This post is about a small French car company that built vehicles for only about 10 years and produced only 1,100 cars! One of the important facts about this company is that, like many small European companies of the 50s and 60s, they used American V8s to power their cars. The company is Facel Vega and the engines they originally used were from Chrysler.
The Facel company was founded in 1939 by Jean Daninos. Facel stood for “Forges et Ateliers de Construction d’Eure-et-Loir” and the motto was “For the Few Who Own the Finest”. Originally the company built bodies for other manufacturers, aircraft pieces and many other stamped steel parts. Daninos had worked at Citroen in the 30s and learnt about body building and electric welding. Daninos owned two factories in France and one in the UK before WW2 and used the UK factory to build equipment for the war effort. After the war, he managed to recover his French factories from the Government and start building bodies for the newly expanding European car companies.
Daninos had developed a body for a Bentley chassis called the Cresta 1. After showing this at motor shows in the late 40s, he received 17 orders for it and had them built by Pininfarina, an Italian coachbuilder. This lead to the Cresta 2, a one-off that he used for his own personal transportation.
By this time, Facel had contracts with Panhard, Delahaye and Simca and when the Panhard contract expired, Daninos thought about building a large touring sports coupe using the redundant equipment, especially as he knew from his experience with the Cresta that there was demand for one. So in 1954, the 2 door Facel Vega was debuted with a 170bhp, 4.5 litre Chrysler (aka De Soto) hemi V8 capable of 120mph and a 0-60mph sprint in under 10 seconds – not bad for a car with a two speed auto box! Many of the European buyers took the 4 speed manual option instead of the Powerflite auto box. Daninos wanted a “local” engine but there was nothing available and after getting no luck in Italy either, he used his connections at Chrysler to get access to the De Soto Hemi.
The 1956 model had an updated 5.4 litre, 255hp De Soto Hemi engine (285hp in Europe) and later in the year a new 4-door model appeared called the Excellence. Like the original models, it was also pillarless and the rear doors were suicide doors that were hinged at the rear. Due to this design, the body was quite flexible and it’s handling wasn’t as good as the 2 doors! The Excellence could still top out at 140mph (around 230 kmh).
The engines increased in size again – in 1957 to 5.8 litres from the Chrysler 300C and rated at 325hp and then a 6.3 litre, 360bhp fitted to a restyled “HK 500”. This model was a true supercar of its time with the 0-60mph sprint in 8.5 seconds. To continue the theme of ever increasing engine size, the next model, the Facel 2, came with a 6.9 litre 400bhp motor!
All through this time, Facel was still building bodies for Simca and parts for many other companies, which meant that if there were any losses from building full cars, it was supplemented by the original business.
In 1960, Facel wanted to compete with the European manufacturers of smaller sports coupes, so they announced the Facellia that used a French designed and built 1.6 litre 4 pot with a Double Overhead Cam. This engine was not reliable and was ultimately replaced by a Volvo 1.8 litre motor in the Facellia F2. This model was a business failure and money was lost on every sale – it was twice the cost of a comparable MG, ultimately killing the company but not before a final model was produced. The Facel 6 used an Austin-Healey 6 cylinder 2.8 litre motor however only 30 were built before the business finally closed.
The Facel company was instrumental in kick-starting the auto industry in France after the war and produced vehicles that were at the top of their market. Like many auto companies, they developed amazing designs but ultimately it was unreliable products that caused buyers to spend their money elsewhere. Whilst they were in production, they were one of the small group of “cars for the stars” – Ringo Starr owned one as did Tony Curtis, Ava Gardner and a host of top French and European actors, film directors and painters.