Hispano-Suiza J12: A Flagship for The Maharaja of Indore
Images: Artcurial Motorcars
Not only were the Franco-Spanish Hispano-Suizas more technologically advanced than the competition at the time (Rolls-Royce, for instance, who used the former’s braking technology under license), they were also exquisitely crafted by some of the finest coachbuilders of the world then.
The number of Hispano-Suizas ordered by the Indian princes, however, was miniscule compared to that of the Rolls-Royces that came to India. Two dozen at most made their way to India, and just half a dozen, at most, are known to be extant today.
The rest of the Hispanos from India have either disappeared or have been spirited out of the country. Of the ones that have left our shores, the two most prestigious may have been two with V12 engines, the model known as the J12.
The Hispano-Suiza J12, produced between 1931 and 1938, was the replacement of the very successful six-cylinder Hispano-Suiza H6 range, which had been the carmaker’s mainstay from 1919 to 1931.
By the end of the 1920s, with the Great Depression wreaking havoc with the automobile industry, Hispano-Suiza's rivals, such as Maybach and Rolls-Royce, decided to move further upmarket as the rich seemed to have limitless money.
Hispano-Suiza too decided to design a new car, one that would outperform its most direct rivals, and to do so, it would be powered by a V12. The new model was unveiled at the 1932 edition of the Paris Motor Show and was named Type 68 or J12.
At 9425cc, the J12 was the car with the largest engine at that point of time, and the most powerful at 220bhp. Each of these engines were machined out of a solid block weighing 318 kilograms!
In 1935, a longer stroke version of the engine was developed, which took displacement up to a humongous 11310cc! The maximum power increased to 250bhp, and the torque rose to 770 Nm (from 550)!
With this engine the Hispano-Suiza J12 was capable of a top speed of 170 km/h, which was most impressive for that period. Just two J12s were powered by this variant.
However, barely 120 J12s had been produced in all by 1938 when Hispano-Suiza suspended the manufacturing of automobiles, and started concentrating on the production of aviation engines instead.
Of the two J12s that made it to India, one was ordered new by the Thakoresaheb of Rajkot. The other India-bound Hispano Suiza J12, chassis # 13510, was made specifically for the Maharajah of Indore, Yeshwant Rao Holkar II of Indore.
A true-blue car guy, Holkar had acquired, over the years, some of the finest automobiles from the 1930s. Amongst the French beauties, Holkar already had a Bugatti, a Delahaye, a Delage and a Talbot-Lago, when he ordered the J12.
Once the chassis-mechanical elements were manufactured in the Hispano-Suiza factory near Paris, the whole ensemble was sent to the United Kingdom, to the coachbuilding facilities of J Gurney Nutting.
The latter’s in-house stylist A E ‘Mac’ MacNeil had drawn out a distinctive and beautiful shape, to go with the cars he had already designed for the Indian prince, such as a 4 ½ Litre Lagonda, an astounding Duesenberg, a 4 ¼ Litre Bentley Aerofoil coupé, and several others.
One of four surviving long chassis versions, the J Gurney Nutting body shell of this J12 was one of two very similarly shaped limousines created for the Indore maharaja, the other being a Rolls-Royce Phantom III. The excellent proportion of the car hides the massive size of this bolide, with overall length close to six meters!
The exterior colour scheme of the car was originally black, with the roof and rear boot lid in silver. The rear seats were done up in red fabric, with splendid Art Deco woodwork surrounding it.
Flush fitted occasional seats faced forward and were fitted into the division. Fittings included folded tablets, containing writing materials.
On the roof, just above the windshield, was a pair of small lamps, one red, the other blue, indicating whether the maharaja was travelling (in which case the red one would be switched on), or whether the maharani was in the car (blue was for her).
There were also automatic lights to illuminate the step boards when the doors were opened, and the rear blind was electrically operated.
After the car left India, it was with the Blackhawk Collection, in Danville, California for some years. Later, a Prague-based Czech enthusiast acquired the car in 2010.
The car was comprehensively restored in Europe, and several missing parts were found and restored by French Hispano-Suiza specialist Eric Limpalaer.
The car went under the hammer on 10 February 2018, at Artcurial’s auction, at the Retromobile Salon, in Paris, where it sold for €643,680 (Rs 5.6 Crores)!
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