.

If this car, is in fact, a J12 model of which only one-hundred and twenty were produced, we are left to wonder if anyone knows the history of this automobile, who built the coachwork for it and if it has survived?

The photos are courtesy of Dave Howell of Christchurch, New Zealand. Learn more about the Hispano-Suiza in earlier posts here on The Old Motor. 

27 responses to “Mystery Hispano-Suiza Convertible Sedanette in New Zealand

  1. I wonder about the “V” badge above the front license plate in the later photos. Is that something to do with the regions of New Zeeland? None of them begin with “V,” but it may be a reference to region 5 or something? Or is it the badge of a vintage car club? If the latter, that speaks well for the car’s survival.

    • That’s the badge of the Vintage Car Club of NZ. Also the number plates used to change annually which explains the several different plates.

  2. Wow, What a magnificent automobile! I’ll opine the coachbuilder is Franay. The sweeping coach-line, nicely integrated windshield frame with the belt-molding, door handles and phaeton-style fold-back on the roof quarters all appear on a 1930 Hispano-Suiza H6C Transformable by Franay pictured on page 370 of the book “The Classic Era” by Beverly Rae Kimes. Sure hope this gem survives!

  3. I guess the idea of building it in Spain rather than Switzerland was very to save money on labor costs.
    Gee,where have we seen that practice before.

    Did have one of the coolest hood ornaments around ,though.
    So cool some fighter squadron in ww1 had it painted on the side of their planes.

    • Actually it was the other way round, the stork, was the symbol of the French province of Alsace, and this was used as the squadron emblem, painted on the side of the Hispano-Suiza powered fighter aircraft that were being used at the time, and particularly, flown by the World War I French ace Georges Guynemer.
      The mascot was used AFTER WW I as the bonnet ornament for the Hispano-Suiza cars.

  4. Indeed, 1929 H6C (8-litre), chassis number 12.234, with coachwork by Franay. The car survives in the RML Auto Collection in Nevada.

  5. No mystery here. The car is a 1930 H6B 8 litre Boulogne convertible sedan by Franay which was imported into New Zealand in the very early 1950’s, the white on black number plate 238.528 being the current issue for 1951/56. Owned for a while by Ken Hemus in Auckland who sold my old 30-98 Vauxhall to buy the car, it was later owned for many years by Alan Lake and it was then that I came to know it well and rode in it often and occasionally drove it. Alan is now long dead and the car was, last that I heard, in Australia. The black on yellow number plate 401.408 was the current issue for 1961/66 and the badge above it is that of the Auckland Veteran and Vintage Car Club. Great memories of a wonderful car and its highly skilled engineer owner!

    • Rats! I was hoping it was the Hispano-Suiza “Miss Fisher” drives in the Aussie mystery TV series, but the Internet says hers is a a red 1923 46CV.

      • Allen, I was reminded of Phryne’s car, too. According to the show’s unofficial blog, hers is one of two Hissos in Australia.

  6. I always thought the name was odd; nobody else had such a name. Now, Spanish-Swiss makes sense.
    Every day there is a new discovery on this site.

    • Perhaps not so odd as there are now two entities laying claim to the Hispano Suiza nameplate. It’s being resurrected as a supercar in Switzerland, I think, for the 2020 model year, while someone in Spain says they already own it. The name literally means “Spanish-Swiss” and was sold to two separate companies back in the ’40s. The Swiss company built a limited production tribute car in 2010.

      Search “Hispano Suiza Jalopnik” for details and images.

  7. Note the trailer hitch in the last photo. The idea of putting a hitch on a modern Rolls Royce, Bentley or Maybach is unthinkable today.

    • One of the funniest things I ever saw was a current era Rolls Royce towing a cheap little Sears two wheel pop-up camper on the DC Beltway on a Friday evening back in the late 1980’s …. I was driving my ’85 Mustang 5.0 LX convertible – which I still have and love. But hey, the RR owner was heading out of the city for a little weekend R&R!

  8. Are you certain that car was built in Spain? My understanding is that it is French. Marc Birkigt was Swiss – his first cars were built in Spain but he moved to France before WWI and Hispano-Suiza is usually considered a French car. The H6 and H6B were based on Hisso’s airplane engines built in France during WWI. I’m not sure which models (after the Alfonso – before WWI) were built in Spain but I know they built trucks there which I don’t think the French factory ever did.

      • Am I correct in saying the big diference is that the cars from Spain had cast iron blocks, the French ones aluminium?

          • Hispano-Suiza had built cars in Spain from 1904-1944 (before and after its French production) and total number (about 6000) built in Barcelona exceeded total built in both plants (Levallois-Perret [from 1911-1914] and Bois-Colombes [from 1914-1938]) in France. Between 1919 and 1934, Hispano-Suiza (the first maker to mass-produce solid aluminum cylinder blocks, crankcases and SOHC valve gear castings, (so a “Pierce-Arrow of Spain???”), built about 2600 alloy-block cars in France, about 200 iron-block cars in Spain and about 50 cars (in license arrangement with Skoda) in Czechoslovakia between 1924 and 1927 — the first of which was built for Czech President Masaryk.

            In 1932, H-S built six models in Spain: T-49 (3.75 L I-8), T-48 (2.5 L I-4), T-41 (H6B with cast-iron engine), T-56 (H6C with cast-iron engine), T-64 (4581 cc) and T-60 (3.0 L). The T-49s were sold to the public (and a few were exported — mainly to England,) and T-48s were sold to the Spanish government, which required cars it purchased to bear 500,000-km “good service” guarantees.

            The French-built H-S alloy engines had received screw-in nitride-steel wet cylinder liners, new manifolds, hotter cams (and electric fuel pumps…) in 1928, but they still managed only around 10 miles-per-gallon, so in 1930, H-S bought Ballot, who had built engines for Delage (who you will know) and Mass (who’d built mostly for the English) and its RH-3 became the HS-26 “Junior.”

            Its chassis was built by Ballot, but its engine was built by H-S in Barcelona, and of light alloy. With the addition of a high-quality middle-market car, H-S might have had a chance to survive

            But in 1931 H-S introduced a 9.5L V-12 (which made 100-115-hp, depending on chassis length) and about 12 (of about 68) V-12s (which were offered right up to 1938) were exported to Spain. Not a lot more were exported elsewhere or sold during the Spanish Civil War. And then came WW II. If Packard would survive building both up- and down-market cars, H-S would not. Sad. Enjoy seeing these remarkable cars (and revolutionary) whenever you can. All the heavenly bodies: Binder, Chapron, Fernandez & Darrin, Fiol, Franay, Gangloff, Hibbard & Darrin, Hooper, D’Iteren, Murphy and Saoutchik. Dubonnet and Weymann had Hissos. Cousin of QE II. Bentley? Schmently. Rolls-Royce? Bad-Choice. His mountain moved!

    • Hispano-Suiza did not, in fact, build Bugattis, but, after WWII (and the death of Ettore in 1947), it did purchase Bugatti’s factory, where, during the post-war years, some 101s and two 251s for F1 GP were assembled. So a few Bugattis WERE built in a Hispano-Suiza-OWNED factory (along with a lot more aircraft parts), but it was 1963 that all of Bugatti was sold to Hispano-Suiza, 1968 that Snecma assumed control, 1977 that Messier-Bugatti debuted and 1987 that Artioli bought the Bugatti rights and TM and moved it all to Campogalliano.

      Which is near Modena. Ahhhhhh.

      PS: A few Spanish T-49s were built in France for the 1924 Paris Salon: they were called I-6s.

      H-S built only the chassis for its V-12 cars, as did many of the world’s finer car makers then.

      Hudson had negotiated to build the 3.0 L engine in Detroit, but the Depression intervened.

      H-S had prototyped a V-8-powered, front-drive car, but the Second World War intervened.

      First Birkigt auto was gas-electric hybrid with 1-cylinder engine to maintain battery charge.

      Back to the future.

      Yesterday is today.

      First Geneva show: 1905. Latest Bugatti (La Voiture Noir) was debuted in Geneva in 2019.

  9. Hey hey, there seems to be some confusion about this prestigious Automobile!
    Hispano-Suiza was founded by a Swiss who settled in Spain, where he built his first car. Mark Birkigt was a trained engineer formed in a Swiss university and specialized for the watch industry. In 1906 his fortune was made by an engineering company of Geneva, Piccard & Pictet – the one that actually implemented the firs electric turbines of Niagara Falls – that was interested to diversify its production and bought the licence of the Hispano to be produced in Geneva-Switzerland under the name Pic-Pic. (Only 8 cars of this make still exist in the world).
    After Hispano-Suiza ceased automobile manufacturing, it was merged after WW2 into a conglomerate of aeronautical industries called SNECMA, reuniting Gnôme-Rhône, Voisin, Bugatti among others, that eventually became SAFRAN in 2006, a conglomerate of top technological industries. It is kind of nice to know that none of these once famous names of automobiles never really died, but continue to be among the best!

  10. You may wonder why I know all of this? First I am from Geneva. Then I settled in Paris, where I was responsible for the graphic chart of SAFRAN and came over all these companies spread over France.

  11. I have a personal collection of antique automobile original stock certificates. Among them is September 12th 1940 Hispano Suiza Fabrica de Automovies from Spain as a 500 share stock certificate.

  12. On a vintage rally we had a flat tire on my brother’s 1937 Riley Adelphi and Mr Lake loaned us the Hispano’s pump. The operator was assumed to be much taller than either of us. The Hispano-Suiza was dark green then.
    Another car departed from New Zealand, but “Miss Fisher’s” earlier car now lives here.

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