The 1938 Dubonnet Hispano-Suiza H6B Xenia Rocks a 7.9L Inline-Six That’s Half an Airplane V12
Aviator André Dubonnet used his apéritif inheritance to create this art deco one-off.
Frenchman André Dubonnet scored six aerial victories as a pilot during World War I, only to continue by racing Bugattis and Hispano Suizas throughout the peacetime that followed. As an inventor, he also came up with the trailing arm independent front suspension and steering system bearing his name, which he even managed to sell to General Motors in the early 1930s. Improving unsprung weight by keeping the steering gear and kingpins inboard of the suspension, Dubbonet's setup made it into Fiats, Alfa Romeos and Iso Isettas in Italy, Simcas in France and in the late ‘50s, into BMW 600s and 700s in Germany.
As the wealthy heir to the Dubonnet drinks fortune, in 1930, André Dubonnet married Xenia Johnson, who unfortunately died soon afterward. For his fifth prototype, Dubonnet commissioned coachbuilder Jacques Saoutchic to create an aviation-themed one-off using Hispano-Suiza chassis No. 103. The resulting art deco masterpiece is known as the 1938 Dubonnet Hispano-Suiza H6B Xenia.
Hispano-Suiza was a pioneer of aero engines, and so the H6B's 7.9-liter, SOHC inline-six is essentially an aero V12 cut in half. That's partly why it came with twin-spark ignition, dual distributors and a cast aluminum block with a crossflow head, as well as updraft carburetors for 160 horsepower at 3,050 rpm. All that goes through a four-speed manual gearbox.
Using very little chrome, highly complex curved glass surfaces, a removable roof panel and stainless steel plates for the interior trim, Saoutchic's Dubonnet special was hidden during the war, only to be presented on June 9, 1946 at the opening of the Saint Cloud Highway Tunnel just outside of Paris.
The car was bought by the President of the French Hispano-Suiza Club in the 1960s and carefully restored, only to be bought by Charles Morse in 1999. Peter Mullin purchased "Xenia" in 2003, which only means that today, you can take a peek at this beauty in Oxnard, California at the Mullin Automotive Museum.
In one line, this Hispano-Suiza is what dreams were made of in pre-war Europe.
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