Won’t the Real Hispano Suiza Please Stand Up, Please Stand Up

Automotive News 30 March 6, 2019 by

We love it when a famous name from motoring history makes a comeback. Whether it’s Borgward or Bugatti, Iso or Alpine, there’s something about a new car bearing a name we’ve not heard in ages.

That means we’re looking forward to the 2019 Geneva International Motor Show, because one brand is on its way back after a long absence. Hispano Suiza — literally meaning “Spanish Swiss”, after its founders’ nationalities — made some of the most beautiful cars ever seen.

Like so many car companies of the era, Hispano Suiza had a turbulent couple of decades at the start of the 20th Century. However, it really hit its stride after World War 1, until the Spanish Civil War erupted. Over time it became an aircraft engine manufacturer, before selling off assets to a variety of other companies and effectively ceasing to exist.

In the lead up to the 2019 Geneva Motor Show we’ll see the Hispano Suiza name appearing on not one but two 1,000hp+ supercars. However there’s a slight problem… the cars are actually from different companies, both called Hispano Suiza.

Hispano Suiza Cars

First to lay claim to the name is Spain’s Hispano Suiza Cars. Company president Miguel Suqué Mateu is the great-grandson of the original company’s Spanish founder, Damián Mateu.

This Hispano Suiza’s claim rests on what’s effectively an unbroken family lineage. After Damián Mateu died in 1935, his son Miquel Mateu succeeded him. When war, nationalization and the subsequent breaking up of the company occurred, Mateu remained president of “La Hispano Suiza, Fábrica de Automóviles”.

Upon his death in 1972, his daughter Carmen became the company’s president. That title then passed to Miguel in 2000 — and he immediately set about reviving the company’s automotive ambitions.

That resulted in the Hispano Suiza HS21 concept, built in cooperation with Mazel Engineering, first shown at the Geneva Motor Show in 2000. The company tried twice more with evolutions of the concept, the K8 and HS21-GTS, in the next two years.

However, it all went rather quiet until this year. For the 2019 Geneva Motor Show, Hispano Suiza Cars (founded in 2018) presented the Carmen, named for Miguel’s mother who died in 2018.

The Hispano Suiza Carmen is an electric vehicle in the mold of an Art Deco era car — pretty much classic Hispano Suiza design. Less classic is the carbon fiber safety cell and body panels, and the 750kW (1,005hp) twin-motor powertrain.

Hispano Suiza AG

As the original Hispano Suiza was part Spanish and part Swiss, so the modern schism is too. Hispano Suiza Automobilmanufaktur AG is a Swiss company founded by Austrian car designer Erwin Himmel.

Himmel worked for Volkswagen AG in the late 1990s, and led the design teams behind cars like the Audi A8 and Volkswagen Touareg. He also penned the Audi quattro Spyder, a 1991 concept car that effectively previewed the Audi R8.

According to Himmel he picked up the European rights to the Hispano Suiza name in 2010. As lifelong fan of the original company’s Swiss designer Marc Birkigt, the opportunity drove Himmel to revive the brand himself.

This is where the waters get a little murky. Himmel’s Hispano Suiza presented a concept car — the Grand Turismo Coupe — at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show, but not under that name. The car, a heavily reworked Audi R8 wearing Hispano Suiza badging, appeared on a stand belonging to a company called Delmar.

Two existing owners of the Hispano Suiza name — the aforementioned Hispano Suiza Cars and French aerospace company SAFRAN — immediately objected. However this doesn’t seem to have dissuaded Himmel, who has returned with an updated version.

The latest Swiss Hispano Suiza is also based on the R8, but now called “Maguari”. This is a South American stork, as depicted on the original company’s symbol — and you’ll see an ankle-shredding stork ornament protruding from the grille.

While we were due a head-to-head with the two Hispano Suizas at Geneva, it seems like the Maguari is a no-show for now. That means we’ll have to settle for paper racing.

With a 1,070hp, twin-turbo V10, the Maguari has the legs of the Carmen, but it is surprisingly heavier than the EV. That puts them rather close in power-to-weight, with the Swiss-Spanish-Swiss at 610hp/ton and the Spanish-Spanish-Swiss at 604hp/ton.

Mateu limits his EV to 155mph, while Himmel’s V10 stretches to a baffling figure of “beyond 236mph (electronically limited)”. Switzerland cites a 2.8s sprinto to 100km/h (60mph), while Spain claims “under three seconds” for the same.

As for which is the real Hispano Suiza… well, you won’t be shocked to learn that there’s a protracted legal battle on that front. Himmel claims the right to use the name on cars in certain territories, while other trademarks for the name apply to everything other than cars — something Mateu and other rights owners like SAFRAN dispute.

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