Hispano-Suiza H6

Hispan-Suiza (it translates as 'Spanish-Swiss' cars had class and quality by the bucketload, and the H6 was no different from the rest.

Much of the credit for this has to go to Swiss designer Marc Birkigt who had been recruited to the company during the early days and had stayed with it throughout some turbulent periods when the solvency of the company was occasionally precarious!

Before the First World War the company had become recognised as a manufacturer of luxurious (and expensive) cars. During the war production shifted to building aircraft engines and it is here where Birkigt really shone. Traditionally petrol engines had been manufactured by bolting machined steel cylinders to the crankcase; this created a heavy engine however. Birkigt instead machined the bores out of a single block of aluminium, then fitted thin steel liners. This cut down the weight considerably, as well as creating a more durable assembly, a very important consideration for an aircraft engine. It was groundbreaking innovations like this that enabled him to design car engines that were way ahead of their time.

The H6 was certainly powerful; initially it was fitted with a 6.6 litre straight six cylinder unit creating 135 brake horsepower. Eventually an 8 litre engine supplied even more power.

Bodywork was of the finest quality and was mainly created by Hibbard & Darrin of Paris, and the Belgian company D'Ieteren.

Engine design was not the only innovative feature of this car however. For the first time ever the brakes were power assisted; the very act of deceleration drove a servo which generated more power for this. This was such a huge improvement on conventional systems that it was licensed to other manufacturers, including Rolls-Royce.

The H6 was manufactured right up to 1933, with sales of around 2350 including all versions. Most of these were built in France although Skoda in Czechoslovakia built some under licence and actually sold one to the country's president, Tomas Msaryk.

Racing versions were created which broke several international speed records, including an average of 92 mph over 300 miles at the Brooklands race course. The driver at that time was Woolf Barnato, who was later to become president of Bentley Motors.

Other specials included a six wheeled version ordered by the King of Greece; but after he abdicated in 1922 it was bought by American film director D W Griffith. Lord Louis Mountbatten and the King of Spain were also famous H6 owners!

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