Facel Vegas for Sale

A trawl of the classic car magazines here in the UK recently turned up no Facel Vegas at all for sale – and yet a swift Google finds a rather wider range worldwide although curiously not necessarily in France. Indeed, there are cars in the States on e-bay Other Makes, and more in Europe on Car and Classic, and Classic Cars for Sale.

When we looked on Other Makes – an often interesting source of machinery in varying states – there were three Facels but the Excellence disappeared within a few hours, so then there were two. There’s a very original Facellia F2B in Montreal, Canada standing at $36,900 which the vendor states has been in dry storage and is complete. The floors are solid as is the frame. He says it will start with some elbow grease but will be an easy restoration, confirming that it is a restoration project.

Down at Gullwing Cars at Astoria, New York, there’s a white Facel 11 with grey interior for sale via a classified advertisement, priced at $267,500 but there are few details regarding the actual state of the car so you will have to ring if you’re interested.

The French site http://www.forum-auto.com/automobiles-mythiques-exception/voitures-anciennes/sujet378277.htm has found the Excellence which I couldn’t find. It’s actually for sale in Los Angeles from the Beverly Hills Car Club dealership and is for restoration at $79,500. It looks as though part of the restoration has been started but then look again and the primer is already showing signs of rust. Plus it is in a state of dismantlement (just made that up) and so one wonders if all the parts are there. Only for the very brave or well-equipped, I would suggest.

On Car and Classic and Classic Cars for Sale – just Google ‘Facel Vega for sale’ and you’ll get there – there’s a host of HK500s, plus the occasional Facel 11, FV3, a trio of Excellences, a Facel 3, an FV2B and confusingly, an HK500 Excellence – which turns out to be an HK500; no Facellias. These are variously for sale in Holland, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Spain and the UK.

HK500s are the most popular Facel and there are nine for sale in Europe. Maximum price is £230,000 from JB Classic Cars in Holland who are

specialists, and they have another HK500 for sale, a Facel 11 and an FV2B. The ex-Christopher Soames HK500 has resurfaced at $215,000, for sale in Holland and there are HK500s in Spain and Belgium.

There are three right hand drive HK500s for sale in the UK, including the red car that has recently come on the market in Blackpool, another in Sussex for £89,950 and a third car in poor state for total restoration in Surrey. Also in the UK is a restored Facel 3 (left hand drive) in Warwickshire.

One of the Excellences is said to be right hand drive but isn’t; it’s for sale in Germany for €199,000, fully restored while the Austrian car is €169,000. There’s an Excellence in Belgium as well priced at £141,500. As mentioned, these are all viewable at well known sites. Buy a Facel and join our exclusive club!

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Sir Stirling Moss – our president

Sir Stirling Moss – Facel Vega Car Club president

It was in 1997 that our then president Eric Phillpott, announced in his presidential ramblings in Faceletter “Welcome has also to be extended to Stirling Moss who graciously accepted my invitation to join us as Honorary Vice-President.  Stirling has however made it clear that owing to pressure on his time it is unlikely he will be able to attend any of our events but wishes us well in our endeavours.”

Most of us are aware of Stirling’s affiliation to Facel Vega but the story goes like this. Young Stirling’s career was just taking off in 1950 when he joined the HWM Formula Two team. Hersham Walton Motors had been established by John Heath and George Abecassis – but was still a very long way from taking on the importation of Facel Vegas, still a gleam in their creator’s eye.

HWM’s partners were heavily into motor sport and the motor trade, and had constructed a racing sports car on an Alta chassis in 1948. It was a success which prompted them to build three single-seater Formula Two cars. John Heath would drive one – although Abecassis was actually the better driver, according to Moss – Lance Macklin would drive another, and the young golden boy, Stirling Moss would drive a third.

They did most of the races in the championship that year. Moss would admit that “I learned an enormous amount about driving from these HWMs, almost as much about living from my older and widely experienced teammate, Lance Macklin.”

Lance Noel Macklin was the Eton-educated son of Sir Noel Macklin who established four car companies, the better known of which was Invicta but also Railton on Hudson chassis. He then went on to make the range of Fairmile inshore boats which was so instrumental in the war, for which he was knighted.

Noel Macklin was a natural if distinterested athlete, a smooth operator when it came to what Moss still describes as crumpet. “He was always slanting off,” says Moss. “We went into a bar to buy a drink and Lance was slanting off to find the best bit of crumpet. He was a real character. He would turn up with bits of stuff and all that, his collar turned up. That was Lance, very cool, he really was the first cool person I ever met.” If Noel was sufficiently interested, he would miss whole practice sessions in pursuit of the aforementioned crumpet.

Macklin made his Formula One debut a year after Moss at the Swiss Grand Prix and took part in 13 Grands Prix, the last in Moss’s own Maserati 250F at Aintree in 1955 when Moss was winning for Mercedes but he never really troubled the scorers with a best of two eighth places. However, the notoriously unreliable Alta engines in the HWM didn’t help.

Earlier in 1955, Moss and Macklin had shared the latter’s Austin-Healey 100S at the Sebring 12 hours; Macklin had driven it down to Florida from New York. The pair finished behind a D-type, two Ferraris and two Maseratis which was pretty respectable, but Macklin was then devastated when he was involved in Pierre Levegh’s huge accident at Le Mans which claimed over 80 lives, and was later involved in another double fatal accident at Dundrod in the Tourist Trophy. He was persuaded to give up racing by his then girlfriend, Shelagh, whom he later married. “She was cracking, too,” says Moss. “Oh yes she was. Lance could pull ‘em.”

Shelagh and Noel were an interesting pair; frankly it’s unclear to this writer whether it was Noel and/or Shelagh who was instrumental in Jean Daninos meeting C B Thomas of Chrysler who was able to secure Facel Vega’s use of initially the De Soto engine. Lance’s father had negotiated the use of Hudson chassis for the Railtons with the same C B Thomas before the war. Both Lance and Shelagh went on to work for Facel, Noel, of course as export director.

“It was Lance Macklin who suggested to Jean Daninos that it would be good publicity if I drove a Facel Vega,” says Moss today. The deal was suggested in 1958 and Moss took delivery of his first HK500 at the start of the next season. “He didn’t give it to me, but he’d give it to me for a year, a great car,” says Stirling.

“In those days, don’t forget, nearly every race we went to we would drive to. Sometimes you’d fly, maybe down to Rome but otherwise we’d drive there. Yeah, every week and driving to them always, that’s the point. And not necessarily Formula One, Formula One non-championship, Formula Two. Every week we’d race against the Gordinis, the HWM etc. All these little towns would have a motor race so we’d have to drive to them. It was such fun doing it you see. We were chasing crumpet and being paid to do it! And the Facel was such a great car.”

Moss was an immensely busy driver. Take May 1958; the first weekend he was at Silverstone, then the Targa Florio in Sicily, the Monaco Grand Prix, then the Dutch Grand Prix, finally the Nurburgring 1000kms in Germany at the end of the month. Clearly a fast road car would help travelling from race to race.

Moss’s first HK500 was HK L5, automatic, left hand drive with clair lune coachwork. In publicity shots, Moss is pictured outside the Avenue George V offices of Facel in Paris, sometimes with Katie, his first wife, and George Abecassis. It’s March, 1959, I say. “I should know that by the wife!” Stirling replies. “Motoring then was so much easier, much less traffic and these dead straight roads.” What speeds would you be doing, I asked? “140,” came the reply. “Kph,” I ask? “No, miles,” says Stirling nonchalantly. Silly me, what else would a guy who averaged 95mph for a thousand miles of Italian roads to win the 1955 Mille Miglia be doing?

Stirling was 85 at the time of this interview, and while he remembers important races and race cars, road cars don’t come high on his list of priorities, however generous it was of Jean Daninos to lend him cars. He’s pretty sure that he never brought the car to England. “I used to park it at Brussels airport, because it was only five quid for as long as you liked. So I would fly over and pick it up.”

Moss was having the time of his life: a young man in a fast, comfortable car, driving all over Europe with a pretty girl by his side. “I can remember that I was dating a girl called Sally Weston at that time. The two of us would go round, she was with me most of the time. I’m pretty bloody sure that Fangio had a piece of her when I was out racing in the car…”

Moss is pictured walking down the pit lane at Le Mans in 1957 when a Facel Vega course car passes but he actually doesn’t remember seeing another Facel, even when both teammate Maurice Trintignant and patron Rob Walker took delivery of them at the same time that Stirling got his second one in 1961. “To me it was a special car, a great car, very recognisable.” Did the engine overheat? “I must say that I don’t remember it overheating. My memory’s not good at all. Brakes? Brakes were bloody good, they were big discs. Mind you, it was quite a heavy car, quite a heavy car but it had power steering. I probably didn’t use the brakes much. Only in towns.

“I seem to remember the things being very reliable, a great big engine, 5.7 or whatever it was and disc brakes, power steering, a Blaupunkt radio and off you go off to the race and the next one, and doing roughly speaking the same speeds as you did at the last race. To me it was just a bloody good fast car. The fuel consumption didn’t matter… I don’t know what it did to the gallon but I presume about 22 or 23 on a trip, I should think. Petrol was quite cheap then and anyway, I think I probably had a deal with BP.”

Driving for Vanwall and Rob Walker, there were no clashes when it came to what car he raced and what he drove on the road, but Aston Martin was slightly different. “I don’t think Aston would have lent me a car,” he says. Indeed, he took his HK500 down from Brussels for Le Mans in 1959 when Aston Martin won.

He doesn’t remember having the car serviced, just taking it back to Paris at the end of the year. In March 1961, he took delivery of his second HK500, HK-1 CC2, metallic, automatic but again, there is no record that this car still exists either. Walker and Trintignant – who, like Stirling, drove for Walker – both took delivery of their new HK500s at the same time but Stirling isn’t aware that the French ace ever had a Facel, although it was his second or third.

It might have seemed obvious that once George Abecassis of HWM had become concessionaire for the cars, that Stirling would approach Intercontinental Cars for the use of a Facel, but that never happened. “I think they lent Lance and I a car to do a tour of Great Britain or something,” says Stirling. “But we were going round trying to chase the crumpet, you know, from top to bottom. It was just a fun thing.”

Stirling returned his second HK500 at the end of 1961 and according to Amicale vice-president Michel Revoy, already had his eye on a Facel 11 for the following year. But such was the state of the company at the time Moss’s request was turned down. As it happens, of course, it would not have mattered. On April 23, 1962, Moss’s BRP Lotus-Climax 18/21 V8 left the Goodwood circuit at the Fordwater corner and crashed heavily into a bank, badly injuring its driver.

It was the end of an era, the end of one career and the beginning of another: being Stirling Moss, something which Stirling has achieved with considerable success ever since, becoming Sir Stirling in 2000. He is continually busy, recently published another book written by Simon Taylor about his career, representing Mercedes and Goodwood frequently. Some details of that 14 year racing career may not spring to mind immediately, and the poor body has taken a battering from racing accidents and scooter contretemps around London, plus a fall down his lift shaft, but Stirling soldiers on regardless. It’s good to know that one of his least onerous tasks is president of the Facel Vega Car Club.

PS: In late 2016, Sir Stirling was taken ill with a chest infection in Singapore which became pneumonia. After a slow recovery in Singapore, he eventually returned to the UK early in 2017 and is expected to make a full recovery.

Sir Stirling Moss, brief profile

Stirling Moss is variously described as the ‘best driver never to have won the World Championship’, ‘Mr Motor Racing’ and ‘the greatest living Englishman.’ He and Mike Hawthorn were the biggest thorns in the side of Juan Manuel Fangio who went on to win five World Championships in the 1950s, but while Hawthorn won the 1958 World Championship, Moss never took the title finishing second four times.

His racing career began just after the war. His dentist father, Alfred, had raced at Brooklands and even in the 1924 Indy 500 and Stirling’s mother, Aileen, also competed.  Stirling and his sister Pat were fierce competitors on ponies but Stirling was desperate to go motor racing and began competing in his father’s new BMW 328 in trials and sprints in 1947.

He then ‘engineered’ a visit to Cooper in Surbiton and father was persuaded to allow his son to have a proper racing car. Stirling’s prize money in pony club gymkhanas  – about £200 – helped to go some way to paying the £575 price of his first racing car, a cream-coloured 500cc Cooper-JAP. His parents made up the deficit as a 18th birthday present. It would be towed in a stripped out horsebox behind the family Rolls Royce.

After competing at various sprints and hillclimbs in the late forties – before circuits became available – Moss won his first ever race at the 0.65 miles Brough aerodrome circuit in 1948, followed up by two more wins that day, and another in a three lapper at the first ever Goodwood meeting, a day after he turned 19-years old. He won his fifth race too, an eight lapper at Dunholme Lodge aerodrome. Moss was on his way.

He took part in 21 events the next year in 1000cc and 500cc Cooper-JAPs: races and hillclimbs at home, Scotland, the Isle of Man, Jersey and even races in France, Italy, Switzerland and Holland. The wanderlust had taken a grip.

He really diversified in 1950: Formula Two with Hersham and Walton Motors, better known as HWM as teammate to Lance Macklin; then there was still the 500cc Cooper-JAP, his first win of seven in the Tourist Trophy in a Jaguar XK120.

There was a similar mix in 1951, except the Cooper was replaced by a Keift and he also raced a C-type Jaguar which he took to a second TT win. He was now racing in Formula One races, and would have his first Grand Prix at Bremgarten in Switzerland in 1952, the same year he did the Monte Carlo Rally! This hectic schedule would continue throughout Moss’s career: 500s initially, sports cars, saloons, Formula Two, Formula One.

He would drive Connaught, Maserati, Mercedes, Vanwall, Cooper, BRM, Lotus and even Ferguson in Formula One, winning 16 Grands Prix including beating Fangio at Aintree in 1955, giant-killing in the little Cooper against the Ferraris at Monaco and his final F1 win in Germany in 1961. Four times he would finish runner-up in the World Championship, three times third.

He would drive for HWM and Rob Walker in F2, including the Cooper-Borgward and Porsche; sports cars for Mercedes including that famous Mille Miglia win in 1955, C-type and Lister Jaguars, Aston Martins, Maseratis, Porsches and Ferraris in sports cars; DB4 GTs, Rob Walker’s 250 GT SWB and the occasional oddball such as the Bearts, a Standard 10, the JBW-Maserati, an Austin-Healey Sprite twice at Sebring, a Sunbeam Alpine. He won the Tourist Trophy seven times.

He was injured several times, notably at Spa and of course in his final F1 race at Goodwood. He kept remarkable records – there’s a whole cabinet of scrapbooks in his hall – so that we know that he took part in 501 events from 1948 to 1962, finished in 382, won 173 – one in every 2.9. One year he took part in over 60 races; in the last two years he raced in 96 races for Rob Walker in all kinds of car all over the world, and he won 46 of them.

He was due to race Walker-entered Ferraris in 1962 but that never happened. He did return to racing, notably in an Audi 80 in the 1980 British Touring Car championship, firstly as teammate to team owner Richard Lloyd and then Martin Brundle but eventually hung up his helmet at Le Mans when 81, after scaring himself in his OSCA in the Legends event. Ever since 1962, he has simply been the world-famous Stirling Moss, who became Sir Stirling in 2000.

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Facel Vega badge round

Welcome to the new Facel Vega website

This is the home of the Facel Vega Car Club, one of the most exclusive car clubs in the world and the UK home to owners and enthusiasts of Facel Vegas, French cars made from the mid-fifties to the mid-sixties.

This site is now under new administration and while it is not possible or practical to post new information and articles every week, we do intend to publish information and articles on a more regular basis than in the past.

Here you will find a history of the manufacturer, the various models produced and cars that are coming up for sale. Our focus is on right hand drive cars or cars that are in the UK. We intend to publish articles that are useful to owners and also of interest to a wider audience. Any technical articles will be gratefully received and considered for publication.

A right hand drive Facel II for sale in Paris.

Facel-Vega was the last French Sports & Luxury car manufacturer in History, celebrated as the challenger of no less than Maserati, Ferrari and Aston Martin.

Successor of the mythical Bentley Continental R for luxury, speed and prestige, the Facel Vega HK2 was the epitome of wealth, elegance and power… Probably the most exclusive and costly Gran Tourismo in the sixties, it was the automobile of the happy few.

With over 250 km/h and a timeless, breathtaking beauty, the Facel II was the automobile of the elite : Stirling Moss, Maurice Trintignant, the Shah of Iran, the King of Morocco, Prince Saoud of Arabia, Prince Charles of Belgium, the President of Mexico, Joan Collins, Tony Curtis, Anthony Quinn, Ringo Starr, Ava Gardner all drove Facel Vegas.

Comparable to the contemporary Ferrari 500 Superfast, Aston Martin DB5, or Maserati 5000 GT for fascinating beauty, speed and prestige, the HK2 is almost impossible to find in Right-Hand drives.

This example may be the most perfect in the world, after a complete restoration by prestigious Carrosserie Lecoq (Paris).

FACEL_VEGA_HK2_1960_3-4_front

A right hand drive Facel II for sale in Paris. The sales commentary with the car;

The engine is the powerful 6,3 litre Chrysler mated with the lighter Aluminium 3-gear automatic gearbox. This fine automobile is fitted with the indispensable power steering option. Thanks to the enormous torque and power of the engine, driving is easy and relaxed with the automatic gearbox. In spite of the complete restoration, mileage shown on the odometer has been kept at 91.000 miles, a probably correct figure, which is part of the History of the car. Of course, when you admire this automobile, when you open the door, sit inside and start the engine, it looks and sounds new.

The wheels are locked with race-style central hubs & butterfly nuts.
Inside the cockpit, the impressive panel of Jaeger instruments gives an aircraft-like feeling while you cruise at high speed, sitting low and close to the road, which provides an extraordinary pleasure…

Some useful details have been taken care of : for example, an additional electric fuel pump triggered by a hidden switch allows to fill the carburettor before launching the starter – as in a racing car ; this smart feature saves battery power since it is used only when the engine is ready to start.
Otherwise, the car is absolutely authentic and looks like a new one : it brings you back to the glorious sixties when people of taste and wealth could take possession of this ultimate luxury Coupé, the best that money could buy.

This fine automobile has a very interesting history, most of which was spent in England, with the same registration number. First registered on January 1st 1960, it kept the same registration number until it left England. The first owner was Mr Jack Bowthorpe, founder of an electronics Company, Bowthorpe Holdings, now Spirent, quoted on the London Stock Exchange.

A few years after, this HK 2 belonged to a most controversial personnality, a Mr. Anton Von Kassel, who had a much publicised affair with Alexandra (Sasha) Bruce, daughter of a former UK American Ambassador.

One of the famous owners was Brititsh race driver Ron Fry, winner of several important races, with a Ford GT40 and a Ferrari 275 LM.

The car then remained in England until the mid-eighties when it was bought by a French businessman. In the last couple of years, an ambitious and comprehensive restoration program was entrusted to Carrosserie Lecoq, arguably the best specialist for Classic Cars “concours” restoration. Every time Lecoq completely restores a fine automobile to its original glory, a prestigious brass plate – with individual number – is fitted in the engine bay, as a signature of a famous Artist.

A true sculptural master piece, this Facel HK2 is today among the best investments for those looking for a Classic Automobile icon. Its market value is on the rise, based on rarity, prestige and beauty : a Work of Art.

The Story of Facellia Chassi No: FAD 144

In the fifties and sixties the de Havilland aero factory car park would have done credit to any vintage or classic show of today. Among the humdrum were Morris Oxfords, Hillmans and Triumph Heralds, not to mention everything from Fiat to Frazer Nash. .These machines were not however the pampered collectibles they were to become, but our daily transport, then of little financial value but greatly appreciated by their enthusiastic owners.
Into this motley gathering there came one day a jewel, in the shape of a dark blue Facellia owned by one of our more affluent colleagues, Iam Brocklebank. The details escape me but another chum was so inspired that he determined to acquire a similar car, and turned up forthwith in 1967 in the seat of FAD 144. It was alleged to have been owned by one Brian Rix, star of stage screen and trouserless farce at that time. In response to my enquiries he confirmed that he and his wife had both owned Facels, his and hers on personal number plates. The specification fitted and he was confident that FAD 144 was the car that he had owned. I spent some time driving and being driven in both cars, one immaculate and the other tired but happy, and found it to be an agreeable experience.

Time passed and FAD 144 with its second owner left our employ and disappeared – likewise the shiny one, but in a different direction. Around 1972/73, whilst wandering around leafy parts of Hertfordshire, I stumbled upon some derelict farm buildings, the gloom in which failed to conceal the outline of a white Facellia. Further probing revealed my old friend FAD 144 and more investigation turned up a disenchanted farmer who was pining for his unpaid rent and was about to dump the car. (Sounds like the infamous Bouquillon, owner and destroyer of so many Facels – Ed).

In the halcyon days before data protection I was able to trace the whereabouts of the owner to Saudi Arabia, a popular venue for ex-de Havilland employees at that time and renewed our acquaintance by sundry calls and letters. We did a deal whereby I paid the outstanding rent, plus some supplementary beer money, receiving it and I the relevant documents in return. The naïve intention was to preserve the car for eventual restoration and use – this was 1973 but this ambition did not come to fruition until 2010. (Not unusual amongst Facel owners! – Ed)

The car was fundamentally sound and was laid up because the previous owner somehow broke a camshaft bearing carrier. I have the receipt from H.W.M. (the importers for Facel S.A. for the UK) for the replacement part for £6.50, which subsequently broke as well, whereupon he lost interest in the car.

Having had less than ten years use and 38,000 recorded miles, it is by no means worn out, just a bit frayed around the edges, and the subsequent forty years suspended animation awaiting its turn for restoration have done it no harm at all.
(This is most unusual, unless the car was in an oxygen free cocoon; the rust bug is normally hard at work on these occasions, and often results in a heap of brown powder and not much else after such a long time – Ed)

It was to have been a post-retirement project when I retired in 1993, but inevitably succumbed to more pressing tasks until now – a process known as ‘slippage’. At my advanced age I was reluctant to dismantle a complete and original car only to be incapacitated, or drop dead, before completion, with consequent complications or loss of the car. It then occurred to me that, since I derive more pleasure from the restoration than ultimate use of the end product (a conclusion arrived at over many projects) a little self-indulgence was in order. Thus reassured I dismissed the death event as someone else’s problem and decided to proceed regardless. After further thought I compromised with a solution acceptable, hopefully, to anyone interested or posthumously concerned. Rather than stripping the car to a shell and embarking on major bodywork first, a process which created the illusion of imminent completion, but which, in reality, leaves an accumulation of tedious detail still to be resolved, I started the other way round.

As each component is removed I comprehensively restore it and then store it while maintaining a log of work done and relevant information regarding replacement.

This seems to be working well and the storage cupboards are filling with shiny operational components. Over the winter I hope to prepare the shell for bead-blasting so that I can enjoy the bodywork renovation and preliminary painting next season. It is basically sound and is not particularly daunting and, if inclined toward a bout of depression, I can always gloat over the finished parts.
As the foregoing implies I am fairly self-sufficient so only minimal outside special involvement will be required. The intention is to meticulously maintain the originality, warts and all, so no ‘improvements’ or modifications to spoil the authenticity. Having said that, if time allows after completion I will construct a ‘mod-kit’ for the engine, a decent manifold and carburetion for the stores.
The camshaft bearing is still missing but unless I fall over one in my travels, I will make a new one. Everything else is there and restorable. Whilst partially dismantling the car I removed the hardtop and with some trepidation the hood, which has remained unseen for forty years. To my amazement when raise it was as good as new and fitted perfectly. The spare wheel is unused and the road wheels are still shod with the original French Michelin X, which seems to verify the mileage.

Restoring each component reveals excellent detail workmanship, especially stainless steel parts, of a standard which goes some way to justifying the original new price of the car – considered excessive at he time. Each handmade part is inscribed or punch marked with the number 342, perhaps a serial number for the car (the chassis number – Ed).

I write this in the [pious hope, that whatever transpires, the car’s history and whereabouts will be known to the Club or any interested parties such as our reverend historian, executors, bailiffs et al.
Thank you for all you do on our behalf. As a ‘passive’ member the magazine provides us with an insight into the F.V. culture!

Facel news from Bob

By keeping an eye open on the auction houses, we’re hoping to let you know about every Facel Vega that comes up for sale – at least in right hand drive form or in the UK.

The first of these is this HK500 which is being offered for sale by RM Auctions in London on September 8 (see http://www.rmauctions.com/lots/lot.cfm?lot_id=1068688)

As the blurb explains, this is HK BC2 which was delivered new in December 1959 to Sir Christopher Soames, the son-in-law of Sir Winston Churchill and one time UK Ambassador to Paris. It was originally deep green with beige interior, wire wheels with disc brakes, about the 48th to go through HWM. It has spent much of its life in the USA.

Christopher Soames, as he preferred to be called, was born in 1920 to a brewing family which had married into the landed gentry. He served as the Assistant Military Attaché in Paris during World War II, and after the war, he entered politics as a Conservative Member of Parliament for Bedford. He was Under-Secretary of State for Air from 1955 to 1957 in the Anthony Eden government, and under Harold Macmillan, he was the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty from 1957 to 1958. In the 1955 Birthday Honours, he was invested as Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He married Mary Churchill, the youngest daughter of Winston and Clementine Hozier Churchill, in 1947, and he was made a life peer in 1978.

Baron Soames purchased this HK500 while serving as Harold MacMillan’s Secretary of State for War. It is right-hand-drive and features the twin-carburettor, 6.2-litre engine and a Pont-a-Mousson four-speed manual gearbox, although it was automatic at one stage of its life. It is now equipped with power windows, windscreen washers, power steering, European-style headlamps (it spent much of its life in the USA), and a Motorola solid state radio, and it has a set of new Borrani centre-lock wire wheels with three-ear Facel Vega knock-ons.

Soames’ ownership is confirmed by records of the British, French, and Dutch Facel clubs. He apparently sold the car to the son of another Member of Parliament, who in turn sold it to Mrs Coralie Leighty, of Los Angeles, California, in the late 1970s. She loved the car and kept it until 1989 when it was sold to Mark Hyman, the well-known US car dealer who has a penchant for Facel Vegas.

It was subsequently sold to Russell Steele, a helicopter pilot in Washington State who had it completely restored by Facel specialist Gary Overby, of Seattle. The restoration was comprehensive and meticulous, and it was completed in the 1990s. It was a body-off operation which left no detail untouched. Five new Borrani wheels were fitted at this time, and an extensive file of restoration invoices and details accompanies the car.

It also changed colour: it is now painted in light yellow and has oxblood leather upholstery and interior trim, whilst the carpeting is dark grey. The exterior stainless steel brightwork is highly polished and in excellent condition. The instrument panel is the familiar burl wood pattern with Jaeger gauges and an electric clock. Both the engine and luggage compartments are meticulously detailed and correctly appointed.

The estimate for this HK500 is £145-175,000.

Lot 136

1959 Facel Vega HK500 Coupé

To be auctioned on Monday, September 8, 2014

£145,000 – £175,000

Chassis no. HK BC2

Engine no. TY731567

Production no. 579

360 bhp, 6,279 cc OHV V-8 engine, four-speed manual gearbox, coil-spring independent front suspension, live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes. Wheelbase: 2,667 mm

Original owner was Lord Soames, the son-in-law of Sir Winston Churchill

Franco-American elegance and British heritage

Meticulous restoration

A grand routier for all continents

1959_Facel_Vega_HK500_Coupé_London_2014_RM_AUCTIONS_-_2014-08-30_18.17.24

One could hardly find a car more cosmopolitan than this Franco-American Coupé, which was delivered new to a British peer. This right-hand-drive 1959 Facel Vega HK500 was delivered new to Arthur Christopher John Soames, a British politician and the son-in-law to Winston Churchill.

The Facel Vega, of course, was the brainchild of Jean Daninos, a Parisian-born engineer of Greek ancestry. He worked for Citroën in body engineering and as the head of special vehicles, but he left after the Michelin takeover. He founded Métallon, a fabricator of kitchen cabinets and sinks, and in 1939, he established Forges et Atéliers de Construction d’Eure-et-Loire, or FACEL for short. The two firms combined and made aero engines during World War II.

After the war, Facel-Métallon produced bodies for the Dyna Panhard, the Simca, and Ford of France’s Cométe Coupé. In 1954, Daninos decided to try his hand at a complete car. He mounted a Chrysler Hemi V-8 engine on a tubular chassis frame with box-section cross-members, and he used either Chrysler’s Powerflite automatic gearbox or the French Pont-a-Mousson fully synchronised four-speed manual unit. Suspension was in the American idiom: coil-spring independent in the front and a live axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs at the rear. The body was Facel’s own, and it was executed in steel with stainless brightwork. A few convertibles were built, but most were four-passenger pillarless coupés.

The first cars were designated FV, and by 1956, a 5,407-cubic centimetre Chrysler Hemi-powered version was introduced as the FV2B. Power-assisted steering became available, and an Excellence four-door pillarless saloon was displayed at the Paris Motor Show late in 1957. In 1958, several engines were offered, with the largest being a 5,801-cubic centimetre Hemi, and the Excellence reached production, with 22 being built.

A modest restyling heralded in 1959, and the coupé was now called the HK500. During the year, the Chrysler 6,279-cubic centimetre “wedge” engine, which was replacing the Hemi in the United States, was made available. With twin four-throat Carter carburettors, it made 360 brake horsepower. Tom McCahill, the loquacious auto critic for Mechanix Illustrated, called it “sexier than the Place Pigalle and throatier than a Russian basso”.

Christopher Soames, as he preferred to be called, was born in 1920 to a brewing family which had married into the landed gentry. He served as the Assistant Military Attaché in Paris during World War II, and after the war, he entered politics as a Conservative Member of Parliament for Bedford. He was Under-Secretary of State for Air from 1955 to 1957 in the Anthony Eden government, and under Harold Macmillan, he was the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty from 1957 to 1958. In the 1955 Birthday Honours, he was invested as Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He married Mary Churchill, the youngest daughter of Winston and Clementine Hozier Churchill, in 1947, and he was made a life peer in 1978.

Baron Soames purchased this 1959 HK500 Coupé whilst serving as Harold MacMillan’s Secretary of State for War. It is of the right-hand-drive configuration and features the twin-carburettor, 6.2-litre engine and a comparatively rare Pont-a-Mousson four-speed manual gearbox. It is equipped with power windows, windscreen washers, power steering, European-style headlamps, and a Motorola solid state radio, and it has a set of new Borrani centre-lock wire wheels with three-ear Facel Vega knock-ons, which is another rare and desirable factory option.

Soames’ ownership is confirmed by records of the British, French, and Dutch Facel clubs. He apparently sold the car to the son of another Member of Parliament, who in turn sold it to Mrs Coralie Leighty, of Los Angeles, California, in the late 1970s. She loved the car and kept it until 1989. It was subsequently sold to Russell Steele, a helicopter pilot in Washington State who had it completely restored by Facel specialist Gary Overby, of Seattle. The restoration was comprehensive and meticulous, and it was completed in the 1990s. It was a body-off operation which left no detail untouched. Five new Borrani wheels were fitted at this time, and an extensive file of restoration invoices and details accompanies the car.

It is painted in light yellow and has oxblood leather upholstery and interior trim, whilst the carpeting is dark grey. Exterior brightwork is stainless steel throughout, and it is highly polished and in excellent condition. The instrument panel is a burl wood pattern with Jaeger gauges and an electric clock. Both the engine and luggage compartments are meticulously detailed and correctly appointed.

As the Facel Vega is a subtle crossbreeding of French flair with American practicality, it is comfortable on all continents. It is fast, cosy, and elegant—a real grand routier in the proper sense. With just 190 built, all by hand, in 1959, it is a worthy legatee to the pre-war, coachbuilt European prestige automobiles. On condition alone, this car is amongst the best extant. As it is equipped with right-hand drive, the dual-carburettor wedge engine, and a rare manual gearbox, it is part of a very select constituency. With its Churchill family and political provenance, it is incomparable.

 

Jon Goodwins Facel

Restoration of 200JPK Part II

Moorland Classic Cars’ long-time customer Jon Goodwin bought 200JPK back in 2002/3 and so began a long journey to rejuvenate a true classic.
Part 1 of the restoration was documented in Facel Letter in November 2003 when my brother and business partner, Martin, chronicled the mechanical restoration of the vehicle.

 

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After running 200JPK for six or seven years and entering it into numerous events, Jon decided the Facel was starting to show too many signs of a mediocre body restoration and respray which had been carried out several years before he bought the car. So early in 2010 he commissioned us to begin the restoration.
We agreed that we would dismantle the entire car, except for the running gear, to carry out the task.
Before we started we decided it would be sensible to tackle the problem of ‘raining in’ around the door and rear quarter windows, as they didn’t actually have a seal as such. New seal retainers were fabricated and fitted, as the originals which simply didn’t seal, were just not fit for purpose. However, by chance we discovered that Ford Escort MK1 rear quarter window seals were the perfect profile to do the job on the rear quarter windows of 200JPK. Once we were happy they were leak tested and found to be watertight – a great result.
Now the car was ready to be dismantled. Everything was photographed, labelled and packed away.
The paint and layers of ‘body filler’ were removed to reveal a multitude of previous repairs to sills, doors, wheel arches and so on… At this point we also decided to scrape off a thick layer of underseal on the underside and in the boot which revealed even more dodgy repairs.
Every panel and part of the car needed a repair or re-repair – even the roof! This had rotted, as had the bottom of the pillars and the joints along both gutter seams. These had previously been repaired (a term I use quite loosely in this case) with body lead. The two front screen pillars were no longer actually attached to the rest of the car, apart from with half a kilo of lead which had cracked through!
We hand-formed new sections and welded them in. In addition, all of the glass and trims needed to be refitted once more. At the same time we fabricated new sills, lower sections of all four wings, rear arches (inners and outers) and welded them into place. As you can imagine, this is a massive task and took months of painstaking work.
Next, the bonnet and bootlid skins were removed. The bootlid outerskin had a section ‘wheeled’ up and welded in, while the inner was repaired and blasted, then fitted back together. We could see that the bonnet skin was just too bad to re-use so a new skin for this was also ‘wheeled’ up and the original centre scoop spot welded back in. The two skins were then bonded back together using a modern panel adhesive – a compound which is used by many vehicle manufacturers today, thus avoiding any distortion.
Many areas of the complicated chassis were found to be severely corroded, so we hand formed new sections and welded them into place.
Both doors had previously been repaired, but not to the high standard the car now merited, so these sections were cut out and replaced with new ‘shaped’ sections which we welded in (edge to edge).
During the many months of the restoration, Jon had various ideas on a colour change which he felt would enhance the finished look. From the start he felt a blue –an elegant ‘French’ blue, would be ideal but couldn’t decide on an exact shade. We agreed the best way to trial the colour was on a model, so Jon purchased several HK500 1:18 diecast models, and we masked and painted them up in various colours from metallic green to gloss black. Eventually, we formulated a colour in-house which fitted the ‘French Blue’ theme; the model was painted and the decision made.
Once all of the steelwork was finished and all the trim and bumpers fitted up, the painting process began. Many hours of priming and flatting by hand followed to gain the shape and finish required.
Finally, the topcoat in Base and Clear was applied and then ‘colour sanded’ with 2000 grit sandpaper. This was then buffed to a ‘glass flat’ concours finish.
The colour was a perfect complement to the lines of the car. It looked stunning!
The next job was to prepare and paint the boot area in satin black.
All of the original trim and carpets were refitted and it has to be said that the original patina of the seats – that unique aged look and irreplaceable lustre – is one of the car’s greatest assets.
All of the brightwork and bumpers, being made from stainless steel were ‘machine polished’ back to their former glory, with any small dents being knocked out and flatted prior to polishing.
We agreed that the aluminium outer sill covers had really seen better days and so decided to fabricate new ones in mirror polished stainless steel to match the bumper lines and both ends.
Jon decided that the ‘Frog’ mascot previously fitted needed to go back on as part of the car’s history, and I have to say that drilling a hole in the bonnet skin I had spent so many hours making and fitting was not a pleasant experience. But I must admit, once the frog was in place it did look perfectly at home.
To complement the stunning presence of the grill and light arrangement at the front of the car, a motorcycle-sized number plate was created and fitted. While not strictly legal it really does keep the look tidy at the front.
200JPK was almost finished and the last decision to be made was on the style of the wheels. Jon felt that chrome wires were in order, so we tried several spoke styles and rim widths before agreeing upon the ‘centre laced’ rims.
The final ‘spit and polish’ was applied and the car delivered back to Jon’s stable, amid snowy weather, on Christmas Eve, 2010 enabling Jon to unveil it to his family during the Christmas festivities. It was almost 12 months since we had begun this mammoth task and a huge sigh of relief was breathed by all involved. A rare classic given a stunning new lease of life, hopefully for generations to enjoy.

Tony Hine, Moorland Classic Cars.

Facel Vega FV II convertible

Facel Vega FV2 Convertiblefv ii

It’s big, black and unique. The wind is cold enough to chill my bones but I don’t care. Roof-down it has to be, for what is the point of driving the only Facel Vega FV2 Convertible ever to have existed if the roof is closed? Some help from the heater would have been nice, though. For all the machined- metal precision of the promising-looking controls, including a setting marked – in English, oddly – ‘Winter’, there’s not much warm wafting that I can detect.

Too bad. At least the sun is out. I’d like to say it’s glinting off the mirror-smooth paintwork of the long bonnet with its proud but purely ornamental airscoop, but the paint is actually more of a textured satin with the odd crack. Clearly, this Facel has not had the treat of a restoration in its 56 years.

That makes it, neatly, a 1956 car (as far as registration is concerned, anyway, which happened on April 1 that year with the Paris number 32 EX 75). The public saw it first a few months earlier, at the 1955 Paris show in October. Back then it was extremely shiny, and had black Robergel wire wheels with whitewall tyres. The wheels have changed since then, but otherwise the only changes seem to have been the gradual chemical ones caused by time and the odd signs of vital maintenance.

So the mellowed, lightly cracked, reddish leather on which Jam sitting is the same as that sat upon by Facel founder Jean Daninos himself, by his wife Andree for whom the open FV2 was built, and by actress Olivia de Havilland who was the ambassador’s daughter in the eponymous 1956 film in which the Facel appeared. In 1962 a new owner took it to the Gard region: ‘It’s the boss’s car, with very low miles,’ said the salesman at Garage Duchene, which sold him the FV2. Then in May 1966 it found its third owner, a gentleman in the Cher departement half way between Le Mans and Geneva.

He kept it until 2008; registered 449 FZ 18 (it had been 82 GD 30 during its Gard sojourn), but now its current owner has had to get yet another new number for it. Under France’s new system, numbers stay with the car, which means BR-140-QW will stay as the FV2’s moniker – unless, of course, it emigrates. Which, as I am driving it in the Cotswolds, far away from Eure-et-Loir where the Facel was born more than half a century ago, is what it seems to have done.

That département’s two initial letters form the last two of the FACEL acronym, the first three coming from Forges et Ateliers de Construction. This reveals what the company originally did: make metal stampings and fabrications for the motor industry and elsewhere (including kitchen sinks), later progressing to complete bodies and even final assembly of glamorous, low- volume derivatives – the sort of operation a company such as Heuliez might do today.

By comparison with the workaday business of pressing panels for Ford France, Simca, Delahaye and Panhard, Facel’s new luxury car venture was a project fuelled by idealism. The postwar tax regime in France didn’t exactly favour 4.8-litre V8 engines, and the grand old French makers – Bugatti, Delage, Talbot-Lago and the like – had gone to the wall. Daninos wanted to rekindle that tradition of grande routiere, eyeing the American market as much as Europe, and he no doubt

The Facel Vegas were aimed at the wealthiest clientele’ reasoned that if people could afford to buy his cars, they could afford the punitive road tax they might attract. Facel Vegas were aimed at the wealthiest, most fashionable clientele, and gained a reputation for being impressively rapid. Later V8 cars were claimed to be good for 150mph, and this very car adorned the February 1956 cover of L’Action Automobile et Tourisme with the coverline TOO km/h a l’heure en silence’. That’s 124mph (never mind, then, about the all-drum brakes that don’t even have cooling fins…).

This fact is starting to concentrate my mind as I burble onwards down a long hill, because the idle speed has crept too high and the Vega wants to go rather faster than is currently prudent, even with my foot off the accelerator. The Chrysler Typhoon Hemi V8 may not be in peak health – in fact it currently feels more like a V7 and one tailpipe is smoking rather more than the other – but it’s still a torquey, insistent thing. What’s more, it’s producing a force that the burgeoning smell of hot brake linings tells me may soon be irresistible. Something needs to be done.

Some measure of the engine’s torque potential is that Chrysler deemed just two gears to be sufficient in the Powerflite gearbox that came with the engine package. That means the torque converter has a lot of gap-filling to do. The later Chrysler autobox was less demanding of torque because it had three ratios; maybe that’s why it was called Torqueflite. Anyway, I’m going to flick the tiny selector on the broad transmission tunnel into neutral – there’s no Park, incidentally – coast to a halt and lower that idle speed from its current 2000rpm.

With the bonnet open, a four-barrel Carter carburettor – or CARbureTER, as the float chamber cover proclaims in its American spelling – is revealed beneath the black-and-rust ducting that joins the two giant air-filter canisters. And there’s the idle adjuster, which I duly unwind until a sensible idle is obtained. This is the longest, most vigorous run the FV2 has had in years, and clearly things have been loosening up.

I switch the engine off for a few minutes while the brakes cool down. Will it re-start? Along with the Fifties American power package came a Fifties American electrical system with just six volts to powerit. Why that was ever thought a good idea is hard to understand, given that everything has to run at twice the amperage, and despite the monstrously thick battery cables there’s little enthusiasm from the starter.

The engine turns lazily, skipping over one cylinder’s compression less indolently than the other seven, I notice, and after various experiments with throttle position and just as the battery sounds near death, it fires miraculously. We’re in business again; and with the revs under control no longer does the entire car suffer a torque-induced structural corkscrew as I select Drive.

Until today, I have never driven a Facel Vega. I have long wanted to, intrigued by the brutally flamboyant styling (Daninos’s own work), the associations of glamour and that famous Facel party piece, the painted- metal dashboard that looks like walnut veneer. I remember being blown away, as a not-quite-five-year¬old, by the FV Excellence at the 1959 Earls Court Motor Show (the four-door coupe version with no centre pillar), my father having mentioned that industrial magnate John Bloom, one of whose companies had made our brand-new Prestcold refrigerator, owned a Facel Vega. Even at that young age, it stuck.

Is this, though, the car in which to break my Vega duck? Clearly it is not as it was when it left Eure-et-Loir for the Paris Salon. Its heavy patina is both its salvation and its downfall. As a piece of automotive archaeology it’s intriguing, the more so given that valuable maxim of the classic car world, ‘it’s only original once’. That it actually works makes it all the better. But what I’m experiencing now isn’t quite what Mme Daninos, John Bloom, Stirling Moss and other FV luminaries experienced. At what point does patina become decrepitude? Time to resume the drive and see how close we’re travelling to that line.fv ii 2

The paint, I have to tell you, is not original. It’s a poor, but old, respray with a lot of orange peel such as no show car could ever have worn. There’s probably too much —-. paint on there, which is why it has cracked. On that basis, I’d have no qualms about stripping it off and starting again, perhaps dulling down the result to age it up a bit. The original surface has gone, and there’s no going back there now.

The interior is more straightforward. It, too, is untid. and careworn in places but a sympathetic hand could bring it back to glamorous, luxurious life while replacing little more than the broken-off leather tags – that would, if present, open the door pockets and console tray. (A centre console in 1955! Very aviatic, very advanced.) Some hide food and localised dye here, some seams tidied there, a thorough but gentle polish of the many pieces of machined metal in which a Facel’s cabin abounds, and you’d have a fabulous period piece of preserved, matured opulence.

For this is an interior like few others. Every switch and handle has been machined with love, including — three rotaries on one side of the centre tunnel and two rockers on the other. More on the doors activate the electric windows. Then there’s that swirly brown dashboard, whose ageing, now-lumpy finish looks either like particularly slow-growing walnut grain or the fires of hell, depending on the light. It contains a built-in His Master’s Voice radio and seven dials, the largest two on a curved panel ahead of the driver.

Nearer the driver is a large, deeply-dished steering wheel whose centre boss screws in on a large thread. A one-piece, two-pronged sprung bar beyond the wheel lets you sound the horn with either hand. It’s a long way from wheel rim to the top column fixing, which has some interesting leverage effects as we shall see.

Received wisdom has it that Facet Vegas are sloppy in their structure, especially open ones. Four of the seven first-series Facel Vegas, the FV1 launched in 1954, were convertibles, but just this one open FV2 was made. Soon after, Daninos decided the separate, tubular chassis just wasn’t rigid enough without the help of a fixed roof.

Open Facels wouldn’t reappear until the early Sixties, in the form of the smaller Facellia.

Jean Daninos was right. The man who went to the US in the Thirties on Citroën’s behalf to learn about the Budd company’s unibodies, and then helped apply the knowledge to the Traction Avant, would not have readily tolerated a sloppy structure. He would have been shocked at the way the steering wheel’s centre shudders laterally a full three inches on an uneven road, and at how the doors fidget in their apertures.

Yet, for all that, the Vega moves with surprising ease and calmness. It needs a smooth road to give its best – a French route nationale would do nicely – but the power steering is surprisingly accurate and the heavyweight feels confidently planted on the road. In full health it would surely feel rapid too, but even in its current state of re-entering the land of the living, it moves with signs of past authority as the 255bhp V8 burbles its asymmetric burble. The optional Pont-h-Mousson four-speed manual would have made it more of a sporting car, but it is what it is. Either way, the blurring of the hedgerows into my peripheral vision, unbroken by the usual windscreen pillars, gives a sensational feeling of airy space as I cruise along the Cotswold lanes.

That wraparound windscreen, new for the FV2, was pure futuristic Americana in 1955. In other ways the FV2 is almost Italian, with a Pininfarina look before Pininfarina himself devised it, or maybe a touch of Touring: look at a Lancia Flaminia, especially a Touring-bodied GT, to see the resemblance. But there are details that are purely Facel Vega, such as the stainless steel bumpers so snug against the body that they and their shark’s-fin overriders are nothing but ornament, and the ribbed aluminium lower flanks.

The Rudge steel wheels, fitted during Mme Daninos’s custody, have been smartly refinished and shod with new Pirelli P4000 tyres of rather modern 205/70 section; in the boot, the spare wheel wears an old 185 R15 Michelin XVS. Also in there is the large petrol tank, upholstered and topped with a giant aluminium flip-up cap. The tool tray, sadly, contains but one ring spanner, ghostly depressions in the plush being all that remain of its past companions’ presence.

It’s these details, as well as the model’s uniqueness, that make the FV2 Convertible special. My encounter with the Facel Vega was like meeting a faded movie star and discovering she’s actually human, making me feel simultaneously starstruck and comforted. Alight makeover and a new dress, and she’ll be ready to tell her life story. And what tales they will be.

A Tale of two Facels Part One

Where do I start? I suppose at the beginning?WelshFacelVega041

It all started 25 years ago when a very impressionable young man watched a film called “Dealers” The film was about a City Broker who used to land his Sea Plane on the Thames and then drive his Classic Facel 11 to his high powered job in the city where he would BUY, BUY, BUY and SELL, SELL, SELL before returning home to land his plane on his lake and cuddle one of his many glamorous girlfriends? I wanted to be that man! A tall order but perhaps I could start with the car? If I was lucky the rest would follow? Roll forward to 2001 and I was getting a car serviced, I think it was a S2 Bentley, with Ted at Overton Vehicles in Southend. In chatting I explained how I had always wanted a Facel Vega not knowing at that point there was more than one model. Ted went on to tell me that he stored one for a client and it may be for sale? My response was obviously, I will buy it? Anyway it took me two years to buy that car which is a story in it’s self, more of that to follow later? This was the first time I had ever seen a Facel Vega in real life and it was a HK500 not a Facel 11. Anyway, I thought I had bought that car three times before it was mine and not thinking that I would ever own it I started searching the world for a Facel. I was contemplating importing one from the states which led to an e-mail from America explaining that my contact had been offered a UK car currently residing in South Wales? Would I like it? Of course I would like it?fv19

So in 2002 I became the owner of HK500, BGU 879B (The Silver Car) complete with a couple of mice and a lot of rust. The car had been put into storage in 1976 and a basic restoration had been started (Common story with Facel Vega’s). Manual car, no power steering, twin carbs and disc brakes.IMGP0190

Roll forward another year and I finally became the owner of HK500, YSC337 (The black Car). Automatic, single carburettor, power steering and disc brakes. Now I have two. One running and lovely and one rusty, sad but complete. The owner finally decided to sell it on the basis that I find him a perfect Bentley T2 to PX against his car. The first one I bought wasn’t quite right but the second one was perfect. Deal done! So the saga begins? Six years ago I decided to bite the bullet and have the silver car restored but why keep it simple?faceljune066

Stopping Power – a look at Facel brakes

Stopping a big Facel, or even a small one, takes a lot of power because of weight – lots of weight. Club members will know that I bang on about the fact that the Facel factory never seemed remotely interested in weight saving. I have written several articles in FaceLetter in the past, drawing attention to items like the heavy steel fabrication of the heating system, and the the cast iron mounting for the brake/clutch pedal, both weighing several times more than necessary, even with the materials available at the time. Yes, we are grateful more than forty years down the line that all Facel chassis were built on locomotive principles and last forever, but couldn’t more body parts have been made of aluminium?  I have forgotten the physics, and someone in the Club will no doubt remind me, but I think that kinetic energy increases at something like the square of speed. Anyway, what this means is that a big 35 cwt Facel travelling at 100 mph takes a lot of stopping…
The early cars had drum brakes and they were totally incapable of doing the job. Very few UK owners will have this problem as it was only with the HK500 that serious import numbers built up. It was W.O.Bentley who, in the heyday of the vintage Bentley, when criticised about the lack of stopping power of his cars (even more marked than that of the Facel) famously retorted: “I make my cars to go, not to stop”. This could however equally be said of Facel Vegas in the drum brake days. Fred Hobbs, in charge of servicing (and sometimes importing) the cars for the concessionaires HWM, through their subsidiary Intercontinental Cars, felt that the drum brakes were: “Hopelessly inadequate for very high speeds. Not only did we have very unpleasant moments while trying to stop the car from speeds of over a hundred miles an hour, but the heat generated in the drums was such that they lasted no time at all. It was obvious that discs were going to be needed.” Indeed, when the first Dunlop disc brakes became available, Fred had them retro-fitted to all the early HK500s. They were a huge improvement. However, these were disc brakes in their infancy. Not only were they very small in comparison with modern ones, but the design and materials left quite a lot to be desired. If set up well, they do quite a good job – but because the cylinders are not made of stainless steel (as became the standard later) they are prone to corrosion when the car is left standing. The brake fluid being hygroscopic, picks up water which provides the corrosive element and the result is usually that the piston sticks in the cylinder – either “on” or “off”.  The result is that the car will either not stop, or will not move at all. This effect is exacerbated by the design as there is a central locating pin for the piston. This is not used on modern systems at all, and only makes matters worse when corrosion has set in preventing the withdrawal of the piston to the “off” position. The very strange servos fitted to Facels can also cause the brakes to stay on when the release mechanism ceases to function. The answer is to re-build the callipers with stainless steel inserts and replace the servo. The Club can put members in contact with firms that can help.
If you’re rebuilding your Facel brakes, there is another very worthwhile upgrade. Modern cars, unlike those of the 60s and earlier, have a split system front and rear, so that if one should fail all braking power is not lost. Rolls Royce experimented at one time with a diagonal arrangement (i.e. the nearside front was coupled to the offside rear) but they reverted to the separate front and rear arrangement too. This is not too difficult to install with twin master cylinders and is an excellent idea.