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Breathing new life into a long dormant car

Simon de Burton
April 22, 2024
8 min

Reviving forgotten but storied car makers has become as popular as bringing back defunct watch brands – but when it comes to the former, there is more than one way to skin a cat now that the internal combustion engine looks set to be superseded by battery power. Two of the most intriguing automotive marques to have returned of late are Hispano-Suiza and Bizzarrini, the different owners of which have taken respectively futuristic and purist approaches to getting these historically important names back on the road.

Hispano-Suiza’s Carmen and Carmen Boulogne models carry hints of the past in their design but are shamelessly 21st century in form and function; Bizzarrini’s 5300 GT ’Revival Corsa’ is an exquisitely perfect recreation of the original ‘60s supercar. And while they are very different in almost every respect (apart from being almost identically priced) they both prove beyond doubt that it’s not only Doc Brown’s DeLorean that can go back to the future.


The idea of a car that combines Spanish and Swiss ways of doing things is intriguing in itself, so it’s no surprise that the story of Hispano-Suiza is a good one - not least since the marque has now come full circle with its revival as a maker of electric supercars.

Hispano started life in 1898 as an electric car manufacturer founded by Spanish artillery captain Emilio de la Cuadra who, after meeting Swiss engineer Marc Birkigt, hired him to work at the La Cuadra factory in Barcelona. Only two La Cuadra cars were built before a change of ownership introduced the Hispano-Suiza name, and by 1910 (under another new owner and with Birkigt as chairman), the marque was well on the way to being fully established as a maker of large, luxurious high-performance cars; instantly recognisable by their distinctive ‘flying stork’ radiator mascots.

Hispano-Suiza Carmen Boulogne

Fast-forward a century, and the famous stork is again taking flight thanks to the revival of the Hispano-Suiza name by Spain's Peralada Group, which delivered the first new-generation 'hyperlux' car to American super-collector Michael Fux earlier this year. The modern marque's chairman is Miguel Suque Mateu, the great-grandson of the original co-founder Damian Mateu. But, rather than being powered by the six and 12-cylinder petrol engines used in erstwhile models, such as the luxurious J12 or the unique H6B built for French daredevil Andre Dubonnet, the new 'Carmen' and its sportier stablemate, the 'Carmen Boulogne' feature four ultra-powerful electric motors that give the cars a top speed of 180mph/290kph and a standstill to 62mph/100kph time of an eye-watering 2.6 seconds.

The Carmen – named after the late Carmen Mateu, granddaughter of Damian Mateu and mother of Miguel - features streamlined, carbon fibre bodywork (loosely) inspired by that of the pre-war H6B and incorporating scissor doors and retro rear wheel spats, while the technology beneath has been developed with the help of former F1 driver Luis Perez-Sala and is heavily based on the single seater cars used in the Formula E electric race series.

Unsurprisingly at a price of €1.5m for the Carmen and €1.65m for the Carmen Boulogne (both exclusive of taxes), the cars are fully customisable through Hispano-Suiza's 'Unique Tailor Made' programme that claims to offer 1,904 different interior/exterior configurations - which, since a mere 19 vehicles will be produced in total, makes it highly unlikely that two will be the same.

The story of the stork. Then and now

If you're a fan of 'automobilia' (ie collectable objects relating to cars) you might be familiar with the bonnet/hood mascot called 'La Cigogne' that became the symbol of Hispano-Suiza’s elegant and imposing automobiles produced during the first half of the last century.

La Cigogne was designed by sculptor Francois Bazin, who served as a pilot during WW1 flying SPAD S biplanes powered by Hispano Suiza engines. Bazin later met Hispano’s chairman, Marc Birkigt, who has expressed admiration for the flying stork symbol used on the sides of the SPAD aircraft from the squadron led by French air ace Georges Guynemer, and subsequently commissioned Bazin to design a stork mascot for the Hispano car.

From an initial series of drawings depicting storks in various flying positions, Birgkit opted for the now-celebrated 'wings down' design, which Bazin sculpted into a maquette from which the mascots were cast. Indeed, Birkigt was so taken with the finished article that he even ordered an extra-large one to attach to the prow of the motor boat (Hispano-engined, of course) that he kept on Lac Leman. And if you're not among the lucky few to own an original Hispano but still fancy waking up to the stork, take a look at F. Bazin's website – where you'll find for sale a small series of art bronzes created by Bazin's grand daughter, Julie.

Paul McCartney in Hispano-Suiza H6. Photograph © J. Seymour

True love – the remarkable story of Peter Ustinov’s stolen Hispano

The late lamented actor, comedian, raconteur and wit Peter Ustinov was so car-crazy that he even made an hour-long comic record entitled ‘The Grand prix of Gibraltar’ in which he played the parts of multiple commentators, drivers and automobiles involved in an imaginary race around the celebrated rock (it’s well worth a listen). Ustinov owned many interesting cars, including Aston Martins, Alfa Romeos and Maseratis. However his pride and joy was the enormous Hispano-Suiza J12 with limousine coachwork by Binder that was a 40th birthday gift from his wife. It is said that the portly Ustinov had dreamt of owning a Hispano for years and came close to tears when presented with the car outside his home, and he rejoiced in owning it for more than 20 years. Until it was stolen from outside his London home during the 1980s.

Ustinov – famed for his portrayal of the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot – hired his own private sleuths to track the car down and it was eventually found with a new owner in France who claimed to have bought it in good faith. A 10-year legal dispute ensued, at the end of which the (French) judge ruled in favour of the new (French) custodian – leaving Ustinov to observe: “It was a nightmare and a farce. But what can you expect? Napoleon rewrote the law to justify his own thefts.”


With values now exceeding $50m, the Ferrari 250 GTO has become one of the most expensive and sought-after classic cars on the planet. The man responsible for existence was project manager Giotto Bizzarrini, but Bizzarrini abandoned Ferrari in 1961 before work on the car was complete due to a dispute over the firm’s management, which saw three other key engineers depart in a celebrated incident known as ‘the palace revolt’.

He went on to establish his own design and engineering business, notably creating the V12 engine for Lamborghini’s fledgling road-car arm and developing the Iso Rivolta and Iso Grifo GT cars for Renzo Rivolta – the designs of which Bizzarrini also adapted for his own, eponymous marque. It is thought that no more than 140 Bizzarrinis were built between the start of production in 1964 and the closure of the firm five years later, but they were all undeniably spectacular, with the car that best epitomises the marque being the 5300GT.

Bizzarrini 5300GT Revival Corsa

An improved and re-badged variant of the fire-breathing Iso Grifo A3C competition car it, too, was designed for racing. An example was driven by Frenchmen Regis Fraissinet and Jean de Mortemart who won the five–litre-plus class at Le Mans in 1965 in it, before it was casually driven home to northern Italy by Bizzarrini himself. And it is that particular car on which the 24 5300 GT Revival Corsa recreations, currently being built by the modern-day marque, are based. The re-birth of Bizzarrini was announced just two years ago by Kuwaiti national Rezam Mohamed Al Roumi, a former chairman of Aston Martin Lagonda and the owner of Pegasus Brands, an international dealership for Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce and Koenigsegg.

As with 1960s Bizzarrinis, the Revival Corsa is powered by a 5.3 litre Chevrolet V8 engine producing between 400 and 480 horsepower and mounted well back in the tubular chassis. Unlike the alloy-bodied originals, however, the Revival’s coachwork is made from ‘composite’ (ie GRP), but can be produced by special request entirely in lightweight carbon fibre.

Another difference from the ‘60s 5300GT is the location of the fuel tank. In period, petrol was carried in two cells, one located inside each of the car’s sills; the 2022 version, however, positions a single, fireproof tank tank behind the seats. One of the reasons for this is that the Revival models are primarily offered for international historic racing and are, as such, engineered to meet modern Appendix K FIA regulations.

But for a little extra money, owners may request that their cars be made ‘street legal’ – meaning, in theory at least, that a Bizzarrini could once more win Le Mans (all be it the ‘Classic’ version) and then be driven home again. Maybe even by the sprightly, 96-year-old Bizzarrini himself.