MarqueTime Facel Vega

 

Born: 1954Nationality: FrenchLike many French car names, Facel's was an acronym of a mouthful: Forges et Ateliers de Construction d'Eure et Loire. Set up by Jean Daninos in 1939 to make aircraft parts and metal furniture, the firm developed a speciality in stainless steel.

During the second World War, Facel worked under the Nazi occupation, making good profits from wood-gas generators for cars and trucks. After the war Daninos, now quite wealthy, reactivated the aeronautical work, producing parts for De Havilland and Rolls-Royce engines. He moved into engineering scooter components and manufacturing office furniture.

The company later diversified into making car bodies for Panhard, Simca and Ford of France. Among other clients were Bentley, for whose Cresta precursor to the Continental he built a Pininfarina-designed coachwork.

The Comete body that Facel built for Ford was, in hindsight, an indication to the company's future, because it was a Facel design, with American-style wraparound rear windows. The body was quite beautiful, but the Ford chassis and small V8 engine didn't live up to the sporty looks.

Daninos wanted to produce a car in the ethos of French pre-war luxury cars such as Bugatti, Delage and Talbot. At the Paris Motor Salon in 1954 he unveiled his Vega (above), and joining both names became a marque destined to blaze like a supernova in an unfortunately short life.

The Vega's front end had a stunningly dominant centre grille flanked by two small ones, the whole style supported by vertically-stacked lights. The long bonnet, wraparound front and rear windows, and a sleek coupé roofline without a centre pillar was real elegance in a sports context. The restrained brightwork was stainless steel.

Its 4.5-litre American De Soto V8 came with choice from a four-speed manual or a two-speed Chrysler PowerFlite automatic transmission. The interior had leather, wood, and lots of instruments.

The Facel Vega was priced in the same league as Rolls-Royce models. It weighed more than 1800kg, but was capable of a 0-100 km/h of around 10 seconds, high performance both for its bulk and its time.

Two years after its introduction, the Facel Vega got a more powerful engine, a 5.4-litre Chrysler V8, and it gained a "Sport" tag to its name. By now the automatic was a three-speed "TorqueFlite". In 1957 a long-wheelbase four-door hardtop, the Elegance, was introduced. It, too, had no centre pillar, and unfortunately its rear-hinged rear doors had a habit of swinging open on bends.

The FV Sport evolved into the HK500 in 1959, with a 5.8-litre Chrysler V8 initially, and later a 6.3-litre unit. But the car was heavier and slower in acceleration than the original Facel Vega. In 1962, what is arguably the most beautiful of all the maker's large cars was produced, the Facel II. Its styling made it look lower, and quad headlights stacked vertically added to a distinctive front. It was lighter than the original FV and had better performance.

The success of the large Facel Vega cars - with royalty and some of the most "beautiful people" of the entertainment world - was undermined by a smaller model which Daninos conceived in 1959. The beautiful Facellia was a two-seater Spider model aimed at the MG- and Triumph-dominated sports car market. The engine was a French-built 1646cc four outputting a very creditable 115hp, designed by former Talbot engineer Carlo Marchetti. Despite its performance, it proved to be unreliable, and soon warranty claims were pouring in.

In 1962 the Volvo P1800's engine was introduced in the Facellia to stem the loss of confidence, but it was too late even with a new name of Facel III. Finally a 2.8-litre Austin-Healey engine was tried, as the Facel 6. But, with increasing competition from Bristol, Aston Martin and Ferrari, the receivers were called in in 1962. Daninos lost his company and his cars. In all, some 3,000 Facel Vega cars were built.

Best Car: Facel II

Worst Car: The Marchetti-engined Facellia

Weirdest Car: Only beautiful were ever produced.