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!