Classic luxury car brands are staging million-dollar comebacks

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It’s a high-risk endeavor that rarely succeeds. Bugatti is one of the only classic car rebirths that has survived long-term, and that was only on the second try in 1998. Also, most importantly, that second attempt was by Volkswagen Group (VLKPF), the world’s largest automaker.

French car maker Delage was among the first automakers to earn its fame on race tracks. The new Delage plays off that connection with a car that would look most at home on a track, even though it is legal to drive on the street, the company says.

“Delage was among the first, and pretty successful, car companies having been founded in 1905,” said Angus Dykman, a classic car expert at auction firm Gooding & Co.

Delage later became known for making large, beautiful and powerful luxury sedans, as well, but racing was at the company’s heart. Delage largely ceased operations in the years after World War II.

This 1937 Delage D8-120 sold at auction for $770,000 in 2013.

A few years ago, when French businessman Laurent Tapie was looking for a brand to attach to the small, high-performance car he envisioned, he found Delage. Like Bugatti, it was a French brand with a championship racing heritage. Tapie negotiated the rights to the name from Les Amis de Delage (The Friends of Delage), an owner’s club for the defunct brand.

Tapie’s car has a narrow wedge-shaped body with big front fenders, largely separate from the body. The car seats two with the passenger right behind the driver. This is not a car for having a pleasant conversation. It’s a car you drive fast, with someone else along for the ride. Tapie said he wanted the experience to be as close to driving a Formula 1 car as possible.

The Delage D12 is a hybrid car powered principally by a V12 engine the company developed itself. It also has an electric motor helping to produce a total of 1,100 horsepower. The company plans to produce only 30 of these cars, with prices starting at $2.3 million each. The first customers will get their cars in September, 2022, a Delage spokesperson said.

The company is in negotiations to take over Delage’s original factory space near Paris, Tapie said. Following the D12, Delage plans to create a more conventional high-performance sports car that will be a competitor to Bugatti, he said.

Hispano Suiza Carmen

The new Hispano Suiza Carmen is a fully electric performance car.

Hispano-Suiza means, simply, “Spanish-Swiss.” The original company was founded in Spain in 1904 by a Swiss engineer, Marc Birkigt, and a Spanish businessman, Damián Mateu. As with its British competitor Rolls-Royce, Hispano-Suiza became famous for its airplane engines, as well as for its opulent luxury cars.

Hispano-Suiza’s cars were known for their power, comfort and quality, said Dykman. A 1932 Hispano-Suiza, a large convertible, was recently sold at a Gooding & Co. classic car auction for $2.4 million.

The new incarnation of the Hispano Suiza car company, spelled without the hyphen this time, was founded by some of the descendents of the original company’s founders. President Suqué Mateu is the great-grandson of Damián Mateu, as is the company’s head of communication, David Martìn.

This 1932 Hispano-Suiza J12 Dual-Cowl Cabriolet sold for $2.4 million at a Gooding & Co. auction earlier this year.

Hispano Suiza’s first car, the Carmen, is named after the founder’s granddaughter, Carmen Mateu, who had been president of the original firm.

Hispano Suiza plans to make two versions of this high-performance electric car. There will be the 1,006-horsepower Carmen, and the lighter-weight 1,100-horsepower Carmen Boulogne. The latter version of the car will be able to go from zero to 60 miles an hour in about 2.5 seconds, the company claims.

Both versions will be made largely from carbon fiber, a material that’s expensive, but light and strong. Prices for the Carmen will start at €1.5 million, or $1.8 million. Prices for the Carmen Boulougne will start at about €1.65 million, or $2 million.

So far, only two of the cars have been sold, said Martín, and are currently in production. Ultimately, the company plans to make 19 Carmens and five Carmen Boulognes, he said.

Confusingly, there are two companies with plans to make new Hispano Suiza cars. The other company, Swiss-based Hispano Suiza Automobilmanufaktur, has announced plans to produce a gasoline-powered supercar. Representatives of that company did not respond to an email seeking an update on their plans.

De Tomaso P72

The De Tomaso P72 is powered by a supercharged V8 engine.

De Tomaso is very different from either Delage or Hispano Suiza. For one thing, it originally existed decades later, and hasn’t been out of business nearly as long.

De Tomaso was founded in Modena, Italy, in 1959 by Argentinian racing driver Alejandro de Tomaso. The company started out building race cars, but is best known for high-performance road cars like the Mangusta and, later, the Pantera.

Those two cars had American Ford V8 engines. The relationship became so close that, for a few years in the early 1970s, Ford owned a majority stake in the company. De Tomaso ceased operations in 2004.

Buyers were found, but attempts to revive the company failed.

Hong Kong-based Ideal TeamVentures bought the rights to the DeTomaso brand in 2014 for just over $1 million. That’s a little more than the $1 million base price of one of the cars the company now plans to make.

A 1994 De Tomaso Pantera, the brand's most popular model.

The company recently announced it’s leaving Italy and coming to America. The new De Tomaso P72, with its supercharged Ford-based V8, will be built in the United States, although CEO Ryan Berris still won’t say exactly where.

The P72 is gasoline-powered, producing something between 700- and 750-horsepower, said Berris. Unlike most supercars these days, the P72 will not have an automatic transmission, even as an option. It will only be available with a six-speed manual transmission. The company expects to have the car in production by the end of 2022.

“For as long as we can, we’re going to continue to produce internal combustion-engined cars with manual transmissions,” said Berris, “akin to a mechanical Swiss watch.”


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