Facel Vega from France. When design on classic cars is not only left to the Italians
Facel Vega has a lot of history and a lot of famous customers. Let us tell you this fantastic story.
Let me introduce first the brother of a famous French humourist, Monsieur Jean Daninos. He created the brand Facel Vega in 1954. The Company Facel was already created in 1939 as an aviation supplier from the Bronzavia Company (Facel meaning: Forges et Ateliers de Construction d'Eure-et-Loir).
The Vega cars production began in 1954 using a 4.5-litre DeSoto Hemi engine, but afterwards they changed to Chrysler V8 engines; the overall engineering was straightforward: tubular chassis, double wishbone suspension at the front and a live axle at the back, as in standard American practice. They were also as heavy as American cars, at about 1,800 kg (3,968 lb). Performance was enjoyably brisky, with a 190 km/h (118 mph) top speed and 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in just under ten seconds.
Most cars were two-door hardtops with no centre pillar, but a few convertibles were built too. 77% of Facel Vega production was exported, due to the punitive Tax horsepower system in France after the war.
But prior to producing cars, Mr Daninos put Facel (not Facel Vega yet) to manufacture short-run and special complete finished bodies for the major French carmakers. In conjunction with l'Aluminium Français, Facel designed the all-aluminium alloy Panhard Dyna X and then built around 45,000 examples for Panhard. Not bad, right? But the story continues with Luxury cars. A luxury car division was established in 1948 too. Facel made various models of Simca Sport. Simca Sport got Cisitalia as a basis, then they hire Mr Daninos to produce the bodies of some coupes who startes selling in March 1950. With that publicity and joining forces with the designer Mr Farina, they built a special body on a Bentley Mark VI chassis. The name of the cars was Bentley Cresta. Due to the success, the exercise was repeated in 1951 and then named Cresta II. In September 1951 Vega worked on the introduction of their Ford Comète in the French market. Production of the Comète ended in 1955 when Simca took over Ford France. The styling of the Crestas and Comètes was developed into the shape of the first Facel Vega car.
During the same period Facel-Metallon was a very busy factory producing a lot of chassis and parts. They pressed out body panels for many companies: Delahaye's army jeeps; Simca, Delahaye and Somua's trucks; scooters (motorbikes) by Vespa, Piaggio and Motobécane; tractors by Massey-Ferguson and stainless-steel bumpers, hubcaps and grilles for Simca, Ford and for Renault.
In 1960, Facel entered the sports car market with the Facellia, a small car similar in size to the then popular Mercedes 190SL. Facellias were advertised in three body styles: cabriolet, 2+2 coupé and 4-seat coupé — all with the same mechanical parts and a 2,450 mm (96.5 in) wheelbase. Styling was similar to the Facel HK500, but with rather elegant (though fingernail-breaking) flush door handles. Following Facel Vega's demise several of M Daninos's styling cues were "borrowed" by Mercedes-Benz. Prices were roughly US$4,000 for the Facellia, US$5,500 for the Facel III and US$6,000 for the Facel 6.
Below pictured a wonderful example of a 1959 Facel Vega HK500
With the idea of creating a mass-produced all-French sports car competing with the Alfa Romeos, Facel moved away from American engines. The Facellia had a 4-cylinder 1.6 L DOHC engine built in France by Paul Cavallier of the Pont-à-Mousson company (which already provided manual gear boxes for the company's larger models). The engine had only two bearings supporting each camshaft, using special steels, as opposed to the usual four or five.
The troublesome engine was replaced with a Volvo B18 power plant in the Facel III, but the damage was done. Production was stopped in 1963 and despite the vision of it being a "volume" car only 1100 were produced - still enough to make this Facel's highest production number. Facel lost money on every car they built, the luxury car side of the company being supported entirely by the other work done by Facel Metallon, Jean Daninos's obsession being very similar to that of David Brown of Aston Martin.
The small Facellia met with little success and the losses from this, due to strong competition at the luxury end of the market, killed off the business, which closed its doors at the end of October 1964. What was, according to some, the best small Facel, the Facel 6, which used an Austin-Healey 2.8-litre engine, came too late to save the company with fewer than 30 having been produced when the financial guarantors withdrew their support.
Famous Owners of Facel Vega cars
Famous owners of Facel Vegas (mainly of Facel IIs) included Pablo Picasso, Ava Gardner, Christian Dior, Herb Alpert, Joan Collins, Ringo Starr, Max Factor Jr, Joan Fontaine, Stirling Moss, Tony Curtis, several Saudi princes, Dean Martin, Fred Astaire, Danny Kaye, Louis Malle, The President of Mexico, François Truffaut, Robert Wagner, Anthony Quinn, Hassan II, King of Morocco, Debbie Reynolds, the Shah of Persia, Frank Sinatra, Maurice Trintignant, Brian Rix and French Embassies around the world. Not bad right? But it was also a car for the cinema: A 1958 Facel Vega HK500 appeared in the 1961 Movie Goodbye Again starring Ingrid Bergman, Yves Montand and Anthony Perkins, in the 1989 film "Dealers", Paul McGann, as Daniel Pascoe, drove a Facel ll, a Facel Vega HK500 appears in computer-animated form in the film Ratatouille (Pixar, 2007), driven by one of the main characters too.
As you can see a great French entrepreneur working for the auto industry and leaving a great heritage behind.
Facel Vega classic cars for sale
As you can imagine different models have different prices, but it is a brand with not much difference between them. the FV4 Typhoon, Excellence and the Facel Vega HK500 are the more common models you can see for sale. You should expect to pay at least £100.000 for a decent one and probably no more than £250.000 to start, but you can find more expensive cars, particularly the ones owned by a famous character.
The design is sportive and the engine works amazingly, so the car is very enjoyable. also bear in mind, France is not the place to look for them as not many production was sold in there due to the punitive Tax horsepower system in France after the war.
Good luck hunting them. We have had some for sale on our website too.
Pictures thanks to lookingthis.com