1938 Hispano-Suiza H6B Dubonnet “Xenia” Coupe. Collection of Peter Mullin Automotive Museum Foundation. Photograph © 2013 Peter Harholdt

1938 Hispano-Suiza H6 Dubonnet “Xenia” Coupe
Collection of Peter Mullin Automotive Museum Foundation, Los Angeles, CA

André Dubonnet was France’s aperitif baron as well as an amateur racing driver and inventor. Dubonnet worked with engineer Antoine-Marie Chedru to develop and patent an independent front-suspension system in 1927 that was used by General Motors and Alfa Romeo.

Following the 1932 Paris Auto Salon, Dubonnet acquired a French built Hispano-Suiza chassis, which he used to create a rolling showcase for his ideas. This car was designed by Jean Andreau, known for avant-garde streamlined aircraft and automotive creations, and hand-built in the coachbuilding shop of Jacques Saoutchik.

The body resembled an airplane fuselage. Curved glass was used, including a panoramic windscreen (not seen again until General Motors cars of the 1950s), and Plexiglas side windows that opened upward in gullwing fashion. The side doors, suspended on large hinges, opened rearward in “suicide” fashion. A tapered fastback was crowned with a triangular rear window. The car featured Dubonnet’s hyperflex independent front suspension system.

The original Hispano-Suiza chassis sat high off the ground, and the “Xenia”—named for Dubonnet’s deceased wife, Xenia Johnson—was built atop the frame, so while its overall appearance is sleek and elegant, it is a comparatively tall and heavy car. Dramatically different from its contemporaries, the “Xenia” appears far more modern than almost any other 1930s-era automotive design.

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