Chantilly, 23 September 2022
Hispano Suiza has traveled to Chantilly (France) to witness a historic moment for the brand: the meeting of the Hispano Suiza Carmen with the vehicle that inspired its design, the Hispano Suiza Xenia Dubonnet. Two symbols of the brand’s past and present, together for the first time.
Francesc Arenas, Design Director of Hispano Suiza and the man responsible for the design of the Carmen, accompanied us on this journey, and shared which features connect the two vehicles and why the Xenia Dubonnet was chosen as a source of inspiration for the rebirth of the brand.
Which features do the vehicles have in common?
One of the most obvious sources of inspiration when we were designing the Carmen is the rear of the Xenia Dubonnet. As we can see, its silhouette evokes the aerodynamic profile of a waterdrop. What’s more, in the rear we placed circular tail lights with a figure of a stork in the center, so that we could enhance the emblem of our brand.
Another characteristic element of the Carmen’s rear is the diffuser. This differs from the original Xenia Dubonnet, since at the time, these elements weren’t applied in the aerodynamics of vehicles. Lastly, we can observe the boat tail shape of the Carmen’s tailgate, which is also inspired by the original 1938 Xenia Dubonnet. The whole vehicle is very reminiscent of the shape of the original 1930s vehicle.
On the other hand, the rear wheel arch covers are also one of the most characteristic elements of the Hispano Suiza Carmen. For aerodynamic performance purposes and to highlight above all the influence of the Xenia Dubonnet, we decided to apply this piece which isn’t very common in today’s cars, but that reminded us of the original vehicle. Nevertheless, we didn’t just include them for aesthetic reasons, but also for aerodynamic efficiency, since covering the wheel allows the air flow to circulate throughout the bodywork prior to exiting at the rear.
The front wheel stamped in aluminum reminds us of the wheels that French airplanes had when they fought in WWI. André Dubonnet was a pilot in the French army and he wanted to apply airplane-like aerodynamic aesthetics throughout the car. With the Carmen, we decided to recover this stylistic resource and we designed a rim that also allows us to vacuum air into the breaks and cool them. And it’s precisely the staggered shape of the rim that reminds us of the Xenia Dubonnet.
The front of the Xenia Dubonnet has possibly inspired us the least when it came to designing the Carmen. In our case, we wanted to respect the traditional layout or distribution scheme of the bodywork features. Hispano Suiza vehicles were characterized by this layout, with a large central grille, which aids the cooling of the entire battery system in the Carmen, and also headlights on both sides, which we devoted special attention to, and designed really characteristic and identifiable lights, even in low lighting.
You have previously explained that, from your point of view, the design of an electric car doesn’t necessarily have to differ from the design of a combustion or hybrid car. Is that the reason why you inspired the Carmen in the Xenia Dubonnet?
It’s hard to understand how at this point in time, when electric cars are becoming more and more established, that there’s still a need to differentiate in terms of aesthetics and styling, an electric car from a combustion car or a hybrid car.
When we decided to take inspiration from the Hispano Suiza Xenia Dubonnet to design the Carmen, we did it because we were looking back on our roots. We are a brand that has been reborn, that has re-emerged after 70 years. So we had to look for that connection to our origins and our past.
Therefore, our references and our heritage were combustion cars and the legendary vehicles of the brand, such as the Xenia Dubonnet, the Alfonso XIII and many other vehicles.
Through the eyes of a 21st century designer, what do you think of 20th century vehicle design? How have vehicles evolved?
Basically, what has changed are the manufacturing processes. For example, at the time when the Hispano Suiza Xenia Dubonnet was built, assemblers worked in a very artisanal manner, that made them exceptional cars, practically unique. That’s what differs from the mass production processes we have today.
At Hispano Suiza, we have retrieved the philosophy of making cars one by one and in an artisanal way. On the one hand, because the processes and the investments needed to make large quantities of cars contradict that exclusivity that we look for in our vehicles. We also retrieved this handcrafted process because we want our customers to participate in the development of their vehicles. We invite them to personalize the car with us, customizing them to the fullest, and moving away from mass production.
That is our philosophy: we strive to make our vehicles unique and handcrafted jewels. Although you would recognize the vehicle as a Hispano Suiza Carmen when they’re placed side by side, each one will be customized, with personal touches and finishes given by each of our team members in the atelier, making each vehicle a rare work of art.
What did the meeting between the Hispano Suiza Carmen and its muse, the Hispano Suiza Xenia Dubonnet, mean to you?
It was a moment that we were really looking forward to since the beginning of the project. It has been difficult to find documentation and archives of the Xenia Dubonnet and apply them to the Carmen. That exercise of comparing the two vehicles in person was something I really wanted to do.
It has been really exciting. Even the days leading up to the event and thinking about how we were going to prepare the meeting between the Carmen and the Xenia Dubonnet. It has been really special. And framing it in this setting, at the Chantilly Arts&Elegance concours, the moment is even more enhanced, and it triggers more excitement.