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Coachwork by Henri Chapron
From the Collection of Jules Heumann Originally Owned by Marcel Doret
The history and development of Hispano-Suiza automobiles are deeply intertwined with the firm’s proud aviation heritage and, in light of the company’s rich aeronautical legacy, it is only fitting that this K6 – among the last three Hispano-Suiza automobiles built – was originally purchased by “King of the Air” Marcel Doret, one of the most famous French aviators in history.
By the mid-1930s, M. Doret was certainly in a position to acquire any motorcar of his choosing. Having flown Hispano-Suiza-powered aircraft, the French connoisseur elected to purchase a new Hispano-Suiza K6.
The automobile he ordered was to be the very last short-wheelbase K6, of which fewer than 70 examples were built. Once completed at the French plant, the bare chassis was entrusted to Henri Chapron of Levallois-Perret, a suburb of Paris that has long been associated with the French automobile industry. It was in this exclusive atelier that this masterful, clean-sheet, one-off coachwork design was custom tailored to M. Doret’s specifications, including its unique sloped radiator grille shell and fixed stork mascot. Once fitted, the handsome coachwork was finished in a lovely two-tone color scheme of aubergine with complementary auburn-colored trim. Inside, the cockpit was sumptuously upholstered in cognac-colored leather enhanced by rich wood- grain veneer, inlaid with silver.
Upon completion in spring 1937, the bespoke K6 was collected by M. Doret and driven to his home in the south of France. During the first few years in his care, the Hispano-Suiza was conscripted into a most unlikely duty – that of a tow vehicle. The coupe could be seen transporting M. Doret’s Dewoitine, a Hispano-Suiza-powered stunt plane, throughout Continental Europe on a tour of prominent air show venues.
After several years of faithful service, M. Doret parted with his custom K6 and it was subsequently acquired by M. Escaffre, a resident of Escalquens. Some time later, the Hispano-Suiza was sold to Yves Dalmier, a collector of fine vintage automobiles who also resided in Southern France, and who devoted a chapter of his memoirs to the Chapron-bodied K6.
Eventually, M. Dalmier sold the beloved Hispano-Suiza to Antoine Rafaelli of Marseille, a discerning enthusiast with an interest in French and Italian automobiles. From there, the car passed through the hands of Paul Sac before being sold to Dr. Gaston Mathias of Montpellier in 1960. Due to the costs associated with maintaining the complex prewar car, the doctor eventually locked the K6 away in an old barn on his farm and, for the next four decades, this treasure remained quietly preserved, in hiding.
In 2006, Jules Heumann, a leading marque authority, was finally able to recover the long-lost K6. Despite its deteriorated state, the Hispano-Suiza was essentially untouched and remarkably intact, retaining its original engine, coachwork, upholstery, and unique features. Amazingly, the Chapron bodywork still bore its original paint, and Doret’s aircraft tow hitch even remained affixed to the chassis!
After a lifetime spent in Southern France, the K6 relocated to California where it was disassembled and inspected in preparation for a complete restoration. At that point, the well-preserved nature of the Hispano-Suiza became wholly apparent.
Although the paint was faded, covered areas still showed the undisturbed original colors and the body retained its original stamped and handwritten numbers throughout. Perhaps the most important discovery was M. Doret’s name found inside the spare tire cover, still legible 70 years after it was originally inscribed.
Over a three-year period this exceptional K6 was completely restored to the highest possible standard. Eric Limpalaer, a French Hispano-Suiza expert, rebuilt the chassis and mechanical systems including the original matching-numbers engine. The Chapron coachwork was then entrusted to the talented team at Perfect Reflections in Hayward, California, with Curtis Patience leading the comprehensive restoration process, replacing structural timbers as necessary. Inside, the cabin was meticulously re-trimmed by Vintage Auto Upholstery, and Christensen Plating refinished the brightwork. Mr Heumann, a gentleman with an intimate knowledge of Hispano-Suiza motorcars, ensured that the work was performed to his strict standards of authenticity.
Today, the engine features dual downdraft carburetors, a contemporary arrangement from Cattaneo, which was an aftermarket manufacturer of the period specializing in high-performance equipment. In addition, Phil Reilly & Company, the renowned firm in Corte Madera, California, installed a Laycock-type overdrive unit. These two additions have greatly improved the already outstanding touring capabilities of the K6.
The experience behind the wheel of this extremely late Hispano is simply marvelous. The car exhibits uncommonly sophisticated road manners. Road vibrations are reduced to an absolute minimum in the elegant passenger compartment, and the K6 imparts a sense of confidence and capability in modern traffic.
Since being restored to its original splendor, the K6 has been selectively displayed at the most prestigious West Coast gatherings, beginning with its debut at the 2009 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance where it received Second in Class as well as the Art Center College of Design Award.
Later that year, the Hispano-Suiza received First in Class and Best of Show Closed Car at the Ironstone Concours as well as a Second in Class and Most Elegant Closed Car at the Kirkland Concours in Washington. In 2010, the Hispano-Suiza continued to impress, recording three consecutive First in Class trophies along with an equal number of Most Elegant Closed Car awards. Accompanying the car is an impressive historical file with a considerable collection of photographs of the car when new, as found, and during restoration, as well as documents and reference material pertaining both to the K6 and to its famous first owner Marcel Doret.
This lovely Hispano-Suiza is certainly one of the finest restored examples of the marque in existence. Of the known survivors, few possess the extraordinary character, pedigree, and history of this one-off Chapron Coupe. Its carefully researched provenance and magnificent presentation reflect the passion for automotive excellence that has come to be expected of a reverent, first-class restoration. The new owner will have the good fortune of knowing that they are in possession of a superb motorcar of great historical import, a rich legacy, and superior refinement. Those with an appreciation for automobiles of the highest quality are sure to be rewarded by M. Doret’s exquisite Hispano-Suiza.