about our J12


Since our 1931 J12 came into our lives in 2011, we have travelled over 30,000km with her exploring New Zealand from Cape Rianga in the far north to Bluff in the deep south.

Our journeys in her are a wonderful way of exploring our country including: visiting national parks with lush native forests; touring through the volcanic plateau; visiting our tallest mountain; traveling over all the high mountain passes. We travelled at all times of the year through torrential rain, a few encounters with snow flurries and plenty of delicious sunny days and deep mysterious north westerly storm clouds.

The combination of the incredible feeling you get driving this vintage car; the appreciation of the engineering and craftsmanship, the way she handles; along with the history and also the fascinating interactions we get when we are out and about, make travelling in her so special.

We love to dress respectfully acknowledging the history of the car and visit places such as Napier due to their historic quarters where we feel truly at home. Particularly during it’s annual Art Deco festival where tens of thousands dress in Deco outfits!

There are only 40(approx) J12 survivors from the 105 produced from September 1931 to November 1938 - and less than half of these are convertibles of one sort or another, making our 'Hissy' a very special car indeed.

Hispano Suiza J12 Factory Vintage Photograph

Motor: V12, 9425cc (100mm x 100mm), 220hp

Gearbox: 3 speed

Brakes: Power assisted mechanical drum

The first J12


In 1931 Hispano commissioned Saoutchik to design and build this five seat Transformable Grand Luxe 4 portes show car on the new J12 (type 68) chassis.


The car was shown at the 1931 Paris Salon, then in October at Olympia in London and then again in March 1932 at the Geneva Salon.


This car’s three position convertible roof, wind up windows and comfortable interior allow long distance touring. The fine handling excellent brakes and immense power make this one the most enjoyable cars of its era.


The Paris show car had a reputed price tag of 250,000 Francs making it one of the most expensive cars of the time.


Peter Larsen (in his 2014 history of the coachbuilder, J Saoutchik Carrossier) describes this J12 as “a chef d’oeuvre in classic yet chic car design."




The car was purchased by the Shah of Persia (Iran), and delivered to his illustrious self in October 1932. The Shah used it as his 'Royal Parade Car'.


It remained in the royal garage until 1963 when it was bought (via Israeli broker Salim Bahary) by an American collector, Robert D Ortenburger. In November 1963 the car was shipped directly from Iran to America.


In November 1979 the car was purchased by Roy Southward and then shipped to New Zealand in early 1980. Roy commenced restoration work but the car largely remained unused until the current owners, Mark and Sonia Richter, who purchased it in 2011.


The J12 has since been restored in NZ by Bristol Restorations for touring use. As of July 2017 it has covered 51,000km from new, 30,000km of which have been touring around New Zealand over the last 5 years, making this gorgeous specimen one of the most used and roadworthy J12's in the world.


A Contemporary Road test



Autocar magazine tested a 2 door 4 seat drophead J12 with the headline “A Car magnificent: Astonishing Acceleration and Ease of Performance”.


They went on to record 0-60mph in 12 seconds with a top speed of 100mph. The excellent brakes stopped the car from 30mph in just 26 feet.



Key Specifications



13010 was built on the “normal” chassis which is 4.949m long and weighs 1570kg. Ortenberger weighed the whole car at 2050kg. The overall body length is around 5.4m.


For more information on the whole J12 story please refer to Stan Grayson’s excellent article “Marc Birkigt & The Hispano-Suiza V-12”.


Hispano Suiza Show car: 1931 – 1932


Hispano show car for the 1931 Paris and Olympia motor shows plus Geneva in March 1932. The car was used to launch and promote the new J12 model. It was featured in a 1932 Saoutchik Brochure.


This initial configuration of the car is called the Show car.



The Shah of Persia: 1932 – 1963 (delivery – 10,000km)


Used by the Shah as a parade car until at least 1947.


The car was lightly modified either in 1932 by the factory prior to delivery or by the Shah early in his ownership (pre 1939). Collectively these modifications resulted in the Shah car configuration.


The low millage is probably due to overheating problems, the source of which was sorted in the 2006 motor rebuild.



Bob Ortenberger: 1963 – 1979 (10,000km to 13,700km)


Bob drove the car 1500 miles to his home in Tulsa with no issues. It didn’t overheat because the drive was in winter with temperatures down to -5 degrees F!  In normal conditions Bob found the J12 would overheat easily.


He used the car for local car meets for several years until he took it off the road to remake the wheels. While being turned over in storage the motor was found to have some problems which led to Bob tearing down, inspecting and, after repair work, reassembling the engine. In 1970 Bob commissioned Wilkinson’s of Derby in England to restore the body and top in a dark blue over light blue in the same pattern as the Shah car’s green over pale yellow.


The top and interior were also changed from green to blue. They also restored the running boards to the Show car shape. Bob did considerable work on the engine but it was sold to Roy in an assembled but non-running state.



Roy Southward: 1979 – 2011 (13,700km to 21,000km)


By 1984 Roy had got the motor running and restored the rolling chassis. In 1987 more work was done to the body and it was repainted in the same two tone blue. (note: the wheel arches and scuttles and running boards were painted over with dark blue in 1997).


Roy returned the headlights and grille cover to the Show car configuration and the bumpers to the Shah car set up.


The motor was fully rebuilt by Bristol Restorations in Wellington between 2003 and 2006. This was a mammoth and complex job. One of the most difficult tasks was removing the screwed in cylinder linings.  A 20ft bar was required to provided enough leverage to get them lose! Considerable fine tuning was required to get the motor running smoothly and efficiently.



Mark and Sonia Richter: 2011 – to date (21,000km to 51,000km)


By the time we bought the J12 in 2011 it had covered only about 1000kms since the motor rebuild. The car was drivable but we knew the body restoration was 25 years old and the major systems of the car, apart from the motor, had not been given much attention or use for a long time. We commissioned Bristol Restorations to restore the car based on these goals:


 * Returning the car to as close practicable to the 1931 Show car configuration.


 * Keeping as much original patina as we could.


 * Making the car roadworthy, safe and practical for touring (while keeping it authentic)


The body was removed repaired as required and sent for stripping and painting. We chose dark (ink) blue over mushroom cream as a suitable period colour scheme. It matched the blue leather interior which was in good condition and provided a strong link to the car’s past.


Over the next five years the car was driven around 30,000km. During this time all the mechanical systems were overhauled as required including: brakes, clutch, suspension, gearbox, differential, steering plus the electrical and cooling systems. From the great condition of the parts it was clear that the car had indeed done very few miles.


We are currently touring the United States and would love to hear from you.

Sonia & Mark Richter

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