Famous Novelist Bought a $50,000 Hispano-Suiza From Andy Griffith On a Whim and 3 Martinis

If this ain’t the most writerly thing I’ve ever heard, I don’t know what is. The novelist Clive Cussler wasn’t always a superstar novelist. Before he struck big, he worked in advertising (as we all seem to do). After selling some novels in the early 70s, he struck gold with Raise the Titanic in 1977. Since the cash was flowing, Cussler hit his first vintage car auction, and Andy Griffith was holding the gavel. After three martinis, Clive Cussler accidentally bought an old Rolls-Royce rival, a Hispano-Suiza that has been forgotten by too many. 

Clive Cussler's Hispano-Suiza that Andy Griffith auctioned to him in a brilliant red
Clive Cussler’s Hispano-Suiza | Cussler Museum

What classic car did Clive Cussler buy from Andy Griffith? 

According to The Drive, Clive Cussler went to his first car auction with no intention of buying anything, much less a $50,000 (about $225,000 in today’s money) obscure classic car. But when the martinis are flowing, and Andy Griffith is the celebrity auctioneer, anything can happen. 

After three drinks and a night’s worth of Andy Griffith sweet-talking the crowd, Clive Cussler started raising his hand on a beautifully-restored 1926 Hispano-Suiza H6B Cabriolet. 

“I almost went into cardiac arrest,” Cussler remembered in his book Built for Adventure. “Good Lord, I thought. What have I done? Then it occurred to me: for the first time in my life, I could afford to pay full price for a classic car.”

What is a Hispano-Suiza? 

Hispano Suiza Fábrica de Automóvil S.A. started in 1904 in the lovely port city of Barcelona. Like many early automakers, Hispano-Suiza got its start making airplane motors for the First World War. After the war, it retooled its factory and expertise to begin car manufacturing. 

According to The Drive, the H6B was introduced in 1919 with an airplane-inspired 402-cubic-inch inline-six that made 135 hp. Imagine a 402 in 1919. That is a massive engine by today’s standards. So, it should come as no surprise that the H6B could hit a blistering 84 mph. 

Clive Cussler really loves his drunken purchase

1931 Hispano-Suiza, Type 68 V12, 9.5 liters automobile | Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
1931 Hispano-Suiza, Type 68 V12, 9.5 liters automobile | Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In his book Built for Adventure, he talks about his little red sports car with real respect and love. “The chassis had remarkable qualities that enabled the finest coachmakers of the day to create some of the most unique and stylish bodies built in the twenties and thirties,” Cussler said in his book. “The people who purchased Hispanos were discriminating and avant-garde and wrote checks without batting an eye. Checks could reach over $15,000, a small fortune in those days.”

After buying his Hispano-Suiza from the fast-talking charms of Andy Griffith, he brought the car home. He immediately contacted Roland D’leteren, the grandson of the original coachmaker in Brussels, Belgium. Not only did D’leteren know this car and its history, but he also had photos and records detailing the car’s build. 

While waiting for his Belgian photos and documents, Clive Cussler decided to chrome the wire wheels on his precious Spanish car. However, when the photos came in, he saw the brilliant chrome wheel covers that originally came on the car, and he had to have them. So, the writer had custom, period-correct chrome hub caps put on to make the car as original-looking as possible. 

Where is Clive Cussler’s classic car now? 

The Drive notes that even though $50,000 in the late ’70s is a serious pile of cash, a similar Hispano-Suiza recently sold by Sotheby’s went for $1.3 million. Luckily, Clive Cussler’s Suiza is in the Denver area Museum, where it is safe and well-preserved. 

You can see more of Clive Cussler’s amazing classic car collection here.

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