72 kilos of wood, the body of the Hispano-Suiza H6C Tulipwood

The use of wood has always been a constant in the history of motorsports. However, in times prior to World War II, entire bodies were even made of this material. Something quite striking when we talk about high-end cars like the Hispano-Suiza H6, of which we have an interesting sports example in the Tulipwood. A unique model with which André Dubonnet came sixth in the 1924 Targa-Florio thanks, among other reasons, to the extraordinary lightness of the bodywork.

Although today it seems only a whim attached to the identity of Morgan and its ash frames, wood has been a structural component in the early years of motorsports. In this way, until a few months before closing its production, the Ford T assembled components of this material. Parts that we not only found in the bodywork, but also in mechanical elements such as the transmission. And that's not to mention the wheels. Being quite common to mount the ones with wooden spokes until well into the twenties. In addition, in popular memory the so-called "blondes”. Those vans recarrozadas in this organic material during the Spain of scarcity.

However, despite being a modest cost material, it was also used in high-end cars. Proof of this is how it was incorporated -and incorporates- in the form of a sumptuous element for the interior finish. But above all, the form and manner in which certain coachbuilders prior to the Second World War used wood to materialize sports lines. A technique that although it does not have the rigid benefits of steel, it does have a lower weight. Something decisive for the competition. Especially in those days when chassis were still huge, gigantic engines and fiberglass was neither seen nor expected.

Thus, the use of wood in motorsports was another of the techniques that he took from aviation. Reason why the Hispano-Suiza H6C Tulipwood was bodied by Niueport. One of the most outstanding French aeronautical houses, responsible for many war models during the First World War and the interwar period. Unfortunately, his archives were burned in 1940 trying to prevent his designs from falling into the hands of the Nazi occupiers. Reason for which today we do not keep the original plans of this unique model, so representative for wooden bodies. Fortunately, however, the Hispano-Suiza H6C Tuilpwood holds up perfectly in the Blackhawk Museum Of California. And by the way, they have it for sale.


Even for the most uninitiated in the history of Hispano-Suiza, the H6B Dubonnet Xenia is a well-known and recognizable unit. Not surprisingly, its more than original aerodynamic lines have served as inspiration for the current Spanish-Swiss Carmen. Electrified resurrection of the brand under the management of the Mateu family. Tax of the past thanks to this nod to the design that Jacques Saoutchik made in 1938 commissioned by the businessman, military aviator and racing driver André Dubonnet.

An ace of the air with six accredited kills during the First World War, Dubonnet was during the XNUMXs and XNUMXs an outstanding client-pilot for Bugatti and Hispanic-Suiza. In this way, he demanded exclusive and elegant vehicles. Precisely the segment to which the H6 of 1919 was directed. Presented at the first Paris Motor Show held after the contest with innovations such as its servobrake system. An intelligent novelty capable of increasing braking capacity without compromising smoothness, taking from the gearbox the support energy sent to the drum brakes.

In addition, its six-cylinder in-line engine with a displacement of seven liters in the first version was derived directly from aviation. In fact, the base was one of the two benches of the V12 manufactured by Hispano-Suiza for military aircraft during the world war. On this block cast in aluminum an overhead camshaft was arranged with the valves vertical. All this topped off with a very rigid crankshaft to deliver power of up to 200CV in the case of this Hispano-Suiza H6C Tulipwood. An important figure for the date -1924-, even more so if we take into account that it gave its greatest delivery at only 3.050 rpm.


As we said before, André Dubonnet was not just another client for Hispano-Suiza. Far from it, he used to demand variations from the series models to achieve more effectiveness in racing. However, when in 1924 he acquired chassis 11012 of the Type H6C he could not demand too many customizations from the Bois-Colombes factory since they sold it naked together with the mechanics. For this reason, the only specification of the Hispano-Suiza H6C Tulipwood coming from the factory is the reduced height of its radiator. A simple aerodynamic upgrade intended to reduce the high nose height on the H6s, which was only done on one other unit.

Thus, Dubonnet had to think about who to commission the bodywork. Something decisive in this case, since the intention was to use the car in races and not only as a high-end tourism. For this reason, he used his contacts in aeronautics looking for a mixture of lightness and aerodynamics. At this point, he agreed with Nieuport to develop a design finished in a long pointed rear where the a fuel tank for 174 liters. Many more than given by a stock tank on any H6. Thinking in this way in the saving of refueling stops in races. Also, at that time, solving the rear in the form of a drop of water was considered more convenient than doing it in Kammback.

However, the most important thing in the bodywork of the Hispano-Suiza H6C Tulipwood is the material. And it is that, looking for the lowest possible weight, no type of metal was chosen, but tulip wood. Steamed and fixed with brass rivets to mark only 72 kilos. Quite a virgería for the time, thus granting the long-awaited lightness sought by André Dubonnet. In fact, his enthusiasm was such that for that same year he entered the Targa-Florio finishing in 6th position. The best result in the record for this Hispano-Suiza H6C Tulipwood. Only running a few more races during that same 1924 before receiving the copper trim and fenders to be used as a touring car. Undoubtedly one of the most interesting examples in the history of cars with wooden bodies.

Images: Blackhawk Collection

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Written by Miguel Sánchez

Through the news from La Escudería, we will travel the winding roads of Maranello listening to the roar of the Italian V12; We will travel Route66 in search of the power of the great American engines; we will get lost in the narrow English lanes tracking the elegance of their sports cars; We will speed up the braking in the curves of the Monte Carlo Rally and we will even get dusty in a garage while rescuing lost jewels.

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