Courtesy of Bonhams

In its relatively short life, the French firm of Facel produced approximately 2,900 cars, all of which were stylish, luxurious and fast. Hand built, they were necessarily expensive — the Facel II was priced in Rolls-Royce territory — and bought by the rich and famous seeking something exclusive and distinctive.

Launched in 1961, the Facel II was destined to be the last of the V8-engined models. Road testing one in 1962, Autocar commented: “A striking amalgamation of French, American and British components, the big Facel has a wonderful way of covering the miles extremely fast without mechanical fuss.” Following an unsuccessful venture into engine manufacture that effectively bankrupted the company, production ceased in 1964 after a mere 182 Facel IIs had been built. Today these rare Franco-American GTs are among the most highly sought after of post-war classics.

This Facel II was purchased from Aaldering Classic & Sportscars Brummen in January 2011. A copy of the purchase agreement is on file and the car also comes with an original Spanish Permiso de Circulación for an historic vehicle.

As the car has been on static display for a number of years, it may require recommissioning prior to road use.

SCM Analysis

Detailing

Vehicle:1964 Facel Vega Facel II Coupe
Years Produced:1961–64
Number Produced:184
SCM Valuation:$229,000
Tune Up Cost:$1,000
Chassis Number Location:Plate on firewall
Engine Number Location:Driver’s side of engine block
Club Info:Club Facel France
Website:http://www.facel-vega.asso.fr
Alternatives:1960–63 Ferrari 250 GTE 2+2, 1957–65 Maserati 3500 coupe, 1971–80 Rolls-Royce Corniche coupe
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 289, was sold for $210,258 (€186,300), including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Paris sale on February 3, 2022.

Facel was created in late 1939, just after the British and French declared war on Germany. The objective was to produce aviation and armament parts to help defend France. But within six months of its creation, France capitulated. Facel, like all industrial enterprises in France, came under German control, a situation that is little talked about in the annals of history. Facel’s factories were well equipped from the start, and almost as soon as the hostilities finished, the company started producing bodies for French-car manufacturers. Facel became known for its svelte creations such as the Simca 8 and the Ford Comète.

A car of its own

In 1951, Facel started to envisage building its own luxury car, which, was given the codename “V,” and would morph into Vega. At a time when the traditional French luxury automakers were taking their last breath, this was a courageous decision. Bugatti, Hispano-Suiza and Delage had gone, and Delahaye would follow suit within a couple of years. Talbot-Lago struggled on, but not for long.

The great French marques were using technology that had evolved little since the mid-1930s, and Facel realized that it had to come up with something completely new. An initial desire to build the ultimate Grand Touring car with entirely French components was quickly abandoned. No French manufacturer was producing engines to power a relatively large and heavy automobile. So Facel cast its eyes to America and the new generation of V8s being built there.

Ultimately, it was decided to employ the modern Chrysler engine, and Facel even managed to secure the option (without obligation) of selling its cars through Chrysler dealerships. So began an adventure that would see a limited production of what many consider to be the best GT cars of the late 1950s and early ’60s.

Early success

After a gestation period and numerous prototypes, Facel introduced the Vega FV series in 1955. Everything except the engine and gearbox was designed and made in-house. These cars were modern, fast and beautiful — essentially French flair married to American muscle. There were no direct competitors at the time for a 4-seat luxury coupe that cost the same heady sum as a Rolls-Royce. Despite being an unknown automobile manufacturer, the car immediately became the darling of the international press. From a sales perspective, it was even relatively successful, with a clientele ranging from Hollywood stars to royalty.

The FV evolved into the HK 500. The models were not so dramatically different over their eight years of production. The HK 500 was the fastest production GT car of its era, despite its significant bulk. Then, in 1961, Facel unveiled the final evolution of its Chrysler-powered V8: the Facel II.

End of the line

The Facel II was simply gorgeous. Many international magazines declared it the most beautiful car of the time, and today, many consider it to be the best-looking post-war French automobile. There was no other car that could combine the elegance, luxury, craftsmanship and speed that the Facel II offered.

The 383-ci V8 easily pulled the heavy automobile to 145 mph. The 0–60 mph sprint came up in just 7.5 seconds, quick for the day. This performance was achieved in unrivaled silence and opulence. Buyers included the Prince of Monaco, the Shah of Iran and Ringo Starr.

There were 184 examples produced in just over two years before the accountants halted production. Facel was hemorrhaging wads of cash with each and every car it built. The break-even level to recuperate tooling costs was 1,000 cars, and it became clear that this volume wasn’t going to happen. The company struggled on for a few more years with production of the small Facellia models, but then, like its French forebearers, Facel Vega became a blip in history.

A car with needs

Bonhams sold this car with no reserve at its Paris auction in February. The catalog description was vague, so let’s fill in some details. Delivered new to the American importer Max Hoffman, our subject’s first owner is unknown. In the 1970s, the car was rumored to have returned to France. In the early 1990s, it was in southern Spain. That owner kept it for 20 years with little or no use. It was then sold, via a Dutch dealer, to an investor in Saudi Arabia before being consigned with Bonhams.

Despite the glossy photos, this Facel has been immobile for nearly 20 years, so it will need a full mechanical overhaul. The engine bay is scruffy. The interior appeared quite good but was not trimmed to the original quality. The relatively shiny paint may be hiding a horror story.

Additionally, the car was on a temporary import, so duty needed to be paid in whichever country it found a home. Indeed, it sold to a French buyer, who will have to pay an extra 5.5% import duty.

On the money

Of the fewer than 200 examples built, the active French Facel club can account for all but 15 — an extraordinary survival rate. But it’s still a rare car. Most serious collectors have owned a Facel II at some point in their life (or have desired to). But owners have to be serious enthusiasts. Apart from the engine and gearbox, everything else is exclusive and impossible to source, right down to the lenses for the lights. The body and chassis are not immune to rust and can be quite expensive to repair.

The Facel II has attracted its fair share of investors. The top sale in the SCM Platinum Database sold for $572k at Gooding & Company’s 2018 Pebble Beach sale (SCM# 6878732). On the other hand, a bad one will not make more than $150k.

In today’s confusing market, this one was on the money. Not so many buyers made it to the Paris sale in person, and international enthusiasts were virtually nonexistent. The French buyer saw the car and took a punt. Hopefully he will be lucky, in which case he got a relatively bargain price for entry to an elite club. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

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