The world is not short of long-dead car brands, neither seemingly the urge to revive them. Hispano-Suiza is one of those dead carmakers set to be reanimated. Founded in Barcelona in 1904, the Hispano-Suiza name was chosen to celebrate the collaboration between its Spanish founder Damián Mateu Bisa and chief engineer, Marc Birkigt, from Switzerland. In Spanish, the name means “Spanish-Swiss.” From its founding to its end at the onset of the Second World War, the company made more than 12,000 cars in both Spain and France. When war broke out, the company switched to building aircraft engines and armaments.
Yet now, improbably, there are two rival attempts to produce new cars under the (where’d the hyphen go?) Hispano Suiza name, both combining four-figure power outputs and seven-figure prices. In Switzerland, a company led by veteran car designer Erwin Leo Himmel is working on what it calls the Maguari GS1, which promises a turbocharged and supercharged Audi V-10 with 1085 horsepower. Meanwhile, in Barcelona, a Spanish Hispano Suiza is making an electric hypercar called the Carmen.
We’ve now driven the Carmen, but we don’t want to pick sides until we’ve experienced both cars—we’re suckers for a ludicrously powerful gasoline engine. But it is hard to argue against the credentials of the Spanish company, whose president, Miguel Suqué Mateu is the great-grandson of Hispano-Suiza’s original founder. The new car is being built by a motorsport specialist called QEV Technologies, which runs the Mahindra Formula E cars and is based less than a mile from the famous Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Which is where we got to experience it.
There is no large automaker or technology partnership behind the Carmen, but it appears meticulously well engineered up close. Its monocoque and bodywork are carbon fiber, as are the subframes, to which the aluminum control-arm suspension at each corner is mounted. Power comes from a proprietary 80-kWh, 700-volt battery pack that sends electrons to four AC motors at the rear axle. Two motors work on each wheel through a single-speed gear. Two versions will be offered: the regular Carmen, producing a peak output of 1005 horsepower, and the turned-up Carmen Boulogne, named after the location for several of Hispano-Suiza’s most famous racing victories, making 1100 horsepower.
The design is inspired by that of the sole surviving Hispano-Suiza H6C Dubonnet Xenia, a car that lives in the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, California. Both old and new have a long and heavily fared rear end. The result is both distinctive and, based on our straw polling, divisive. The Carmen lacks the visual brawn and presence of other hyper-EVs like the Pininfarina Battista and Rimac Nevera. The size and prominence of the front grille also seems incongruous for an EV, although there are sizable radiators behind it to cool the motors and battery pack. The prototype Boulogne’s combination of bronze detailing and lacquered carbon fiber also had us thinking of an expensive handbag. Buyers will be able to specify almost any color they want.
The Carmen’s cabin is reached through power-operated butterfly doors, which don’t open wide enough to allow for graceful access. Inside, the prototype was equally black and bronze, but with respectable headroom and plush leather trim. Details like the bespoke graphics of the crisply rendered digital instruments and touchscreen display impressed, details that low-volume specials usually neglect.
While we only got to drive a short stint on the Barcelona circuit, in its full 2.9-mile Formula 1 configuration, this was more than enough to confirm that the Carmen Boulogne didn’t feel like a natural track toy. Straight-line acceleration certainly felt impressive in the Sport mode that allows for the full 1100 horsepower. But, as in the prototype Lotus Evija we drove earlier in the year, there is a strange sensory disconnection between the scale of the g-forces being experienced and the lack of a matching level of combustion sound and fury.
According to the company, the Carmen weighs about 3725 pounds, making it pretty svelte by the standards of high-output EVs, with 1765 pounds of that mass coming from the T-shaped battery pack, which is mostly behind the passenger compartment (some cells are in the central tunnel between the seats). The battery location contributes to the 40/60 front-to-rear weight distribution, which felt obvious when trying to shepherd the car’s nose to the apexes of Barcelona’s tighter turns, the relatively light front end giving up well before the rear. Easing off the accelerator tightened the line, and rear-end traction felt impressive for something so potent. In back, there’s a software-based “virtual differential” that moves and shifts torque from side to side despite the lack of any physical connection between the wheels. The finished car will have adjustable regenerative braking selected by steering-wheel paddles; the prototype lacked both of these functions.
It seems unlikely that many Carmen buyers will choose to regularly drive their cars on track, but we suspect it will be much more at home on road anyway. The cabin remained quiet north of 100 mph, and the adaptive dampers felt pliant over the circuit’s corrugated curbs. Hispano Suiza says it is targeting a 250-mile range under the European WLTP testing protocol, which would likely translate to an EPA rating of under 200 miles. The battery can handle DC fast charging at rates of up to 80 kW, which is pretty low by today’s EV standards. There are no plans to subject the car to full federal homologation, U.S. buyers having to rely on the “Show and Display” exemption.
While ultrawealthy buyers have an increasing number of EV hypercars to choose from, few buyers seem interested in making the switch from the more visceral thrills that come from loudly combusting hydrocarbons. Both the Evija and Battista are yet to sell out their limited-production runs. The Carmen isn’t sold-out either, but it has less of a hill to climb, Hispano Suiza saying it will only make 14 of the regular version and just five of the Boulogne. The first customer example is nearly finished and will be delivered to a buyer in Miami before the end of the year.
The size of the proposed production run means the Carmen will likely always be a more exclusive choice than rivals like the Evija and Battista. Well, that and a price tag of €1.5 million ($1.73 million) for the regular version and €1.65 million ($1.92 million) for the Boulogne.
The other question to be answered is how this new-age Hispano Suiza will fare against the rival, gasoline-powered version, if that also makes it to production. That would be a grudge match we’d love the chance to referee, ideally with a race between Spain and Switzerland.
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