1926 Hispano-Suiza H6B Skiff
Chassis no. 11714
Engine no. 301636
135 bhp, 6,597 cc SOHC inline six-cylinder engine, three-speed manual transmission, solid front and live rear axles with semi-elliptical leaf spring suspension, and four-wheel servo-assisted mechanical drum brakes. Wheelbase: 145 in.
One of the finest French automobiles of the Classic Era, the Hispano-Suiza H6B began a legend in its own time. Designed by the great Marc Birkigt, with inspiration from World War I aircraft engineering, its six-cylinder engine employed machined steel cylinders with integral combustion chambers in a cast aluminum block, two valves per cylinder driven by a single overhead camshaft, and a pressure-lubricated crankshaft running on seven main bearings, and produced 135 horsepower with impressive torque and smoothness.
Arguably the most beautiful H6Bs were produced with the fabulous skiff coachwork. Inspired and named for the racing speedboats of the era, these cars were formed over a hull-like wooden skeleton, covered in strips of the finest hardwood, steam-bent and secured with shipbuilders’ glue, and sanded and varnished to a mirror-like sheen. The result had sensual curves and great lightness, ensuring maximum performance from the potent Hispano-Suiza chassis, making it ideal for the young gentleman sportsman of the era.
The car offered here features a skiff body with distinctive aluminum flanks, laid over an inner wooden frame and crowned by polished wood “decking,” including a second cowl carrying a windshield for the rear seat passengers. It was discovered in the ownership of A.J.M. Goode, a British enthusiast, in 1980. Goode offered the car to John Lothrop, an American Hispanophile in Windham, New Hampshire, who, excited by the prospect, soon acquired it and ushered it stateside.
Mr. Lothrop avidly corresponded with Hispano-Suiza authorities in learning as much about the car’s past as possible. The original factory records show that chassis no. 11714 was delivered by dealer Malliot to the “duc d’Harcourt,” likely Bruno d’Harcourt, a member of the French nobility and noted Grand Prix motor racing driver of the period. While the current engine, no. 301636, is recorded in the same records as having been delivered with another chassis, it should be noted that exchanges of engines were not uncommon at all among H6Bs. Photographs of the car taken before its exportation show it to be in solid overall condition, wearing the current skiff body and, interestingly, wooden artillery-style wheels; reportedly this was one of two H6Bs known to exist with wooden wheels, which were cut down for the fitment of smaller tires during World War II.
It is worth noting that there were hundreds of coachbuilders in Europe who produced a small number of bodies, often without identification tags, and in many cases, as is the case here, the identity of the coachbuilder has been lost to history. Although it is tempting to assign the identity of a famous coachbuilder to an attractive, unattributed skiff body such as this, the owner has resisted that temptation in hopes that new information may answer that question more authoritatively in the future.
Following the car’s arrival in Windham, Mr. Lothrop undertook a painstaking restoration, as documented in many accompanying photographs. With the goal of making the car as spectacular as possible, new wood replaced much but not all of the original wood framing, including the crafting of new top bows. During this time care was taken to reshape the very end of the tail slightly, giving it a more attractive tapered bateau-style appearance. The body was finished in a rich royal blue, with black fenders and a complementary medium blue leather interior. Wire wheels were also fitted in the course of this most meticulous work, though the original set of wood wheels accompanies the car. The result was and remains a spectacular Hispano-Suiza.
Mr. Lothrop enjoyed the restored car for many years prior to his passing in 2011. It was then acquired from his family by the current caretaker, also a Hispano-Suiza enthusiast and connoisseur of long standing. The owner has continued to maintain its restoration while also driving it occasionally, including as a “guest” at North American Vintage Bentley Meets.
Offered with its original cut-down wooden wheels, this is a lovely H6B of superb design, in the most desirable and iconic body style, with decades of rich history with caring enthusiasts. It evokes all the flair and passion of its period as only a Hispano-Suiza skiff can do.
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