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1954-1964 Facel Vega

The Last Facel Vegas

What killed Facel Vega? To some extent, at least in Europe, it was high price. The contemporary Jensen CV8, Aston Martin DB5, Bristol 407, and Maserati 3500 all cost much less. This is part of the story of the last Facel Vegas.

In addition, lack of real financial depth prevented a complete redesign, which could have eliminated the traditional front-end problems, the somewhat heavy controls, and the lack of genuine four-passenger accommodation. But the deciding factor was the company's attempt at a smaller, all-French product, the 1959-1963 Facellia.

Facel III Coupe
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Had Facel S.A. not been in such financial hot water, it's possible the Facel III would have sold even better. As it is, only 1,500 were built. Here, the coupe.

A scaled-down HK-500 convertible on a 96.5-inch wheelbase, the Facellia looked smart and seemed saleable. But its engine was a disaster. Sized at 1647cc -- Daninos pointedly avoided competition and saw no need to duck under the 1.6-liter tax limit -- it was a 115-bhp double-overhead-cam four supplied by Pont-à-Mousson, which had never built an engine before. It showed.

The twincam was not only noisy, it burned piston rings at an incredible rate. Such difficulties played hell in markets like America, where the typical buyer didn't expect to have to heave to with wrenches or attend to major engine work every 40,000 miles.

Parts and dealers were never plentiful, and the service situation wreaked havoc with sales. As a result, only 500 Facellias were called for. It was a major setback for Daninos, who had contemplated building 5,000 a year once production hit full stride.

Facel consequently slipped into receivership at the end of 1962. The following spring, the receivers attempted a comeback with the Volvo-powered Facel III. Though it was little more than a Facellia with the Swedish firm's far more reliable 1.8-liter overhead-valve four, it sold 1,500 copies.

That was mildly encouraging, because at least it kept the company functioning, with the receivers in charge, through the end of the year. Then hope for a rescue appeared. The SFERMA subsidiary of Sud-Aviation contracted to manage Facel for the next 12 months.

SFERMA briefly considered Facel's own engine, an aluminum twincam four with up to 200 bhp, but that only implied more of the same problems that had plagued the Facellia. Ultimately, it chose the ohv 3.0-liter BMC six familiar from the Austin-Healey 3000 for yet another Facellia-clone called Facel 6.

To get under the French 15 chevaux tax limit, the engine was debored to 2.8 liters, in which form it developed 150 bhp. But in the end, the Facel 6 could not counter the Facellia's reputation for poor reliability, and production amounted to only 23 coupes and just three convertibles.

Negotiations for BMW's 2.0-liter sohc six proved fruitless, and SFERMA refused to renew its management contract at the end of 1964. Facel S.A. thus went into final liquidation in early 1965.

SFERMA kept the rights to the name, however, and the Facel parts depot operated a few years longer. Remaining inventory gradually shifted to former distributors and, fortunately, much of it has survived. The Pont-à-Mousson gearboxes are literally irreplaceable, though.

It's probably just as well that Facel died when it did. It is difficult to imagine what its cars would have been like in the age of emission controls and 5-mph bumpers that began in the U.S. with model year 1968. As it stands, the Facel record isn't bad for a firm of its size.

As Bernard Cahier put it, the Facel Vega was part of "that elite group of classic high-powered touring machines which were immortalized in prewar days by such as the Duesenberg, the Talbot, and the Delahaye ... Daninos created a car of which France could be proud, and much credit must be given to his efforts and persistence in creating such a superb machine."

A worthy tribute, that, and a fitting one.

On the next page we list the 1954-1964 Facel Vega specifications.

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