In 1950, the French Government imposed taxes which wiped out most of a magnificent tradition. Bugatti, Delahaye, Delage and Talbot Lago all disappeared together with the coachbuilders that clothed their chassis with sublime creations.

It was a surprise therefore that Facel Vega appeared in 1954. This was a French company offering very expensive cars, yet Facel's customer list reads like a who's who of the period.

Facel Vegas offered Gallic chic with good ol' Yankee grunt - an understressed Chrysler V8. In fact, Facel was perhaps the first company in the post-war period to combine the best of Europe with the best of America.

The four-door Excellence was a fabulous confection intended as France's ultimate luxury car, so it is appropriate that this example was first owned by Ava Gardner, once voted the world's most beautiful woman. Now in the hands of its third owner, it has covered less than 87,000 kms and is in commendable condition in midnight blue with its original red Connolly hide upholstery.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1958 Facel Vega Excellence
Years Produced:1958-1964
Number Produced:230
Original List Price:$12,800
Tune Up Cost:$200
Distributor Caps:$25
Chassis Number Location:Stamped at center of firewall behind engine
Engine Number Location:Top of the block behind water pump
Alternatives:Lincoln Continental, Bentley Continental

The car described here sold for $20,670 (at the exchange rate of Ffr 6.120 to USD $1) on May 13, 1999, at Brooks Europe’s Monaco auction in Monte Carlo.

It might be argued that there were several manufacturers of high-performance luxury cars during the late Fifties. The combination of large exterior dimensions, cubic-inch displacement and interior accommodations is not, however, indigenous to any French manufacturer at the time except Facel Vega.

The Excellence is a four-door saloon with pillarless construction. The access to the interior is unmatched, but the lack of support and strength in the body structure would affect door fit and operation depending on how many persons were in the car. The lack of rigidity was not the downfall of the big Facel. There simply weren’t that many well-heeled buyers for a little-known French car at the time. Keep in mind that an S1 Bentley sold for about the same price in 1958.

This particular example is the last car fitted with a 392ci Hemi engine. After this car, the 383ci or 413ci “Wedge” engine was standardized. The twin-carb Hemi bolted to a Torqueflite was, and is, a swift and powerful combination.

Most of these cars were purchased by movie stars, heads of state and the like. The Ava Gardner history is interesting but not a serious issue when assessing the value of this car.

What is at issue and in this car’s favor is the Hemi engine, original interior (the car’s color has been changed from black to blue) and the car’s overall condition.

If this car is as described, it would be difficult to find a comparable example on the open market for the $20,000 purchase price. Combine this with the savings on import duty and shipping for a European buyer (most Excellence production came to the U.S.), and the car was very well bought.-Michael Duffey

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