Hispano-Suiza H6C Convertible Sedan by Hibbard & Darrin

As the name implies, Hispano-Suiza was a cosmopolitan marque, with Swiss and Spanish origins and a parallel manufacturing base in France. The Swiss engineer Marc Birkigt had designed the Barcelona-built Castro, which became the basis for the first Hispano-Suiza of 1904. Birkigt then embarked on a range of well-built T-head fours, of which Spain’s King Alfonso XIII became enamored. By 1913, overhead cam engines were introduced, but with the outbreak of World War I, Hispano-Suiza turned to aircraft engines, under the direction of Birkigt with the hands-on engineering by Louis Massuger, who was also of Swiss descent.
Rather than machining cylinders out of steel, as was the contemporary practice, Massuger and Birkigt developed a cast aluminum design with thin steel liners, which made the engine stiffer, lighter and easier to build. The initial design was a water-cooled V8 with shaft-driven overhead camshafts. This A8 engine was eventually built in France, Britain, Italy, the United States and Spain.

After the war, however, Spanish automobile developments were overshadowed by those of a new factory in France, which had opened in 1911. Most significant of these was the H6 of 1919. Described by British historian T.R. Nicholson as “the last word in advanced transport for the rich,” it was powered by an overhead cam six of 6.6 liters. Following from the proven aircraft practice, it was cast in aluminum with steel liners. A fixed-head design with two valves per cylinder, it featured a seven-main-bearing crankshaft with full-pressure lubrication. A light, rigid chassis resulted in excellent performance, and servo-assisted brakes with finned aluminum drums assured quick stops. It was succeeded by the H6B in 1921.

The H6C, a more sporting model, arrived in 1924 and was built alongside the H6B. With a larger, 7.9-liter engine, it was capable of 110 mph. The prestige of Hispano-Suiza was not derived from performance alone. Much of its renown came from the bodies which graced its chassis, created by the likes of Franay, D’Ieteren, Proulx, Pourtout, Henry Binder and Labourdette. Characterized by individuality and elegance, they attracted celebrities, nobility and royalty, not to mention the wealthy bourgeoisie. Notable among these bespoke bodies were the creations of Hibbard & Darrin.

Hibbard & Darrin resulted from the collaboration of two American designers, Thomas Hibbard, a founder of LeBaron, and Howard “Dutch” Darrin, an ingenious entrepreneur from New Jersey. Introduced by a friend, they immediately hit it off and ended up in Paris in 1923 selling Minervas. Sensing a market for luxury bodies on upscale chassis, their company, Hibbard & Darrin, arranged with Van den Plas in Brussels to build them. Subsequently, the construction was shifted to D’Ieteren Frères, but when business improved significantly, Hibbard & Darrin established their own shops on the periphery of Paris, while designing and selling cars from a prestigious location on the Champs-Elysées.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in August of 2010 at the Portola Hotel & Spa and Monterey Conference Center, Monterey, California.

160 bhp, 7,983 cc SOHC inline six-cylinder engine, three-speed manual transmission, solid front axle and live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel servo-assisted mechanical drum brakes. Wheelbase: 133.3".

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Darin Schnabel

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