Latest posts for Facel Vega Cars from the club magazine Bolide

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!

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.

Grand Routiere

Grand Routiere

The Facel Vega HK500hk500-03

Sold as being ‘For the few who own the finest’, the HK500 mixed French styling and US power.

When recalling the Facel Vega, perhaps the first thing which comes to mind is the long list of celebrities who owned them. Not only figures from the world of showbusiness — Ringo Starr, Ava Gardner, Tony Curtis, Dean Martin and Fred Astaire — but people who really knew about cars: Stirling Moss used one as his personal transport, as did Maurice Trintignant. Picasso had one, and famously Albert Camus was killed in an accident when travelling in his publisher’s Facel. What was the story behind this Franco-American hybrid, and how did it manage to capture a glamour that was lacking elsewhere?

After an early career in aviation and at Citroen, in 1939 Jean Daninos (1906-2001) established Forges et Ateliers des Constructions d’Eure-et-Loir (FACEL) to manufacture components for the aircraft industry, as well as metal furniture. A company specialism was making things in stainless steel. After WW2, with demand in the aviation business diminished, Daninos began to focus on building bodies for motor manufacturers, having gained experience with pressed steel bodies at CItroën in the 1930s. His mass-market customers included Panhard, Simca and Ford-France, but he also built one- offs and low-volume bodies, such as the Pinin Farina-styled Bentley Cresta of 1948.

By the early 1950s, this involvement in the motor industry gave Daninos the inspiration to design and build his own car. The type of vehicle he had in mind was a grande routiere in the mould of the Bugattis, Delage, Delahayes and Talbots of the 1930s. Post-war, those great names had been all but killed off by the enormous taxes levied by the French government on cars of more than 15 taxable horsepower (about three litres), thus making their products almost unsaleable

Daninos felt he could buck the trend with his own design, the inspiration for using an American engine coming from the Ford V3- powered Comète whose bodies he had built for Simca.

The Vega name came from the brightest  star in the constellation Lyra, and Daninos’s new car certainly shone when it was unveiled at the 1954 Paris Salon. This FV model used a 4.5-litre

Chrysler V-8 engine, with either a two-speed Chrysler automatic gearbox or a four-speed manual built by Pont-à-Mousson. The chassis, developed with the help of British racing c river Lance Macklin, was a tubular frame with coil springs and double wishbones at the front and a leaf-sprung live rear axle. The body styling was by Daninos himself, and in some respects can be seen as a progression from the Simca-Comète bodies he had previously manufactured. Vestigial tail fins echoed contemporary American car design, while the body was adorned with bumpers and other brightwork made from Facel’s great specialism, stainless steel.

A four-seater coupé, the cramped rear seats could be folded flat for extra luggage space and the wide cockpit was luxuriously appointed.img_6539

Although the car weighed close to two tonnes, with a top speed approaching 120mph the FV satisfied Daninos’s aim of performance with great comfort.

For 1955 the engine capacity increased to 4.8 and then five litres before the introduction of the FVS in 1956. This revised model featured the wraparound windscreen which was to become such a Facel trademark. Even larger engines, a three-speed automatic, power steering and disc brakes would become FVS features, too. An ambitious four-door saloon of pillarless construction was also added to the range, but relatively few were made. In all, about 350 FV, FV2 and FVS models were built.

In 1959 the FVS was upgraded once more and renamed the HK500. Initially, this new model used the 5.8-litre V-8 from its predecessor, but soon a 360bhp 6.3-litre unit was introduced. This gave the HK500 sensational performance for a large luxury car: 60mph could be reached in a little over eight seconds, and the maximum was now close to 150mph. Disc brakes, which had been an option on the FVS, were standardised on the HK500 in 1960. By the time the IIK500 was replaced by the short-lived Facel II in 1962, 489 examples had left the factory.

In 1960, the company introduced the Facellia, a small sports car with a four-cylinder, 1.6-litre twin cam engine built by Pont-a-Mousson. Camshaft bearing problems resulted in countless engine failures, and the warranty claims worsened Facel’s already perilous finances. Daninos resigned in 1961, although the company managed to keep going until forced to close its doors in 1964, 10 years after it had launched the original Facel Vega. In that time, Daninos’s company almost single-handedly had kept alive the spirit of the pre-war grand tourers.

All the early Facel Vegas had been left-hand drive; right-hand variants weren’t built until the marque was introduced in the UK in 1957. Former racer George Abeccassis at HWM ran the official importers, his quote of “We sold them to Debrett” highlighting the marques appeal to the upper classes. He managed to sell more than 200 coupés and 13 Excellences in all.

Chassis HK1 BY6, with engine TY7 1-29-37 and body 772— the right-hand drive car you see here — is thought to have been manufactured in the final three months of 1960 (the next car, BY7, was the 1960 Earl’s Court Show car). Richard Stevens of the Facel Vega Car Club has kindly provided some details of the car’s subsequent history. It lingered for some time in the UK before it found its first owner. By the time of the introduction of the Facel II in October, 1961, HWM still had five unsold HK500s, and two of these were in customs bond, which avoided the need to pay import duty until a buyer as found. It looks as though HKI BY6 was one of these, along with HK1 BX2. One HK was sold at the time of the 1961 Motor Show; the other  four were advertised in 1962 as for sale at ‘£1500 less than the price of the latest model’. BY6 was eventually first registered, as 3 XPK, on 19th April, 1962, to Dr K Soo, a Chinese dentist from Richmond, Surrey. He claimed to have driven it at 150mph, which perhaps helped to explain why he crashed it twice. canvas

In 1965 it was sold to its second owner  Campbell Palmer of Brompton Business brokers, who later also owned another Facet Vega. At  some point it appears to have been fitted with a new speedometer, as the mileage was recorded as 18904 in July, 1965, but was only 3287 by January, 1966. The next known owner, who had it until the 1980s, was a Mr D Stuart, who lived near Horsham. By now the car was a sad-Iooking non-runner and, superficially at least, very  rusty. It then went through a succession of owners before being offered for sale on eBay in around 2006. It was acquired by Simon Bates and restored over the next five years, but sensibly retaining the original interior and much of the car’s exterior trim.

Last month it came up for sale in the Bonhams auction at the Goodwood Revival and was acquired by dealers Godin Banks of Mereworth, Kent. Justin Banks of that firm is a noted Facel Vega aficionado and has owned and sold dozens of them over the years. He currently owns several himself, including a four-door Excellence and the ex-Ringo Starr Facel  II. We caught up with the HK500 at his premises before it was delivered to its new owner Stefan Ittner, who has lusted after a Facel Vega since he was a schoolboy. This writer has also admired the marque since his youth, when he first rode in an HK500 as a car-mad teenager. That car, 5 PPF, belonged to Charlie Todd in Gloucestershire, and subsequently it has passed through the hands of Justin Banks. So we were anxious to know if the HK500 really lives up to its glamorous looks and reputation.

This particular car is in, to our mind, almost perfect condition. Although the body has been repainted, the original trim and fittings have been re-used wherever possible and the mechanical restoration, while thorough, has not been carried out to better-than-new standards. The stacked headlamps, egg-crate grille and wraparound windscreen are the most obvious styling features, but there are many details which reward close study. For example, the way the door windows overlap the rear quarter windows, the top-mounted catches on the quarterlights, the subtle rear fins and the stainless brightwork are all touches of a thoughtful and inventive hand. The Facel’s bright red interior is one of the most sumptuous we have encountered. The apparently wood dashboard is in fact intricately painted metal. The array of dials, gauges and switchgear is reminiscent of an aircraft cockpit— albeit a lavishly-appointed aircraft cockpit.

This British-supplied car has an original His Master’s Voice radio. Narrow pillars give the cabin a light and airy feel. Enormous electric window switches are mounted on the thick and heavy doors. Everything about the car exudes quality. The heavily stuffed (and supremely comfortable) seat squab and backrest mean the driver sits high and forward, close to the large two-spoke steering wheel. This proximity is useful not only for handling that heavy, non-power-assisted wheel, but also for seeing better the front corners of the car when negotiating narrow roads and when parking.canvas1

It’s also useful for the driver’s left foot to be as close as possible to the clutch pedal, because its action must he one of the heaviest of a car of this — or any— period. It works smoothly enough, though, so long as plenty of revs are used when pulling away from rest. The Pont-a-Mousson gearbox, with its stubby, cranked-over lever, is precise and easy. Although the manual transmission detracts a little from the luxury car theme, it does allow the driver to make the most of the power available. It seems that, when ordering a new HK500, the prospective owner could specify an automatic gearbox and power steering or a manual gearbox and no power  assistance, but not any other combination Therefore the original owner of HKI BY6 must have been a strong man, because the latter option can leave the driver tired if travelling along twisty country roads or around town. With a car of such size and weight — the HK500 tips the scales at 1800kg— good brakes are always a priority and the Dunlop discs do their job well. That big V-8 is fairly flexible , as one would expect. The car will trickle happily through town in third but, once you’ve reached the de-restriction signs, as you put your foot  to the floor the enormous expanse of bonne lifts, you are pushed back into the soft leather and your speed rises decidedly quickly. It is obvious that the HK500 would be happy cruising speeds well in excess of the legal limit with a minimum of fuss. The solid body construction keeps wind noise to very low levels and, on appropriate roads, driving the Facel is a relaxing experience — thereby meeting Jean Daninos’s original aim of producing a true grande routière. There is also some satisfaction to be gained in driving something that looks so special, yet which few other road users today can identify.

We can end with a tantalising prospect. At the Paris Salon last month, 48 years after the original Facel Vega was launched there, a new Facel was announced. Named the HK Coupé, details are sketchy at the moment hut, if the car does reach production, perhaps today’s celebrities will have an alternative to the ubiquitous Rolls-Royce or Bentley for touring in the grand manner.

A rare Facel visits Essex

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A ‘Bentley Powered’ Facel Cresta visits Essex

I was alerted recently to the fact that MAS 888, perhaps the most famous of all early Facel Vegas, was back at P & A Wood for a service.  Apparently it now lives in Switzerland, having last been registered for road use in the UK in 2007.

It is in immaculate condition, arriving and leaving their works in a vast air-conditioned and completely enclosed luxury Swiss pantechnicon, all to itself.

It was completely restored by P & A Wood some years ago and is as perfect now as it was then.   It possesses several unique features apart from the design, including badges, door handles and a boot lock the like of which I have not seen on any other Facel.  It was amusing to watch it being carefully loaded up, two of Wood’s employees running alongside it, polishing out what seemed to be imaginary blemishes as it went.   I am reminded of a true story told me by the owner of a very long established and famous nearby restorer, who said whenever he visited the Wood workshops, he always took a rug with him, in case he might need to look at the underside of one of the cars there.  This was not to ensure that he did not get his clothes dirty, but to ensure he did not leave any marks on the floor!  Also in the wokshops, incidentally, were mouth-watering 8 litre Bentleys, and Field MarCIMG0269shal Montgomery’s personal Phantom III.

Jean Daninos had long standing connections with Rolls Royce (for which his factory produced parts for aero engines) and the Bentley marque.  He was a friend of Lord Hine, then the Chairman, and their cars were a personal favourite of his before WW2, and he owned no less than six 4¼ litre models in fifteen years.   When he finally became involved in producing a prestige car of his own, it was not surprising that his early efforts via Facel Métallon were really on Bentley chassis with bodywork by Pininfarina.  Called the ‘Cresta’ after the famous bobsleigh run on St. Moritz, the first one was exhibited as the Paris Motor Show in 1950. About thirteen more Crestas followed, one of which is currently for sale at the Bentley dealers Frank Dale & Stepson in London.

The early examples were striking rather than beautiful, with a radiator grille more akin to the big Austin saloons of the time rather than Bentley, but this was modified in the later versions which bore a closer resemblance to Bentleys. They were followed by the unique Cresta 2, the subject of this article.

Perhaps the best picture of this car is on Page 78 of Martin Buckley’s book, ‘Facel Vega – Grand Luxe Sportif’’ published by the Palawan Press in 2007, a must-have for any Facel afficiando (let me know if you have not already got a copy). Altogether a much more beautiful design, it was Daninos’ personal favourite, and he kept it until 1956.CIMG0264

The mechanicals and interior are again pure Bentley, and with a Continental spec. engine, the car would do 120 mph. However, by then Facel Vegas had taken off as a marque, so perhaps Jean Daninos wanted to be seen to be driving something which was entirely his own design.   The car was sold (something he said later that he regretted) and then went to the USA and lived in New York until it returned to England and P & A Wood for a total restoration in the mid nineties.

The Facel Vega Car Club

The Facel Vega Car Club UK have completed an ambitious project to upgrade the club website.Marks Facel cropped The site is now complete but is being constantly updated as we have a large amount of information to publish. We anticipate that we will have a major update each month starting in April. The Facel Vega website attracts over 900 unique visitors a month from Europe and around the World.

Some of the Members

Here are some of the Facel Vega Car Club members at a recent committee meeting

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