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Facel Vega was a French builder of luxury cars. The brand was created by Jean Daninos (brother of the humorist Pierre Daninos who wrote Les Carnets du Major Thomson). Initially, FACEL (Forges et Ateliers de Construction d'Eure-et-Loir) was a metal-stamping company which decided to expand into car manufacturing in the early 1950s. Facel entered the automobile business as a supplier of special bodies, for Panhard, Delahaye and Simca. Around 45,000 Simcas were built, this lucrative contract allowing Facel to market a car of their own. The first Facel Vega production cars appeared in 1954 using Chrysler V8 engines, at first a 4.5 litre engine displacement DeSoto Hemi engine. The overall engineering was straightforward, with a tubular chassis, double wishbone suspension at the front and a solid driven axle at the back, as in standard American practice. They were also as heavy as American cars, at about 1,800 kg (4000 lb). Performance was brisk for the time, with an approx 190 km/h (120 mph) top speed and 0 to 100 km/h (60 mph) in just under ten seconds.
The 1956 model was updated with a bigger (5.4 L) Chrysler engine and updated transmission and other mechanicals; in the same year a 4-door model, the Excellence, with rear-hinged doors (suicide doors) at the back and no centre pillar was also produced. Its pillarless design unfortunately made it less rigid and the handling was thus poorer than the 2-door cars, and they are rare.
1959's model had even bigger engines, a 5.8 L and later a 6.3 L Chrysler V8, and was quite a bit faster despite the car's extra weight.
The final evolution came in 1962 with the Facel II; lighter, sleeker with more modern lines, and substantially faster still.
In 1960, Facel entered the sports car market with the Facellia, a small car along the lines of the then popular Mercedes 190SL. Facellias were advertised in three body styles: cabriolet, 2+2 coupé and 4-seat coupe — all with the same mechanicals and a 96.5" wheelbase. Styling was similar to the Facel HK500, but with rather elegant (though fingernail-breaking) flush door handles. Following Facel Vega's demise several of M Daninos's styling cues were "borrowed" by Mercedes Benz. With the idea of creating a mass-produced all-French sports car competing with the Alfa-Romeos, Facel eschewed its standard of American engines and used for the new Facellia a 4 cyl 1.6 L DOHC engine built in France by Paul Cavalier of Pont-à-Mousson. The engine had only two bearings supporting camshafts using special steels as opposed to the usual four or five. Despite the experience of Pont-à-Mousson in metallurgy this resulted in excessive flex, timing problems and frequent failures. The engine was quickly pronounced a disaster and the Facellia with it. The troublesome engine was replaced with a Volvo P1800 powerplant in the Facel III, but the damage was done. Production was stopped in 1963 and despite the vision of it being a "volume" car only 1100 were produced. Still, that is by far Facel's highest production number. Facel lost money on every car they built,the luxury car side of the company being supported entirely by the other work done by Facel metallon, Jean Daninos's obsession being very similar to that of David Brown of Aston Martin.
The small Facellia met with little success and the losses from this, allied to strong competition at the luxury end of the market, killed off the company. Facel got out of the car market completely in 1964. Sadly the last and, according to some, the best small Facel, the Facel 6, which used an Austin Healey 2.8 litre engine, came too late to save the company, fewer than 30 having been produced when the French government finally pulled the plug.
Being expensive luxury cars, many Facels survive and they are by now quite desirable, and given the mass-produced American mechanicals, easier to maintain than many. Facellias are not difficult to find, though examples with the original Pont-à-Mousson engine are quite rare.
- The French Existentialist philosopher Albert Camus died in an auto accident in a Facel Vega.
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