Fancy features aren’t always enough to keep buyers interested in some luxury cars. For every Jaguar and Rolls-Royce, there’s a Duesenberg and a Packard. As a result, there are a number of fascinating brands that time and fortune simply left by the wayside. One of those made high-end French ‘hybrids’ bought by some very famous people: Facel Vega.
Facel Vega have French design and American power
To be clear, Facel Vega’s cars weren’t hybrids in the modern sense. They’re hybrids like the Jensen Interceptor and Allard J2X. I.e., they have a European chassis and body and an American powertrain. To explain that, we have to look back at the brand’s history.
Facel Vega, then simply named ‘Facel,’ was started by French aeronautics and automotive engineer Jean Daninos in 1939, Petrolicious reports. It was originally a metal-stamping company that made parts for aircraft engines, gas turbines, and literally kitchen sinks, Hagerty reports. And over the years it received contracts from more automotive companies.
But Jean, who was once Citroen’s head of special vehicles, wanted to make his own car, The Drive reports. Specifically, a French luxury GT to rival the best from brands like Rolls-Royce and Bentley. And, together with his brother Pierre and Facel’s chief engineer, Jacques Brasseur, he made one, Autoweek reports.
This first car was the 1954 Facel Vega FV, and it set the standard for the company’s later offerings. The FV has a 180-hp Chrysler 4.5-liter V8, linked to either a 4-speed manual or a push-button 2-speed automatic, Automobile reports. But the company soon gave it more powerful engines with upgraded transmissions, Bonhams reports. And in 1957 the FV morphed into the Facel Vega HK500, Bonhams reports. Which, in 1959, received the 360-hp 5.9-liter Hemi V8 that was earlier used in the FV4 Typhoon, Hemmings and Mecum report.
A year later, Facel Vega introduced its sedan, the Excellence, HonestJohn reports. Like the FV/HK500, it offered a range of Chrysler V8. Including, by 1961, a 390-hp 6.3-liter V8. This engine is also used in the 1962-1964 Facel Vega Facel II, The Drive reports.
There’s a very good reason Facel Vega’s slogan was “For the few who own the finest”
The list of Facel Vega owners includes a number of famous names, Classic Driver reports. Sir Stirling Moss, Pablo Picasso, Albert Camus, and Ringo Starr all owned one. That’s because, while the French GTs were priced like Bentleys and Rolls-Royces, they could go toe-to-toe with them, too.
The Facel Vega HK500, for example, was the first French car with 4-wheel disc brakes. And it needed them because, while it weighs roughly 4200 pounds, Autoweek reports, thanks to the big V8, it goes 0-60 mph in 8.4 seconds. That was a decent time back in the 60s, as was the near-150-mph top speed. In a way, the HK500 was the Charger Hellcat Redeye of its day. More impressively for its owners, the coupe was immensely stable at those high speeds, The Drive reports. Plus, later models featured a limited-slip differential, Silodrome reports.
And even at lower speeds, all Facel Vega models were comfortable and luxurious cruisers. There’s leather upholstery, an expansive greenhouse, and real-metal switchgear and trim pieces. Facel Vega was a pioneer of the center console, too, The Drive reports, and even in the late 50s, offered power windows. The dashboard isn’t actually wood, though, but oil-painted metal, The Drive reports. And the exterior metal trim pieces aren’t chromed, but stainless-steel, Petrolicious reports.
Getting one today
Facel Vega’s production run wasn’t long. The company went bankrupt in 1964 after building less than 2900 cars, Bonhams reports. That’s partially due to the company’s attempt to move down-market, and partially due to the cars’ high price tags. When new, an HK500 cost the modern equivalent of $88k, Petrolicious reports, about the same as an Aston Martin.
But while Facel Vegas aren’t cheap, their under-the-radar status means they’re cheaper than some of their contemporaries. True, Ringo Starr’s car sold for $454,087 at a 2013 Bonhams auction. However, RM Sotheby’s auctioned several others, including a 1961 HK500 in October 2020, for less than half that price. In contrast, two Aston Martin DB5s sold on Bring a Trailer in 2020 for well over $700,000.
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