Simanaitis Says

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A CARRIAGE FOR THE KING

HERE’S A TALE of transportation fit for a king; indeed, named for one. Yet, in the last decade, this 1911 Hispano-Suiza Alfonso XIII Double Berline twice went begging at auction, of which more anon. 

The Carriage Trade. Societe des Anciens Établishments  Alin, Liautard & Cie was a carroserrie located in Courbevoie, just east of Paris, today near the Grande Arche de la Défense. This firm specialized in formal coachwork, an example of which graces Hispano-Suiza chassis no. 718’s Alfonso XIII Double Berline.

This and following identified images from RM Sotheby’s 2012 Amelia Island Auction.

As noted by a Gooding & Company auction catalog, “The Berline coachwork successfully brought the style and luxury of the horse-drawn coach into the early motoring era.”

This and following images from Gooding & Company Pebble Beach Auction catalog, August 18, 2013.

Hispano-Suiza and the King. The Hispano-Suiza firm originated in Spain, one of its founders Swiss engineer Marc Birkigt. In 1911, the company set up an assembly factory in France.

King Alfonso XIII of Spain was a pioneering motorist, having commissioned his first of more than 30 Hispano-Suizas in 1905, only a year after the automaker was established. Gooding notes, “in 1912, his wife’s purchase of a Type 15T began the King Alfonso XIII appellation, generally applied to this model thereafter. See THE HISPANO-SUIZA ALFONSO XIII for more details.

Lost, Then Found. This particular Alfonso XIII Double Berline was discovered by two enthusiasts while searching in the mid-1980s for Hispano-Suizas in Seville, Spain. The Marquis de Sanlúcar de Barrameda’s grandfather had once owned the car, and over the years it had been rebodied as an open tourer. 

Amazingly enough, the deal included the Alin & Liautard Double Berline coachwork stored for some 40 years!

A Proper Carriage. “Over the following years,” Gooding notes, “the chassis and suspension were sympathetically restored and rebuilt as necessary. The body received the same careful treatment, with the remaining original interior appointment left largely undisturbed. In their current state, the seat backs need completing and should be matched in a cloth similar to the original door panels.”  

A carriage spirit is echoed in the Double Berline’s forward-sweeping doors and side detailing. The windows have architecturally styled wood frames. The roof carries a fetching luggage rack. 

The car is fitted with Blériot two-bulb headlamps. Yes, Louis Blériot financed his aeronautical career through development of practical automotive lighting.

The car’s longitudinal leaf springs, front and rear, are embossed with stars, reflecting an era when a carriage proudly displayed its rudimentary suspension. 

Seeking a Home. Two “No Sales.” The 1911 Hispano-Suiza Alfonso XIII Double Berline has twice been offered at auction: RM Sotheby’s Amelia Island in 2012 and Gooding & Company’s Pebble Beach in 2013. 

In 2012, the car’s estimated range at RM Sotheby’s was $750,000 to $1,000,000. Bidding reached $575,000, and failed to meet its reserve. 

A year later, Gooding & Company lowered the car’s estimate to $450,000 to $550,000. “As offered,” Gooding noted, “it provides a distinctive and fascinating example of a little-known French coachbuilder’s artistry in a highly regarded and majestic long-wheelbase Hispano-Suiza Type 15T chassis, providing an excellent objective in the many benefits of sympathetic vintage-automobile preservation over complete restoration.” 

Alas, again the car failed to reach its reserve. Yet I believe King Alfonso XIII would have appreciated this carriage. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020 

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