Hispano Suiza was one of the greatest automakers of the prewar era, and this 1933 J12 exemplifies why. Now part of California's Nethercutt Collection, it was recently featured on "Jay Leno's Garage," where Jay Leno and Nethercutt Collection Vice President Cameron Richards discussed what made this car so special.

The name Hispano Suiza is Spanish for "Spanish Swiss," denoting the nationalities of the company's two founders. Based in Spain, Hispano Suiza started out making cars in the early years of the 20th century, but gained prominence with its aero engines, which powered World War I fighter planes. Jay actually has a 1915 Hispano Suiza powered by one of those engines in his collection.

1933 Hispano Suiza J12 on Jay Leno's Garage

1933 Hispano Suiza J12 on Jay Leno's Garage


After the war, Hispano Suiza returned to making cars, developing a V-12 specifically for automotive applications. Sitting under the J12's long louvered hood, the 250-hp 9.4-liter V-12 is a fairly sophisticated engine for the period. It features two spark plugs per cylinder, dual water pumps, and dual magnetos to ensure adequate electrical supply without a distributor. It drives the rear wheels through a 3-speed manual transmission.

Hydraulic brakes had been introduced by Duesenberg by this time, but the J12 stuck with mechanical brakes assisted by a vacuum-operated servo. Despite the more primitive technology, they feel like modern power brakes, Jay says. Customers likely would have felt more confident with them than with then-new hydraulic brakes. 

While Hispano Suiza remained based in Spain, this car was built in France, where the company had opened a satellite factory. It was sold locally to Suzanne Deutsch de la Meurthe, a wealthy Shell Oil heiress and one of the first French female pilots. Of 120 J12s made, this is one of nine with coachwork by Henry Binder, and the only one of those nine with a "short" 146-inch wheelbase chassis, Richards noted.

Hispano Suiza gradually phased out its car division to focus on its aviation business, and was later bought by French aviation conglomerate Snecma (now part of the Safran Group). The dormant brand was revived in 2019 with the Carmen electric supercar. Hispano Suiza followed that up with the track-focused Boulogne variant the following year, boasting 1,100 hp and a claimed 0-62 mph time of less than 2.6 seconds. Hispano Suiza will build 14 Carmens and five Boulognes, with prices starting at approximately $1.6 million.

Check out the full video to see Jay drive the car and learn more about one of the greatest luxury brand in the early days of the automobile.