Rare Beauty: The One-of-a-Kind 1938 Hispano-Suiza H6B Dubonnet Xenia

By Author: Vicki Arkoff, Date: Oct 07, 2022

To say that I wish this was a drive impression, is an understatement. Sadly, I’ve only admired the car of my dreams from afar. Well, a couple feet away, to be honest, from the other side of velvet ropes that made it clear I was to look, not touch. Not an easy ask, given the one-of-a-kind car’s sensuous art deco curves, protruding headlights, and rocket rear-end.  

1938 Hispano-Suiza H6B Dubonnet Xenia at the 2022 Concours of Elegance, Photo by Tim Dunlop

She’s a rare kind of beauty. I first saw the 1938 Hispano-Suiza H6B Dubonnet Xenia last year during my first visit to the Mullin Auto Museum, the world-class private collection in Oxnard, California owned by finance executive Peter Mullin and his wife, Merle. Though Merle’s personal favorite vehicle was surrounded by a bevy of rare French deco-era lookers, Xenia stole the spotlight, and at the 2016 Hampton Court Palace Concours of Elegance it stole the coveted “Best in Show” award.

Now, six years later, she has wowed Europe again. Xenia won the Bridge of Weir Design Award at the 2022 Hampton Court Concours where organizers presented the crystal trophy to Merle Mullin, the vehicle’s owner. Just a few weeks later it won Best of Show Avant-Guerre at the 2022 Chantilly Arts et Élégance Richard Mille Concours d’État in France.

A well deserved best-of-show Avant-Guerre winner at Château de Chantilly in France, Photo by Mathieu Bonnevie

“There is a sense of validation to see the Dubonnet Xenia’s story and aesthetic continue to delight Concours judges and audiences from around the world,” said Peter Mullin. “Nearly 85 years after it was produced, this classic vehicle continues to stand the test of time.”

Merle Mullin proudly displays the crystal trophy from the Concours Elegance, Photo by Nick Waller

The car’s history is rife with creativity and drama.   

The Hispano-Suiza H6B Dubonnet Xenia is a one-of-one vehicle designed by André Dubonnet, an inventor, racecar driver and World War I fighter pilot. Named Xenia in honor of Dubonnet’s second wife, his intention was to build a car that showcased his inventions and aerodynamic designs, the foremost of which was a coil-spring hyperflex suspension later adopted by Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Buick and others. An H6 Hispano-Suiza engine powers the car. The curvy body was designed by aerodynamics expert Jean Andreau, then was built and engineered by luxury coachbuilder Jacques Saoutchik. Together it was said these features delivered smooth handling and the sensation of flying while driving the vehicle, evocative of the pre-war fascination with machines of flight.

Xenia’s striking aero profile hints at the car’s smooth, flight-like ride, Photo by Tim Dunlop

Shortly after her debut, however, Xenia mysteriously disappeared. The Dubonnet Xenia was put into hiding through World War II and reappeared for the first time leading the French opening of the Saint Cloud Highway Tunnel outside Paris in 1946. The car was purchased by the French Hispano-Suiza Club President and restored in the 1960s. It was later acquired by Peter and Merle Mullin in 2003, where it normally resides under the care of the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, California. 

Standing in the shadow of greatness, Photo by Tim Dunlop

If you ever have the opportunity to see the Dubonet Xenia at a Concours d’ Elegance in Pebble Beach, Audrian Newport, The Quail, Amelia Island, or elsewhere, you’ll doubtlessly see Mr. and Mrs. Mullin proudly driving their showstopper onto the judging field themselves. What most witnesses miss is the fact that Peter Mullin appears to be in the driver’s seat…but the car is a right-hand-drive. When it comes to the one-and-only 1938 Dubonnet Xenia, Merle Mullin always takes the wheel.

Xenia takes the stage in Chantilly photo by Mathieu Bonnevie
Vicki Arkoff

Based in Los Angeles, Vicki Arkoff is the Editor-At-Large for Rides & Drives, reporting on travel, entertainment, and lifestyle. She also reports for Just Luxe, Atlas Obscura, The Daily Meal, Day Spa Magazine, Prevue, Where Guestbook, and Where Magazine, and is Editor for Holiday Goddess, the online destination for chic women travelers from the editors of Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Grazia, Conde Nast Traveler, Lonely Planet, and BBC. She's co-author of the bestselling Holiday Goddess books (HarperCollins and iTunes) including 'The Holiday Goddess Guide to Paris, London, New York, Rome' which spent nearly 10 months in the travel Top 10. As editor, Vicki's other books include 'Sinatra' (DK), 'Inside Mad' (Time-Life) and 'Virgin Los Angeles' (Virgin Books). She is one of the Usual Gang of Idiots for MAD Magazine, and authorized biographer for several icons including Beastie Boys, Duran Duran, Paul McCartney, Megadeth, Yoko Ono, Radiohead, Frank Sinatra and Tina Turner.