The French company Facel (Forges et Ateliers de Construction due’s et Loir) was first established in 1938 as a manufacturer of stainless steel products for the aircraft industry. After the second world war Facel began constructing automobile bodies for Simca, Ford France and Panhard.
In those days, the company was under the leadership of Jean Daninos.
Jean Daninos had always dreamt of manufacturing his own design of super car; the "Grand Routier" or in other words, a luxurious, comfortable and practical 4-person sports car. 1954 saw this dream become a reality with the introduction of the first ever Facel automobile onto the market, the Facel Vega FV1, equipped with a powerful and trustworthy American V8 Chrysler motor.
The addition of the Chrysler motor meant that Facel was one of the first manufacturers to combine European styled bodywork with a big reliable American V8...
The Facel Vega's were expensive and highly exclusive but they sold well, particularly amongst film stars and the rich and famous.
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.
With the passage of time the newer models became increasingly more expensive as extra improvements and features were introduced. At the end of the 1950’s, Facel had a motor designed specifically for use in a smaller model, the Facellia.
A completed prototype was unveiled in the summer of 1954 and was dubbed the ‘Vega built by Facel’. Many luxury French carmakers such as Bugatti, Delahaye and Talbot had already left the market by then, so the Facel was a breath of fresh air in a country overcrowded with Citroën 2CV people carriers. The car was met with a lot of interest, and the first production models were already in the hands of customers in the beginning of 1955.
Abbreviated as the FV, the model was continually being improved and new versions were released every year. The Excellence, a four-door sedan built on a slightly elongated FV chassis, was introduced at the Paris Auto Show in 1956, and the HK500, which to this day is considered the culmination of the FV series, came out in 1958. With its 5.9-litre engine, automatic or manual gearbox, and disc brakes, it was a little piece of America in France. And in 1959, the ‘heart’ of that French-American grew to 6.3 litres.
The HK500 was crazy expensive, reserving it for the rich and famous who were happy to have an alternative from the other side of the Atlantic
The car was popular, with three out of four HK500 models leaving France – this was an export rate that no other manufacturer in the country had ever achieved. And in 1960, the HK500 added another record – Paul Frere took the Facel Vega to 237.154 km/h, making it the fastest four-seater coupé in the world. See ya’, America!
The Facel Vega Facel II, which was called one of the best-looking post-war cars around, was introduced in 1961. Its platform and many of its mechanical elements were taken from the HK500, and the 390-horsepower Chrysler engine made it possible to hit a top speed of almost 250 km/h! That was Facel Vega’s golden age, which didn’t last long at all.
Unfortunately, these motors had so many teething problems that the huge amount of warranty claims they caused led the company into serious financial difficulties. The last ever models of the Facel line were fitted with Volvo P1800 (Facel III) and Austin Healey six cylinder engines (Facel 6). In 1964 this proud automobile finally went out of production.
Enthusiasts all over the world to this very day cherish Facel Vegas. This extremely unique class of vehicle can easily be placed alongside classic makes such as Rolls Royce, Bentley en Lagonda. Even though Facel did not manufacture it’s own motors, it is safe to say that the vehicle commonly known as the "Grand Routiers" of automobiles is of absolute top class and continues to leave a deep and lasting impression.
The Facellia's troublesome birth pangs had brought financial problems to the car-manufacturing division, and in mid 1962 a receiver was appointed to control the company's fortunes. He allowed a new company, called SFERMA, to take over, and they attempted to resuscitate the firm by fitting the Facellia with an Austin-Healey 3000 engine, allegedly in 2.5-litre trim to escape the French high-taxation category. This created no great interest and only a few were ever sold. The Face! Il was still selling quite well, but other makers had caught on to the idea of a big lazy American engine in a European chassis, and Facel customers were now being wooed by firms like Bristol, Gordon-Keeble, Iso, and Jensen.
The Facel Il chassis was no match for most of these and in late 1964 the new management gave up the struggle and allowed the firm to go into liquidation. The Facel Vega faded rapidly from the scene as owners sold examples as quickly as possible. But within a decade of the car's final demise the Facel had suddenly become a classic.
The car in the photographs is a Facel 2 Convertible, which were never officially made. This particular car started life as a standard Facel 2 and was commissioned by the Lamborghini family to be converted to a convertible.
The car was resident in a historic museum for a number of years before being purchased by the current owner.
Although, the only Facel convertible in existence, it has been converted very well and is still in very good condition to this day.
The car was repainted black and is now back in the UK waiting for the next rally and to be driven again.