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Facel Vega: the phantom French car brand that continues to fascinate

This Facel Vega Excellence was sold for 106,000 euros at the Retromobile 2020 event.
This Facel Vega Excellence was sold for 106,000 euros at the Retromobile 2020 event. Dhananjay Khadilkar

The Retromobile 2020 exhibition saw some of the best classic cars on display this week in the French capital. Among them were two vehicles that revived memories of a short-lived French brand called Facel Vega that epitomised luxury, elegance and high speed.

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Originally a casting and forging company founded in 1939, Facel (Forges et Ateliers de Construction d'Eure-et-Loir) ventured into manufacturing their own cars in 1954. It was the brainchild of the French engineer and entrepreneur Jean Daninos.

“After the war, it was the most exclusive brand in France. It was a bit like Rolls Royce or Jaguar or Cadillac. It was the ultimate luxury car to buy in France. That’s what made it so special,” says Augustin Sabatie-Garat, an automobile specialist from the Sotheby’s auction house.

A Facel Vega Excellence at Sotheby's auction at Retromobile 2020.
A Facel Vega Excellence at Sotheby's auction at Retromobile 2020. Dhananjay Khadilkar

Sabatie-Garat mentions the salient features of the Excellence model which was sold at Sotheby’s for 105,000 euros. “It’s one of just 21 such cars fitted with a manual gearbox. It has a powerful 6.3 litre, twin carburetor engine that pushed the car to a maximum speed of 200 kmph.”

Sabatie-Garat says the vehicle also sports a unique dashboard made of aluminium that was hand-painted to look like wood. “Besides the Chrysler engines, Facel cars adopted many American design characteristics like the panoramic windshield in the Excellence.”

Pierre Novikoff, deputy director of Artcurial Motors, which sold the other Excellence model for around 90,000 euros at the Retromobile event, says Facel Vega cars are popular with collectors because it was the last French luxury car brand. “The cars were sporty and luxurious with a refined design. The company always tried to use new concepts.”

This Facel Vega Excellence was sold at Artcurial for around 90,000 euros.
This Facel Vega Excellence was sold at Artcurial for around 90,000 euros. Dhananjay Khadilkar

Novikoff says the brand enjoyed success in the 50s with celebrities like Tony Curtis and Ava Gardner among the owners. French writer and Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus died in a Facel Vega in January 1960. Camus was in the passenger seat of a Facel Vega FV3B driven by his friend and publisher Michel Gallimard when the fatal car crash took place.

The brand couldn’t sustain itself for long because of the mounting manufacturing costs. “It was too expensive to make in Europe after the Second World War. It cost a fortune to make these cars and, secondly, the market wasn’t focused on such a car,” Novikoff said. These reasons contributed to the company closing its operations in October 1964.

And yet, more than fifty years later, Facel Vega vehicles haven’t entirely faded from the public memory as can be seen from the brand's popularity at auctions. Given the mystique surrounding Facel Vega, it’s a car for connoisseurs, one of the most exclusive brands you can own.

Retromobile 2020

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