The Hispano-Suiza H6B is an impressive sight to behold and although we handle some amazing cars, when this beautifully-restored Hispano-Suiza was delivered for sale at The Hub it caught everyone’s attention. This year marks the centenary of the famous Hispano-Suiza Stork and while there have been many ornate hood ornaments over the years from the Spirit of Ecstasy to Rembrant Bugatti’s elephant fitted to the Royales, arguably the most exquisite is the Hispano-Suiza stork. Here is the story of how the mascot came into being.
The Flying Stork (or La Cigogne Volante) was first crafted by the legendary sculptor François Bazin. Bazin was born in Paris in 1897 but later moved to Santiago, Chile where his parents taught at the college of art. Bazin moved back to Paris as a young man and was drafted for the war effort in 1916. Bazin was attached to a French Air Force squadron and it was here that he first came into contact with Hispano-Suiza.
Before WW1 Hispano-Suiza built a reputation for producing some of the best automobile engines which were admired for their power and reliability but when the archduke was assassinated and war broke out, aircraft manufacturers turned to the Spanish-Swiss company for engines to power their planes. By the end of the war the company had manufactured no less than 50,000 Hispano engines and the company was so successful that the French government later sued for war profiteering.
One of the many pilots to fly a Hispano-Suiza powered aircraft was the French ace Georges Jules Guynemer. Guynemer was born into an aristocratic French family and attempted to sign up for the war several times but was rejected because of his slight frame, the French war office were concerned that he would not be able to handle the rigours of battle and so it was only after an intervention from his influential family that he was allowed to fight for France as a pilot.
Guynemer’s first squadron, Escadrille MS3 flew with the stork painted on their planes as their emblem and as such became known as Les Cigognes (The Storks) Guynemer’s first victory came in July 1915 and after this success was promptly promoted to a superior squadron with a more powerful aircraft, the Spad S. VII which used a Hispano-Suiza engine.
Guynemer flew the Spad S.VII for several years, racking up a very impressive 54 kills, all with the Cigogne gracefully pictured just behind the cockpit. By now Guynemer was a celebrated war hero and enjoyed celebrity status before he was eventually shot down on 11th September near the French town of Poelkappelle. Although unconfirmed, several accounts state that the French ace was shot down by none other than Baron von Richtoffen, otherwise known as The Red Barron who was known to be flying in the area that day.
You could be forgiven for wondering what a French fighter pilot has to do with the Hispano-Suiza emblem. Marc Birkigt, the Swiss half of the Spanish-Swiss partnership and principle designer of the Hispano-Suiza engines was a close friend of Guynemer and so when the Great War ended as a sign of respect Birkigt commissioned Francois Bazin, who had also worked on Hispano-Suiza planes to create a hood ornament to decorate every Hispano-Suiza radiator cap. Those interested in motoring trivia will see parallels here with Ferrari and Francesco Baracca who flew with a prancing horse emblazoned on his plane.
Bazin’s design is an interpretation of the Stork painted on Guynemer’s aircraft and is instantly recognisable by pre-war enthusiasts. The sculpture is without doubt one of the most graceful hood ornaments fitted to any car, the long slender neck of La Cigogne Volante mirrors the elongated bonnet which houses the powerful straight-six overhead cam while the wings clearly finishing their stroke in mid-flight gives the driver a sense of freedom and escape from the mundanities of daily life.
Though original mascots are very sought-after and command high prices, Julie Bazin (the granddaughter of François) was motivated by her desire to carry on the exquisite work of her grandfather, and has created limited-edition bronzes of several of these mascots, including the aforementioned stork. “Modern cars are functional — they get me from place to place — but vintage cars are art”, she says. “It’s difficult to find anything that is unique today, but that was the way it was back then.” A recreation of La Cigogne Volante and many of François Bazin’s other finest sculptures are now offered for sale in The Classic Motor Hub Shop.