IN a classic example of ‘back to the future’ the once-famous Spanish car brand, Hispano-Suiza, is making a comeback with an electric car — exactly 122 years after it built its first electric car.
But there’s a lot more intrigue, because two somewhat related companies — one in Spain, the other in Switzerland — are both producing hotshot cars under the same revered name.
The new company was established last year by a team led by Miguel Suqué Mateu, the great-grandson of one of the original founders of the historic high performance car.
Its first product is the Carmen, an all-electric grand tourer boasting carbon fibre construction and a 750kW output — and it’s named after his mum.
It was first shown at last year’s Geneva motor show and the firm will return this year with a more hardcore variant called the Boulogne, which they say will highlight the performance potential of the Carmen.
The Boulogne was developed by Hispano-Suiza’s Tailormade custom division and is said to reference Hispano-Suiza’s racing vehicles from the 1920s.
The Boulogne name comes from the French town which hosted the George Boillot Cup in the 1920s in which the original Hispano-Suiza claimed three victories with its H6 Coupe.
The story started in 1898 when Spanish artillery captain Emilio de la Cuadra built electric cars in Barcelona under the name of La Cuadra.
He met the brilliant Swiss engineer Marc Birkigt and got him to join the company in Spain, producing its first petrol-engined car — the workings designed by Birkigt — in 1902.
In 1904, Damián Mateu bought out La Cuadra’s interests and rebranded the firm as Hispano-Suiza to show the link between its Spanish and Swiss owners.
Then followed a series of company restructures and vehicles were produced in Barcelona and three other centres in Spain, before it began building them in Paris as well — to cater for the growing French market.
Competition successes started as early as 1910, in the Coupe des Voiturettes Boulogne and the Catalan Cup Races (Jay Leno has a 1915 model) and the cars also became favoured by heads of state, often used in preference to the Rolls-Royce offerings.
The World Wars had the company producing trucks, aircraft engines and cannons and, after WWII, the company sold off its various operations.
But now fans of the firm have the bewildering choice of two supercars with the same name.
There’s the Spanish one, as mentioned, and a Swiss one too.
The latter, led by automotive designer Erwin Leo Himmel, came out with a concept based on the platform of the Audi R8 in 2010.
At this year’s Geneva show it will present the production version, labelled the Maguari HS1 GTC, which has some rather US-style about its appearance.
Himmel’s people have added to the standard 5.2-litre V10’s twin-turbochargers with electric compressors for a combined output of ‘more than 750kW’.
It also has a 7-speed automatic and rear-wheel-drive, instead of the donor car’s dual-clutch transmission and all-wheel drive.
Production will be limited 300 units and the first 10 examples will be special editions complete with matching gloves, shoes and luggage set.
Cost? About $3.5 million.
The Spanish one, by contrast, was engineered entirely by Barcelona-based QEV Technologies, experts in electric powertrains who works with major carmakers and Formula E teams.
It might be marginally less pricey than the fuel-gulping Swiss one.
Think $3.1 million or thereabouts.
The Spanish one also has a stork for a mascot, the symbol of the French province of Alsace, taken from the squadron emblem painted on the side of a Hispano-Suiza powered fighter aircraft of WWI.
We don’t know if the Swiss Hispano uses that too.
But it seems clear the barney over which company has moral and/or legal rights to the name will end up in a court of law.
Now, will that court be in Spain, or Switzerland?
Or will the two agree that one car be called a Hispano and the other a Suiza?
That would be logical — but far too simple.
CHECKOUT: Hispano on the road to Woop Woop
CHECKOUT: Old Albert seeks young Aussie