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Queen of the Road

September 05, 1986

I t has been called "The Queen of the Road," a Hispano-Suiza custom built for aperitif magnate Andre Dubonnet in 1924 with an airplane engine and a body made of tulip wood.

The car, which has an estimated value of more than $1 million, has just been restored in body shops in Saugus and Sylmar to mint condition after eight months of work.

The French-built car had not been shown in the United States for 25 years, until last month at a car show in Pebble Beach, where it placed first in its category, said Mike Fennel, whose restoration shop worked on the automobile.

"It's a one-of-a-kind, a beautiful car," Fennel said. "We broke it down to the nuts and bolts, completely took it apart."

The car is owned by Blackhawk Collection and is scheduled to go on display in coming years at a proposed museum in Danville in Northern California.

It was purchased three years ago from a European collector and required nearly $100,000 in labor to restore the wood body, which had begun to rot, and plating, which had tarnished, Fennel said. The car was not in running condition when Fennel's 10 mechanics began their work.

The six-cylinder Hispano-Suiza could reach speeds of up to 110 m.p.h. and was entered in the Targa Florio race in April, 1924, with Dubonnet behind the wheel. However, the car's weight--nearly two tons--caused it to have numerous blowouts, and it finished fifth.

Besides its pioneering body, which is flecked with thousands of copper rivets, the car is known for its sophisticated suspension and braking systems. It has an extraordinary wheelbase of nearly 13 feet.

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