From alley cat to best in show: Nichols’ Hispano-Suiza wins at inaugural Arizona concours

From alley cat to best in show: Nichols’ Hispano-Suiza wins at inaugural Arizona concours

A car found in deteriorating condition in an alley in Sarasota, Fla., has driven away with best of show honors at the inaugural Arizona Concours d’Elegance.

Photos by Larry Edsall

Photos by Larry Edsall

A car found in deteriorating condition in an alley in Sarasota, Fla., has driven away with best of show honors at the inaugural Arizona Concours d’Elegance. The car, a 1925 Hispano-Suiza H6B Cabriolet de Viille, spent 40 years in Donald Nichols garage before, as he put it, he became brave enough to undertake its restoration.

That work consumed nine years, but resulted in honors it claimed Sunday at the Arizona Biltmore resort in Phoenix. The new concours featured 78 cars on the various lawns within the resort complex. More than 2000 people came to see the cars, to enjoy the mid-winter sun and to make contributions to Make-A-Wish Arizona.

The car judged to be the best of those cars originally was purchased by Andrew Mellon, the industrialist from Pittsburgh who served as Secretary of the U.S. Treasury from 1921-31.

Eventually, the car was given to Mellon’s chauffeur as a retirement present. When not driving the car, the chauffeur kept it in a garage in Florida. However, after the chauffeur’s death, the car was pushed into an alley and left to the elements.

Nichols, of Lompoc, Calif., saw the car, its Kellner-bodied coachwork no longer in anything close to elegant condition, and bought it. Knowing the restoration would be a daunting challenge, he waited decades to launch the work.

Finally, he was determined to restore the car to its original condition, a project he finished two years ago

Sunday, the car was judged the best in the Full Classic European class, and then was picked by the judges as the best among the winners in the 14 categories at the concours.

Hispano-Suiza was a Spanish car company that also built cars in Paris from 1911-1938, though the key to its success of its vehicles was Swiss-born engineer Marc Birkigt, who joined the company in 1904 and became majority owner of the French division in 1923.

The Mellon car was built in Paris, and was among the first automobiles with four-wheel power brakes, a system so good its use was licensed by Rolls-Royce for its cars.

The car’s six-cylinder engine was based on aircraft engines Hispano-Suiza developed for use in World War I and featured an aluminum block with two spark plugs per cylinder as well as dual batteries.

The car’s body was produced by Kellner, a French company that started building carriages in 1861 and produced its first automobile coachwork in 1903. The company built the famed SPAD fighter aircraft during World War I, then returned to producing fine coachwork, specializing in Hispano-Suiza chassis but also doing luxury bodies for wealthy customers buying Renault and Bugatti cars. Kellner production ended in 1938 (later, Jaques Kellner was arrested and executed by the occupying Nazis).

The other class winners at the inaugural Arizona concours:

  • Antique — 1907 Panhard et Lavassor T-3 (John Konwiser, Scottsdale AZ)
  • Full classic American open — 1934 Buick convertible coupe (Lee Gurvey, Scottsdale AZ)
  • Full classic American closed — 1934 Packard 1104 2/4 coupe (Sharon Briskman)
  • Pre-war Rolls-Royce and Bentley — 1936 Rolls-Royce Sedanca de Ville (Jeffrey McKee, Phoenix)
  • Maseratti centennial — 1937 Maserati 6 CM Grand Prix racer (Bill and Linda Pope, Paradise Valley AZ),
  • Pre-war European sports and racing — 1938 Jaguar SS 100 3.5-liter (Philippe Reyns, Chandler AZ),
  • Avant garde — 1938 Steyr 220 roadster (Peter Boyle, Oil City PA),
  • Post-war racing cars — 1951 Schroeder/Stevens Indianapolis racer (Gary Schroeder, Burbank CA)
  • Iconic post-war American — 1952 Hudson Hornet (Jon Anderson, Murray UT),
  • Post-war Mercedes-Benz — 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL roadster (Grand and Judy Beck, Scottsdale AZ),
  • Post-war European sports cars —  1964 Ferrari Lusso (Tony Shooshani, Beverly Hills CA),
  • Exotic — 1971 Ferrari 246 GT Dino (Pietro Dileonardo, Glendale AZ),
  • Post-war preservation — 1987 Ferrari 330 GTC (Todd Reeg, Scottsdale AZ).

Special awards

  • Wish Kids (presented by Make-A-Wish youth judges) — 1939 Bugatti T57C Galibier (Bill and Linda Pope, Paradise Valley AZ)
  • Most elegant pre-war — 1938 Steyr 220 roadster (Peter Boyle, Oil City PA)
  • Most elegant post-war — 1955 Maserati A6G Frua Spyder (Thomas Mittler Estate, Mishawaka IN)
  • Honorary judges awards — 1930 Packard 745 convertible Victoria (Steve Snyder, Orange CA) and 1928 Bentley 4.5-liter Le Mans (Bennett Dorrance, Scottsdale AZ)
  • Director’s choice — 1907 Renault A1 35-45 (Alan Travis, Phoenix)
  • Frank Lloyd Wright Talieson West Distinguished Design — 1936 Delahaye 135 competition cabriolet (Ken and Ann Smith, La Jolla CA)
  • Historic Vehicle Association — 1924 Hispno-Suiza dual cowl sport phaeton (William Ingler, Scottsdale AZ)

 

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