Hispano-Suiza returns with the new Carmen

Before World War II, Hispano-Suiza made some of the world’s most magnificent automobiles. Many considered the Hispano-Suiza H6 to be the best automobile in the world, superior even to the Rolls-Royce.

The company was founded in 1904 by businessmen in Barcelona, Spain, using the designs of Swiss engineer Marc Birkigt, hence the firm’s name, which translates to “Spanish Swiss.” Hispano Suiza stopped making automobiles in 1938, instead concentrating on the aviation industry, but now the car brand is being revived by two companies with two completely different approaches to the automobile, electricity vs gasoline. Not surprisingly, one is Spanish and the other Swiss.

To add to the confusion, both Hispano-Suiza companies are introducing their new cars at the same 2019 Geneva Motor Show, with the Spanish firm going first.

Hispano-Suiza Carmen classic and new

Barcelona-based Hispano Suiza Cars is a venture of the Suqué Mateu family, which controls the Grup Peralada, owner of casinos, vineyards, and industrial firms. Their connection to Hispano Suiza goes back to 1904, when Damián Mateu was one of those Barcelona businessmen who got together with Marc Birkigt to start La Hispano-Suiza Fábrica de Automóviles.

Hispano Suiza Cars is initiating a market segment they call “hyperlux”, or hypercars with “exceptional luxury.” Their first product is the $1.7 million Carmen, named after Carmen Mateu (1936-2018), the mother of Hispano Suiza’s current president Miguel Suqué Mateu. It is inspired by the striking, art-deco 1938 Hispano Suiza H6C Dubonnet Xenia. In 1932 Andre Dubonnet bought a Hispano Suiza H6 to use as a demonstration mule for his coil-sprung independent suspension system that he eventually licensed to a number of major automakers. He had coachbuilder Jacques Saoutchik fabricate the aerodynamic teardrop shaped body and named it Xenia after his late wife.

The Dubonnet Xenia has a metal body and it is powered by an aluminum inline six-cylinder gasoline engine. In contrast, the new Hispano Suiza Carmen has a carbon-fiber-based monocoque superstructure and passenger cell, and it is driven by two 375 kW permanent-magnet synchronous motors, one at each rear wheel, powered by an 80 kWh, T-shaped lithium ion battery pack running down the two-seater’s spine. With a claimed curb weight of 3725 pounds and an available 1005 horsepower, 60 mph can be reached in under three seconds. Top speed is electronically speed limited to 155 mph.

Hispano-Suiza Carmen seat detail
Hispano-Suiza Carmen front doors up

Hispano-Suiza Carmen overhead

The battery pack housing, also made of carbon fiber, is designed to allow for battery upgrades. Hispano Suiza says that they expect battery capacity to increase by more than 20 percent, to 105 kWh, by 2020. Range with the 80 kWh pack is targeted at 250 miles.

The Mateu family may be selling the new Hispano Suiza, but they have contracted with Barcelona’s QEV Technologies, an electric powertrain and motorsport engineering firm that supplies FIA’s Formula E electric racing series, to design, engineer, and produce the Carmen.

The 750-volt DC battery pack has sophisticated temperature and charge controls and it compatible with the CCS2 80 kW fast charging protocol, as well as CHAdeMO and GB/T charging options. The battery cells and traction motors are liquid cooled with three radiators, one at the front of the Carmen and the other two inboard of the front wheel arches. Airflow is controlled to optimize cooling while reducing aero drag. An active battery cooling system, integrated with the cabin’s air conditioning, augments the passive radiators. In cold conditions, the battery thermal management system heats the cells to avoid the power loss that batteries experience in low temperatures.

Hispano-Suiza Carmen driving

Just 19 of the Carmens will be produced over the next two years, allowing for “exceptional attention to detail delivered through artisan handcraftsmanship.” You can register your interest, but the new Hispano Suiza won’t officially go on sale until June 2020.

As yet, there is no running prototype, road testing is promised to begin by the middle of this year, with the first media drives scheduled for October 2019.

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