1935 Hispano-Suiza K6 Cabriolet

1935 Hispano-Suiza K6 Cabriolet Coachwork by Fernandez et Darrin

The choice of European Royalty, Indian Maharajahs, Hollywood film stars and industrial tycoons, the legendary Hispano-Suiza marque was superbly engineered and unashamedly imitated by some of the world's leading car manufacturers. The K6 model was the spiritual successor to the legendary H6, which had been the world's most advanced automobile at the time of its introduction in 1919 and for many years thereafter. The H6 was cataloged until 1933, by which time 2,158 chassis of all types had been completed.

In 1931, the smaller Ballot-based HS26 Junior was introduced, only to be superseded in 1934 by the lovely K6. The K6 shared many mechanical and chassis components with its otherworldly sibling, the incredible 9.5 liter twelve-cylinder Hispano-Suiza J12 model. In this way, the K6 Normal chassis rode on the same 342 cm wheelbase as the J12 Court, and the gearbox, brakes, steering and suspension were identical. Indeed, for historians, it has been a constant source of confusion over the years to tell a K6 from a J12 without a chassis number to aid identification.

The K6 was a superior long distance touring chassis for owners who did not desire the size and complexity of a J12, but wanted the same high quality, superior standard of excellence, beautiful road manners and unquestioned prestige of driving a Hispano-Suiza. K6 production is believed to have been a mere 204 chassis, all fitted with individually coachbuilt bodies, painstakingly constructed by the very finest carrossiers in France and abroad.

When the elusive Gino Fernandez met Howard "Dutch" Darrin during one of the summer concours in Paris in late 1931, he had been operating a small factory since 1927 under the name Carrosserie Fernandez. The encounter bore fruit, and the two decided to enter into a partnership. Fernandez et Darrin was founded in 1932 in Boulogne-Sur-Seine, and it was a felicitous match: Darrin could concentrate on designing, while Fernandez provided business acumen. Ultimately, Fernandez et Darrin was only in business until 1937, but the company established itself almost immediately as a supernova on the firmament of French coachbuilding.

Fernandez et Darrin found their wealthy clients in London and amongst the highest levels of Parisian society. Prices were at the top of the market. When interviewed when he was in his late 70s, Howard Darrin recalled that a body alone cost somewhere between 125,000 and 1,000,000 francs, which was the equivalent of $10,000 to $40,000, depending on the bodystyle. The most expensive and exclusive chassis were routinely being bodied by Fernandez et Darrin: Delage, Hispano-Suiza, Bentley, Bugatti, Delahaye, Duesenberg, Packard, Panhard, Renault, Rolls-Royce, and Voisin. How spoiled for choice the wealthy car buyer was!

A number of signature styling touches characterized Fernandez et Darrin designs. This included the thick Art Deco beltline molding in polished or chromed brass and an endlessly long hood which stretched from the radiator across the cowl to the windshield, leaving the firewall invisible. Combined with extremely low windshields, elegantly curved running boards and the early use of skirted fenders, the cars had a low-slung rakishness which was supremely elegant, ritzy, and very, very chic.

Customers paid through the nose and walked away happy. At its peak, Fernandez et Darrin employed approximately 200 people and averaged one to two finished bodies per week. It is estimated that roughly 300 bodies were manufactured during its six-year life span. Very few remain, as many were chauffeur-driven town cars and limousines which have a notoriously low survival rate.

Nothing is forever. In 1936, France was racked by strikes, turmoil, and social upheavals. A new socialist government was elected which passed legislation aimed at the wealthy. The dollar dropped. Hispano-Suiza stopped making automobiles, and as the franc was also devalued, imported chassis became prohibitively expensive. Fernandez et Darrin closed its doors in 1937, and the showroom was vacated. There are no further records of Fernandez' activities in Paris and he seems to have disappeared back into the obscurity from which he came.

Darrin returned to America, where he had a long and illustrious career as a designer and stylist. In Paris, he had become friends with film mogul and fellow polo-player Darryl F. Zanuck. Zanuck introduced Darrin to the Hollywood jet set, and soon Darrin was building the famous Darrin Packards in Los Angeles on the corner of Sunset and Clark. After the war, he collaborated with Kaiser and later designed the Kaiser-Darrin sports car with its memorable sliding doors. He passed away in 1982.

Descriptions and pictures by bonhams

Production Start 1935
Country of origin Spain