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Coachwork by Binder
*Please note that this vehicle is titled by its engine number. Please also note that Gooding & Company recently obtained copies of Hispano-Suiza factory records, which shed further light on the early history and provenance of this vehicle.
Part of the Briggs Cunningham Collection for 35 Years | One of Approximately 10 Surviving Open J12sBriggs S. Cunningham, Costa Mesa, California (acquired in 1954)Miles C. Collier, West Palm Beach, Florida (acquired from the above in 1986)The Blackhawk Collection, Danville, California (acquired from the above in 1988)Current Owner (acquired from the above in the 1990s)
Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance®, 1988 (Automobile Quarterly Trophy)
The graceful stork hood ornament that adorns a Hispano-Suiza serves as a decorative tribute to the firm’s master engineer Marc Birkigt, whose brilliance was applied to both aeronautical and automotive efforts. The aeroengine he designed for use by the French military was so revered that the Escadrille 3 Les Cigognes (or 3rd Squadron, known as “The Storks”) emblem was applied to his automotive efforts. Exemplifying effortless movement, speed, grace, and beauty, nowhere is the Hispano-Suiza stork ornament more appropriate than when affixed to the firm’s finest offering, the J12. Known internally as the Type 68, it was a supercar in its day, combining advanced engineering, impressive performance, and smoothness of operation presented with style and elegance, courtesy of the finest coachbuilders in the world. This example, an elegant open Phaeton by Parisian artisan Henry Binder, delivers all those attributes and more.
Equipped with experience in both electric-and gasoline-powered transportation, Mr. Birkigt was part of the team that established Hispano-Suiza in Barcelona, Spain, in 1904. Addressing strong demand for the marque in France, Birkigt wisely established production in Paris in 1911. Birkigt served as the firm’s technical director, and with numerous patents to his name, amassed enough wealth to eventually acquire controlling interest in the firm’s French operation.
Racing success was achieved with the T-15 model, often regarded as Europe’s first sports car. King Alfonso XIII of Spain was an early fan of the marque, and his acquisition of a T-15 provided extensive publicity for the firm, as the Alfonso name was forever associated with that sporting model. Birkigt’s engineering genius led to the development of the famous A8 aeroengine, a V-8, water-cooled masterpiece of simplicity with 17 patents associated with its design. It saw licensed production throughout Europe, Asia, and America, providing Birkigt and Hispano-Suiza with worldwide notoriety. Birkigt’s brilliance once again applied to the automobile, led by the development of the H6 model in May 1919. Enjoying a successful production run over the next 14 years, more than 2,100 examples were built before H6 production ceased in 1933.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Birkigt began development of the magnificent J12 in 1929 with production commencing in September 1931. Revealed at the 1931 Paris Salon, the J12 created a sensation, with Omnia magazine concluding, “Marc Birkigt’s twelve-cylinder dominates the Salon and will widely disseminate the reputation of incomparable superiority.”
The heart of the J12 was its massive 9.4-liter, 12-cylinder engine, which featured cylinder blocks angled at an ideal 60º, ensuring smoothness of operation. This engine’s 220 hp rating is often quoted, but perhaps more impressive is the prodigious amounts of torque produced: 465 lbs./ft. at a leisurely 1,700 rpm. When The Autocar road-tested a J12, its qualitative summation consisted of two words: “astonishing” and “amazing.” Those superlatives were confirmed by a quantitative measure during a 0–60 mph sprint, which was achieved in a mere 12 seconds. The J12’s mechanical prowess was complemented by the finest coachwork of the day, sure to satisfy the demands of its select clientele. Sadly perhaps, just 114 J12s were built, making them exceedingly rare today.
Built in 1932, Chassis 13016 was fitted with dashing open coachwork by Parisian coachbuilder Henry Binder, whose efforts began as a carriage builder, located at 31 Rue du Colisée in Paris. Transitioning to motorcars, The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile, Coachbuilding summarized its designs as “bodies of great elegance, balanced proportions, and extremely careful workmanship.” All of those characteristics can be found in this J12’s Dual Cowl Phaeton coachwork, which strikes a handsome presence with its top raised or lowered. Less flamboyant than some of the other French coachbuilders of that period, the Binder design is elegant and restrained, perfectly suited to the quiet but authoritative presence for which the J12 chassis is known.
This car’s known history begins with renowned collector Briggs S. Cunningham, who discovered it in Paris in 1954 at a service garage specializing in Hispano-Suiza, where it received its first restoration. Handwritten notes from Mr. Cunningham state: “This is one of the best cars ever built. Even surpasses the Rolls-Royce in workmanship and engineering.” For more than 30 years, it served as a cornerstone of his world-renowned collection, later housed in his museum in Costa Mesa, California. During his ownership, it was featured in two Automobile Quarterly articles covering Hispano-Suiza, as well as Johnnie Green’s monumental work on the marque, The Legendary Hispano Suiza.
It then passed to another noteworthy collector, Miles C. Collier of Florida, who acquired most of the cars in the Cunningham collection in 1986. It appeared on the world stage in 1988 at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance® as part of a special J12 feature with 14 examples selected for this class. It received the Automobile Quarterly Trophy, awarded to the car with the most historical impact. The current owner acquired it during the 1990s, and it has been carefully preserved for more than 25 years.
Today, 13016 is finished in a monochromatic black paint scheme with matching canvas top. Exquisite details include center-hinged doors; a phaeton top that folds flat, accentuating its long profile; and a full second cowl with windshield, which not only provides protection for the rear seat passengers, but also echoes the front cowl windshield. Tasteful wheel discs cover its wire wheels, perfectly aligned with this example’s understated presentation. Both front and rear interior compartments are finished in striking red leather upholstery.
Rarely does any J12 come to market, let alone an open model with such stunning one-off coachwork. This example has had but four owners during the past 65 years, and has not been seen publicly for more than a quarter of a century. Hispano-Suiza’s advertising for the J12 was as simple and reserved as the car itself. Free of unnecessary boasting, it simply promised: Speed, Safety, Silence, Comfort and Elegance. This example easily delivers on all those counts, whether admired at rest by the masses, or at speed by its owner. And while the distinctive stork hood ornament is instantly recognizable to the well-trained automotive eye, its best view comes from the driver’s seat, an experience its next owner can look forward to.