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 Marshal 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.
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.