The Mullin Automotive Museum in California is informing us about its latest addition, the aerodynamic 1938 Hispano Suiza Dubonnet Xenia. This breathtaking work of art was conceptualized by Andre Dubonnet, heir to the Dubonnet aperitif business, successful race car driver and WWI fighter pilot.
Strikingly, the Xenia featured curved glass on all windows, a panoramic windscreen, gullwing windows and extraordinary "suicide" doors. More than a design revolution, this vehicle has a remarkable history including its forced relocation and hiding during WWII and more recently, numerous "Best of Show" honors at the leading automotive events in the world.
Early in life, Dubonnet developed a passion and took great delight in speed and adventure and desired to perfect the future of road transportation and in particular, the suspension system. As his favorite car was the Hispano-Suiza, he picked the 1932 H-6C chassis, which he had seen previously at the Paris Auto Salon and began sketching designs for a prototype, drawing upon his aviation background and racing experience.
He took his designs to French coachbuilder, Jacques Saoutchik who helped him with the framework of the automobile and then partnered with engineer Antoine-Marie Chedru to develop his patented independent front-suspension system.
What followed was a dramatically streamlined build with an emphasis on aerodynamic styling, affectionately named Xenia, after Dubonnet’s first wife.
Far ahead of its time, the Xenia resembles the fuselage of an airplane with a slender, tapered shape and pointed tail. A new parallel opening door system was used as part of the aerodynamic design and special attention was given to the undercarriage for clean air movement. The curved glass of the windshield and doors are reminiscent of airplane-styling and the panoramic windscreen and removal top were exceptionally futuristic. It featured an 8 liter overhead-valve inline 6 engine capable of 144bhp in standard form. Further, this 1938 car was designed to reach 125mph which rivaled any car of the time and had a cutting-edge four-wheel independent suspension.
In fact, the innovative suspension technology mounted each front wheel on a single arm that extended forward from the kingpin, while a pair of oil-filled, coil spring cylinders offered resistance and swiveled as each wheel turned, improving rise and handling. This original suspension system was later licensed by General Motors and used on its Chevrolet and Pontiac brands. Dubonnet designed his steel masterpiece at 19ft long and claimed that his Hispano-Suiza hyperflex suspension system would give it the “suppleness of a cat”.
To protect this revolutionary automobile, the Xenia was hidden away in 1939 during World War II and did not resurface until 1946 in Paris. The Xenia was then purchased by Alain Balleret, President of the French Hispano-Suiza Club who began the vehicles restoration. Upon Balleret’s death, the car was purchased and completed by Seattle based collector, Charles Morse. Morse debuted the vehicle at the Pebble Beach Concours d’ Elegance in 2000.
Today, this stunning vehicle resides at the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, California under the care of Peter and Merle Mullin.