Some of the most exciting and flamboyant sports cars in history were produced in Paris and its surrounding areas through the first half of the 20th century. Delahaye, Delage, Talbot Lago and Panhard were some of the great marques that called this area home. However, performance and the French government’s extreme postwar taxation of higher horsepower vehicles did not mix. As a result, French performance vehicles were literally killed off by the mid 1950s.
Jean Daninos was an industrialist who employed 2,000 workers in his four FACEL factories and manufactured everything from kitchen sinks and office furniture to scooters and combustion chambers for deHavilland and Rolls-Royce jet engines. When Panhard cancelled manufacturing plans for their new model at Daninos’s Colombes plant, Jean saw his opportunity to build a great luxury performance vehicle that would once again bring worldwide prominence to a Paris-built car. Of course, due to French taxation he would have to manufacture his Facel cars mostly for export.
A foreign powerplant would best ensure the success of such an export venture, which led to Daninos selecting the technically superior Chrysler V8 engine. The new 383 Chrysler wedge engine sported dual four-barrel carburetors, pumped out 360 horsepower and propelled the 4,000-pound plus HK500 from 0 to 60 in a little over 8 seconds and to a top speed exceeding 140 mph.
Lance Macklin of HWM racing fame designed the chassis, while M. Brasseur and Daninos himself penned the sexy and cosmopolitan body styling. The Facel exuded opulence from bumper to bumper, and its fit and finish was second to none. Rust-resistant stainless steel was used for brightwork, while a lavish passenger cabin was trimmed in the finest woods and leathers. An amazing array of sparkling gauges and switches harkened the driver back to the days of the airplane-inspired Duesenberg instrument panel. The HK500 cost $9,795, an exorbitant sum for the time. Hence, Daninos targeted the rich and famous clientele of California.
The car pictured here is described as being a highly suitable and usable driver that benefited from a comprehensive restoration in the late 1980s. It is in presentable condition, showing some wear to the paint in the higher stress areas. The brightwork is in good condition while the engine and its compartment show signs of use. We are informed that this Facel was also shown at Pebble Beach in the early 1990s.
|1959 Facel Vega HK500
|Original List Price:
|Tune Up Cost:
|Chassis Number Location:
|At center of firewall in engine compartment
|Engine Number Location:
|Amicale Facel Vega, 9, rue du pont 58400, La Cherite sur Loire, France
|Bentley R-type Continental, Ferrari 330 GT 2+2
This car sold for $44,000 at the RM Amelia Island, Florida, auction on March 10, 2001, including a 10% buyer’s premium. As the catalog text mentions, Jean Daninos’s dream of reviving the Grand Routiers tradition of French automaking met with some success, if not in his native country then certainly in the US, where most HK500s were exported. Facel, incidentally, is a contraction of the company name: Forges et Ateliers de Construction de Eure et de Loire, which would have required a name badge only slightly longer than the car itself had it been spelled out in full.
The Amelia Island Auction Report in the May 2001 SCM described this car as an “older restoration with some slight deterioration mechanically and cosmetically, but generally still very presentable.” We also noted that it wore an AACA National First Prize badge from that club’s judging competition and that the recorded mileage was a whisker under 30,000.
When it comes to the use of sumptuous materials, the interiors of these cars take second place to absolutely no other marque. This car presented well on the inside. It had good panel fit and although it had lost its prize-winning edge, it was still worthy of the #2+ condition rating we gave it. From a personal standpoint, the car is just right for someone like me who prefers “drivers” to show cars. Whoever bought this example made a very fair purchase.
Six or seven years ago, chances are that an HK500 in similar condition would have required a higher bid. At that time, there was a very brisk one-way trade in Facels going back to France, where collector demand for the marque was unprecedented. Once the fever abated, cars like this one slipped about $20,000 from their market peak, leaving some US Facel speculators hung out to dry financially.
At their current market levels of $40,000 to $50,000, HK500s represent the best of both worlds: a tough, powerful, cheap-to-fix American drivetrain coupled with limited-production and handcrafted coachwork, giving the owner automotive exclusivity for the price of a well-equipped new car. The downside comes with cosmetic restoration. Body and interior bits are impossible to find and astronomical to repair or restore. Those of you seeking an HK500 are advised to look for the very best ones available consistent with your budget and checkbook. It will prove to be cheaper in the long—and short—run.—Dave Brownell
(Historic data and photo courtesy of auction company.)