(first posted 10/19/2016) In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that I am a Francophile. Set a baguette, Brie and Ch. Carbonnieux in front of me and I can die a happy man. Visions of Cote d’Azur or a cafe on Champs-Élysées can bring peace to my tormented mind. And while I acknowledge and regret the national (actually mostly Parisian) reputation for arrogance and condescension, I defend neither it, nor their inexplicable fondness for the comedy of Jerry Lewis. With this in mind, I feel it my obligation to share with you the story of the Facel Vega Excellence, a singular automobile at once quintessentially American and undeniably Gallic.
While Facel Vega—which aside from half its name has no connection to that other Vega, s’il vous plait—had produced automobiles since 1955, the company itself dates back two decades, when M. Jean Daninos, late of Citroën and the military aircraft concern Bronzavia, founded Métallon, a fabricator of kitchen cabinets and sinks and, in 1939, established Forges et Atéliers de Construction d’Eure-et-Loire, (FACEL). The two firms combined and made aircraft engine components during World War II.
Although German forces continued to occupy one of Facel’s two factories after the war was over on French soil, by 1946 Facel had been made whole again. Following a quick reorganization of its facilities, the company resumed production of its original products, and soon started manufacturing automobile bodies for several French constructeurs, including…
and Ford of France.
The next few years saw the company expand to four factories that continued to produce car bodies as well as various steel parts and products for France’s aircraft and railroad industries. Daninos realized that with the war over, his automotive clients would once again have the capacity to build their own bodies, and thus decided to produce his own complete car under the Facel brand.
The first all-Facel automobile, the “Vega”, or FV-1 coupe, made its debut at the 1954 Paris Auto Salon. Its coachwork may have been distinctly European, but to put it in motion, a 5.4L Hemi V8 was sourced from Chrysler Corporation and mated to either a two-speed PowerFlite automatic transmission or a Pont-à-Mousson four-speed manual box.
The FV-1 was followed by the 1956-58 FSV and the 1959-61 HK 500, both of which retained the Vega’s pillarless coupe body style and Chrysler power. The final HK 500 iteration (pictured) featured a 6.3L, 360 hp version that could propel the somewhat blocky, two-ton coupe to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds— quite a respectable figure at the time.
Facel Vega would introduce several new coupe and convertible models until the company shuttered its factories in 1964, but now we shall pause our history lesson and turn to the subject of this article, the 1958-61 Facel Vega Excellence.
Excellence, indeed! Previewed at the 1956 Paris auto show (to tremendous interest from press and public alike), the first Excellence production cars left the factory in 1958. This was an automobile like nothing that had come from Facel Vega before: a big (206.1″), four-door luxury sedan that featured such contemporary styling elements as tailfins, a wraparound windshield and a pillarless greenhouse—it was all quite commonplace, oui?
Mais non! For beneath that handsome greenhouse were suicide doors that, when opened, revealed the rather stunning lack of a conventional center post; instead, the doors latched into two round, sill-mounted receivers. Indeed, one must give due credit to the Excellence engineers who managed to maintain structural integrity without the benefit of a traditional structural member.
Daninos didn’t want to make a four door car, but ‘people asked me for four doors’. He regarded the Excellence as a mistake but once built, wanted it to be the French President’s car. President de Gaulle rebuffed the notion, reportedly put off by the car’s American engine and transmission; however, the Excellence apparently appealed to Mme. de Gaulle, who used one as her personal transport. An additional 12 Excellences were sold to French ambassadors around the world.
Its prestige was easy to understand: The Excellence cost four times as much as the luxurious Citroen DS—but at least some of that money went where it showed. The interior was nothing less than sybaritic; in addition to some of the finest leather upholstery this side of Crewe, it featured a center-console makeup kit, comprising a chromed brush-and-comb set and two perfume atomizers, for rear-seat passengers.
There was full instrumentation on board, some of which monitored the activity of the 6.3L, 360 hp Chrysler Hemi beneath the hood. Chrysler stopped offering the Hemi for 1958, but Facel continued to use the engine until their supply ran out, in late 1958. The switch was made to Chrysler’s big-block 5.9L “Wedge” engine, also rated at 360 hp. Both engines could be mated to either a Pont-a-Mousson four-speed manual transmission or to Chrysler’s TorqueFlite automatic. A mere 11 first-generation Excellences were produced, the final one going to American actress Ava Gardner.
The change in engines defined the second-generation Excellence, internally designated EX1. Built from October 1958 to July 1961, this was the most-produced version of the Excellence, at 137 finished units. Although front disc brakes were now available for the first time, ultimately only five cars were fitted with them.
The third and final iteration of the Excellence, the EX2, arrived in July 1961. The significantly face-lifted EX2 had lost the wraparound windshield of its predecessors and now wore much shorter tailfins. Once more, a 6.3L Chrysler V8, this time rated at 390 hp, provided power. In retrospect, the restyle seems a bit puzzling; the new model’s appearance wasn’t all that different from the car it replaced, and ultimately only eight EX2s would be produced.
In 1959, a New York-based syndicate was toying with the idea of a Packard revival (a perfectly awful idea that nevertheless seems to surface every few years), and was approached by Daninos, whose proposition was to bring traditional Packard styling cues and the Packard V8 to the Excellence, which would then be rebadged and sold as a Packard at Studebaker-Packard dealerships. The problem was, S-P was already the sales channel for another luxury import called Mercedes-Benz. The powers at Daimler-Benz quickly expressed their displeasure to S-P president Harold Churchill, pointing out that Facel could not come close to providing S-P with quick cash infusions when needed. Churchill, a pragmatic man who could add and subtract, quickly abandoned the Excellence-as-Packard idea before a prototype could be built.
Facel Vega scrambled to survive by introducing the Faciella coupe, which used a Facel-engineered engine based on an Alfa Romeo design. In the finest Italian tradition, it proved so trouble-plagued that Facel soon dropped it in favor of a Volvo-sourced engine; however, the damage was done, and it destroyed what remained of the brand’s reputation. In July 1962, Facel was forced into receivership. Operations were allowed to continue under court oversight.
Facel’s borrowed time ran out on Halloween Day 1964, when the company closed operations permanently after having produced some 2,900 cars. Although it lived only a decade, the Facel Vega nameplate continues to attract interest among auto historians, classic car enthusiasts, and in thriving Facel Vega clubs in America, Germany, the UK, Holland and of course, France. The marque’s roster of owners boasts such names as Pablo Picasso, Ringo Starr, Stirling Moss, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, as well as several kings, heads of state, and ambassadors. Today, a 1958 Condition-3 Excellence commands $165,000, and a Condition-2 example upwards of $200,000–providing you can find one for sale.
Writing this post involved cross-checking five different online and print sources; in the process, I learned more about Facel Vega that I’ll ever need to know, and that started me thinking: why the trouble? Why do people like us spend valuable time researching such obscure and often forgotten cars with the same passion that many other guys have for baseball statistics or the discographies of rock bands? Here’s why: Because it matters. Maybe not to everyone, but to those of us who look at an old car, even one produced in the millions, not so much as a piece of metal but as a part of history–a history punctuated with the oddball, the ahead-of-their-time, the timelessly beautiful and the dreadfully ugly; in other words, those that surprise and delight and make car life a lot more interesting. Depending on whom you ask, the Excellence is any or all of these things, and thus worthy of a place at our table.
Too bad the Packard idea didn’t work out. If this was the 1958 Packard, It would have been a worthy successor!
Yeah, this has Packard written all over it. But the lack of cash surely would have doomed it. Maybe if George Mason hadn’t died and the AMC merger with S-P had went through, a Facel Vega-based Packard could have become a reality and worthy competitor to the Big 3’s luxury cars. Instead, it was the depressing ’57-’58 Packardbakers.
Just another one of those great automotive ‘what-might-have-beens’.
Although I gather the proposal didn’t survive long enough for anyone to do a rendering of the Packardized Excellence, it would have been a very easy restyle. It’s not hard to imagine transforming the grille into a centrally focused classic Packard grille borrowing from the Request concept. In back, the finned version already has echoes of ’58 Studebaker, so oddly the result would have been far more distinctive than the Packardbakers, while still showing some corporate design themes.
The other challenge, though, would have been to re-engineer and tool up for anything resembling mass production. At the quoted production figures, these must have been hand-built cars.
Worthy of our attention, indeed; thanks for bringing your attention to the Facel Vega story, and particularly to this flagship automobile.
Facel Vega was at least on the periphery of car enthusiasts’ attention when it was in business. Theirs weren’t cars that one would aspire to own, but perhaps aspire to simply see. The Excellence was singularly handsome and elegant.
Jerry Lewis,yuk.Civilised French people prefer the late and great actor and director Jacques Tati,commonly known as Monsieur Hulot.Facel Vega cars are so damned beautiful.
What a fascinating story — I never knew that a 4-dr. Facel was ever produced, but now having seen and read about it, I’d be hard pressed to identify and better looking sedan that’s ever been made. To my eyes, this was a simply beautiful car — thought I’m debating which generation of these sedans looks the best.
Thanks for the article; it was a great read this morning.
I`m seeing a lot of `57 and `58 Eldorado Brougham between the doors,. A beautiful car that I only saw once at a show many years ago. Same colors too. Could this be it?
The red one might be the one I saw at a couple of Monterey events in 2014.
I don’t think Camus thinks too much of them!
Yeah, Camus should have avoided them like The Plague.
Wow, what a beautifully written piece that is on Camus’ death. Seems like wires were a bad wheel choice, and his friend at the wheel regularly drove the car beyond its limits.
Great article, Imperialist.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha,good one!
Ay-oh! I’ll be here all week…seriously, don’t be a stranger!
Wow, that was a terrible accident.
As mobile sculpture and redolent of an era wow – I wonder what one is like to drive? A handful I’d guess. Albert Camus, French writer, died as a passenger in a F-V, after hitting a tree.
While I do admire that the engineers were able to eliminate the B pillar, their execution is quite flawed. Right where the rear seat passengers feet would pass over the sill to enter or exit the car, they created a trip hazard with that round latching post. Even if their feet cleared it it would likely catch ladies high heels, long skirts and men’s pant cuffs. The B pillar would be easier to live with. A very impressive car otherwise.
Ditto. The compartment is already too crowded for luxury.
The point of an official limousine is to have room to stretch, room to nap, room to eat, room to sign declarations of war or whatever. Otherwise you might as well just drive.
Those latches could create a genuine injury or at least an embarrassing diplomatic incident.
I don’t care if it’s flawed or even a little bit cramped. It’s breaking to see that sumptuous interior opened up on display like that.
The Eldorado Brougham’s angled half-pillar is both safer and more elegant, and likely more rigid. I wonder which car sealed the windows better.
When another country does an American style car, it is interesting to see what they keep and change, Love the exhaust through the bumper and the wraparound windshield. Find myself surprised that things like that would appeal to Europeans.
Also nice the French had a 4 speed that could contain a hemi V8. I think a handful of the same transmission found their way into early Chrysler 300s.
While it is great to see an American style car trimmed out to Rolls Royce standards. I wonder if a small outfit like Facel was really able to take the time to engineer for quiet and smoothness that was available off the rack from Cadillac and Lincoln.
The 61 Lincoln must have been quite jarring to Facel. The final restyle reminds me of the Engel restyle of the Imperial where he had to use some old parts that clashed somewhat with the new Lincoln inspiration.
If Wiki is to be trusted, the 4-speed wasn’t available until the 1960 300-“F” car; I hadn’t realized that…
It was originally a truck transmission, which explains the gear ratios.
Yup, the Pont-à-Mousson four-speed was offered on a very small number of Chrysler 300F cars. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one, much less driven one — there were like 15 — but I think the four-speed sounded like a better idea than it was. The ratios were 3.35/1.96/1.36/1.00, so first was way too low unless you had a taller axle ratio than Chrysler offered. TorqueFlite made way more sense.
That’s a beautiful article about a beautiful car. Finally I know more about Facel Vega than “it’s a rare French car”.
I saw one in person at a Concours d’Elegance. It’s a cross between a Cadillac Eldorado Brougham and a Rolls Royce. Absolutely stunning. The only let-down is the Heckflosse-style rear end.
I think I read somewhere that the suicide doors weren’t very successful: the car had a huge amount of body flex, and the doors might not close if you parked on uneven terrain.
This would’ve been a worthy Packard. No need for a restyle, in my opinion. It looked contemporary even through 1963.
The four door hardtop may be my favorite body style, partially because even the frumpiest sedan can turn glamorous as a hardtop, and partially out of appreciation for the engineering it took to make it work.
Early four door hardtops had a number of compromises that eventually got better, but trying to pull off this style with suicide doors was nearly, in the case of the Facel,………..suicide. When I learned that there was French hardtop some years ago, I had to read up, and apparently the choice for Facel go with this was nearly a fatal flaw; the doors would sometimes simply fall open during hard driving.
Still, a gorgeous car, and it does pull off a few retro Packard cues in the front end, and it works. The retro upright center grill has usually been unpopular, as designers from the Edsel to the Subaru Tribeca can tell you.
I think the total lack of a post there, while breathtaking, is really only a flaw due to the size of the car and of the opening? I can think of a couple others who have done the totally pillarless hardtop, namely the Lancia Appia of the 50’s/60’s and the Nissan Stanza Wagon of the 80’s, both of which were considerably smaller vehicles.
The Appia and Stanza are quite different in that they have full “sedan style” frames around their windows. Part of the frames included additional attachment points to the body of the car when the doors were closed. The frames along with their attachment points, would add considerable additional structural rigidity to the body, and lessen the likelihood of a latch failure. But, I still have wonder why the heck these vehicles were built this way, I don’t see any functional or style benefit to what they did with these cars.
And, you are right, a much smaller opening without monstrously long and heavy body extensions beyond the passenger compartment.
Ford struggled with even struggled with their ’58-’60 Lincoln four door hardtops with conventionally hinged doors on a half pillar. Just a big, loosey goosey car with that needed a lot more structural rigidity to pull off what they were doing. But, these were an early unibody for Ford, and they already had a serious weight problem. A few more steel beams under the car and these yachts might have sailed past the three ton mark.
The Appia and Stanza, what were they thinking?
Cadillac’s 58 Eldorado Brougham is as close as anything else I have seen. Looking at the stubby sort-of-pillar, especially the angle that it comes out of the floor, I cannot imagine that it provided much rigidity.
You can add the Fiat 508C (a.k.a Simca 8) and all Salmson saloons until 1951 to the list of “true” pillarless cars. There must be more….
I saw a picture of a 1920s sedan that definitely looked like a “hardtop”, YMMV!
Aside from structural necessity, I’m hard pressed to think of a single good reason to use a solid vertical pillar beween facing doors on a car. Ideally, the door would latch to a lug instead of a pillar, or simply be held closed by immobilizing the latch. I suppose the latch is useful to attach a shoulder belt, but I’d rather have a seat mounted belt.
Also Honda Element. OK, not hardtop doors and only one and a half per side.
I think that stubby pillar on the 58 Eldorado is very clever. Its’ function is to hold the front and rear doors together firmly, and the doors then provide the rigidity.
I always thought th FV would be the car to have if money were no object and one really wanted to separate oneself from conventional thinkers. One component of car choice has always been, “Who can I attract with this?”, but there’s a second step in the process: “Who actually wants to get in and go for a ride? Swoopy Ferraris and Astons have the sexiness, but the Facel projects the comfort of a Bentley coupe with a touch of period modernity and even more exclusivity. Did Ava Gardener drive her Excellence? The lack of a center pillar to isolate the driver would seem a bit socialistic for use of a chauffeur. It’s a car suited not so much for driving the kids to school in your pajamas and slippers, but for taking another glamorous couple to the Country Club banquet. The only questionable note was the kit car dash layout.
In the metal, the dash is very beautiful. It isn’t dissimilar to a first gen Buick Riviera, except it’s vertical instead of angled.The trimming, gauge bezels, etc are gorgeous.
Factlet: The wood is paint on metal.
The “wood” actually being painted metal floored me when I first heard about it (in conjunction with an HK500, which has a near-identical dash layout IIRC). Still this has to rate as, for my money, the classiest “fake” wood ever.
Either that or a Bristol.
Bravo, your writing does justice to this beautiful car. Before today, I knew 3 things about these. They were French, they were Chrysler powered and they were (and are) dreadfully expensive.
What I never developed, though, was a real appreciation. Your guided tour and the pictures of the cars’ delightful and sumptuous details have made me a fan.
This is one of the first things I read this morning… a most excellent, fascinating piece. To echo Eric703, until today, I never knew Facel Vega had made anything with more than two doors. All iterations in this feature were gorgeous pieces of automotive sculpture, but I especially like the last version which was sans “panoramic” windshield.
There have been some exceptionally good reads on CC lately, and this one is toward the head of the pack.
Fabulous cars, I regret that I’ve never seen one. Those are some of the most beautiful interiors ever. Most definitely, this is something that a wealthy freethinker would buy. Great article, Imperialist!
Having seen pictures of the coupe, it was always stunning. This sedan is equally stunning. Thank you.
It’s good to see your name on the byline again.
A stunning automobile that I never knew existed. Beautiful interior except for that awful steering wheel. Looks like it was lifted from a Plymouth Plaza.
I agree, that Steering Wheel is beyond EL Cheapo for such a classy expensive automobile, It distracts from a beautiful Dash.
A simple black steering wheel was considered very tasteful and classy then. Rolls Royce and Bentley used a similar plain black wheel for seemingly forever. This is not an American “Brougham” with a tacky over-wrought wheel and interior, but a genuinely tasteful car of the era.
Wood steering wheels like the classic Nardi belonged in sports cars back then. Those was really the two choices then for tasteful steering wheels: black and wood, each for its own designated purpose.
In the 50’s Mercedes used to use a white plastic steering wheel, which I always considered dreadfully vulgar.
Thank you for this article – somehow, I have always felt that the Vega was the epitome of elegance and exclusivity in automobiles. If money were no object, I would have one, an EX1, although I would cheat a bit and install a modern V8, a multi speed automatic, modern air conditioning, and a bespoke sound system – all as invisibly as possible so as not to spoil the ambiance….
Now, excuse me while I walk to the 7-11 to buy some scratch-off Lotto tickets…
Cadillac and Lincoln should update this and I’d buy it over an XMZK456 or whatever the hell they are selling these days.
My favorite Facel Vega and one of the nicest-looking European cars ever. I like hardtop coupes but I like 4 door hardtops even better and European manufacturers didn’t make many of these. It’s usually a good thing that I prefer hardtop sedans as most cars that were available as 4 door hardtops are still inexpensive. But this example isn’t in my price range!
Thanks for showing many interesting interior details. The interior of this car is just as impressive as the exterior.
Wow, what an interesting car. It’s odd in many ways and beautiful in many ways.
I don’t know quite what to make of this, but I’d sure hate to get T-Boned in one!
Still, a most fascinating auto.
It’s been one of my favorite cars for a very long time. I covered it here before in a much more abbreviated form, but you’ve really done it justice. Excellence!
To me, it reminds me of the result of a bad one night stand between a ’61 Continental and a Rolls-Royce. I do love that interior, however.
The rear quarter of the first-generation car has always reminded me of a 1958-59 Rambler.
That rump showed up on the ’56 Pontiac, and then the ’57 Cadillac. I have no idea where Rambler and Facel got it in ’58.
I actually prefer the later EX2 version with its cropped fins and non-reverse A-pillar. It’s more elegant and less dated in my opinion.
I wonder if they got the Excellence EX2 windshield from ’55-56 Chrysler products? I bet they did.
Also relating to some comments here, from Wikipedia about the EX2:
The chassis was updated as well, incorporating advancements introduced on the HK500, which decreased chassis flex compared to earlier models. The door handles were also changed to better latching turn-down units.
Imperialist, thank you for the wonderfully research history of one of my all-time favorites! My first exposure to the Facel-Vega and the Excellence came in a 1971 Cars & Parts magazine history by Richard Langworth. Concurrent to that, I came face to face with a ’60 HK 500 in a local Chrysler enthusiast’s collection, I was smitten. Now, to reveal the awful truth: the owner offered that ’60 HK 500 to me for $2,000! Nearly broke and with college in the offing I had to pass……argh! I’ll never live that one down!
Fall of 1972 at Hershey was the first time I ever laid eyes on an Excellence, red on red as pictured, it seemed like a motorcar from a completely alien world to mine, making it even more appealing. Excellence sightings in succeeding years can be counted on one hand with a couple fingers left over.
Now, here a concept probably never considered at the time: the idea of a Packard revival with the Excellence was a long shot but given its Chrysler powertrain a low-volume, ultra-luxury Crown Imperial variant was almost a natural. Given a clean, elegant, reskin with Imperial styling features for 1961, handcrafted, luxurious and very exclusive, it could have been just the halo model to really draw attention to the Imperial line much as the Eldorado Broughams had for Cadillac. Truly a lost opportunity.
Imperials had curved side glass since 1957, so a super luxury Imperial would have to have that too, and the Excellence had flat glass.
In grade and junior high school I lived for the day that Motor Trend arrived in our mailbox. The April 1961 Imported Car Issue was one of my favorites of all time and, at age 11, introduced me to this car. From that point on Mr. SmartyPants would say to classmates that this was one of his favorite cars.
Facel Vega Part 2
Facel Vega Part 3
Imperialist, great article – made my day! As a Francophile, you probably know the movie Bonjour Tristesse, one I love for the great cars, including a Facel Vega coupe:
A Rolls-Royce a la francaise. And, in the manner of pre-war Cadillacs, the beautiful veneer of the facia was hand-painted metal.
I first discovered the Excellence in the pages of a “coffee table” type classic car book in the early 90’s. (Still have it I’m sure–I could scan it but I don’t know that there will be any useful information not covered here.) And I was immediately smitten by the lines, the elegance, the interior, and the fact that it was powered by the legendary Hemi, though an early version. The car looks like nothing else (other than its FV/S/HK500 stablemate) and is, in my humble opinion, an absolute triumph of design–striking without being flamboyant, voluptuous but tailored, unique but in a way that stands out for all the right reasons and none of the wrong ones.
Time hasn’t done anything to cool my fervor–quite the opposite, in the transition from childhood to adulthood and the advent of the internet, time has only heightened my appreciation for the beauty and exclusivity of these singular cars. Tailfins and all, the original design is the finer one for me–while the deletion of the wraparound screen and fins do modernize the design, the restyled tail looks like the compromise it is. The comparison made to the mid 60’s Imperial is quite apt here.
A fantastic article on a car that would hold a prime position in my dream garage.
Terrific piece on something I knew too little about. As a fellow Francophile (but without the brie) “merci, mon ami!”
I suppose we could see Facel-Vega as a French take on Jensen or Bristol, with the elegant styling, hand crafted luxury interiors and American power train. You’re right that some of the earlier cars were a bit heavy looking, but they had some wonderful and very French) details, like the tail lights on the HK500, the reading lights and what looks like a very French approach to ergonomics.
Out of interest, do you know of the wraparound screen was bespoke or borrowed from elsewhere?
EX2 for my tastes. Fantastic article Imperialist, straight outta historical necessity.
Fantastic! I’ve had a thing for the Excellence since seeing them described in the in the first issue of CA I bought back about 1985. Having the Chrysler connection just makes them better.
Unfortunately a lot of the source material has not been translated, and Martin Buckley’s recent book is still priced in proportion to its subject. Peter Satori, dealer of Glendale and Pasadena, submitted examples for testing on a number of occasions and the comparisons to the Silver Cloud and Adenauer 300d always showed it in a good light.
One remark I recall was a quote by Daninos, the firm never prospered because the customers at that level never paid list price. Never. Apparently that’s just for ordinary people.
In addition to unlatching while moving, I’ve read that the flex in the body affected the door operation unless the ground was reasonably flat they could jamb upsetting the occupants and waiting crowds, much like the Skyliners of the same period. There are latching modification tutorials on YouTube should any Curbivore be in need.
All French Day was held here last Sunday but no examples appeared…years ago there was any early car being offered for sale, yes it had the 392 V8. With no way of actually affording it I was allowed to see the car in storage and take a few photos – Paris registration number painted on the back. Car was imported from Nevada hence the deterioration of the trim, but it was virtually rust free. Most of the brightwork is stainless steel.
So thank you for a great start to the day!
According to Wikipedia, even the bumpers were polished stainless. To which may I just say WOW?
I wonder if the list price issue was similar to Aston Martin. There is a famous quote from David Brown when he owned the company, when a friend asked if he could pay cost rather than list price: “Certainly, that will be £1,000 over the list price”!
I have seen a couple of Facel Vegas, but never an Excellence, so it is great to read more about them.
Great post on something I had never heard of. And great photos too
Does anyone know how they did those wrap around windshields? Were they standard GM parts? And the later EX2 – looks a lot like the Chrysler non-wrapped but still panoramic windshield of the time.
Any let me say thanks for this post. I’d never seen this car before – a shock to me.
I’ve been wondering about that myself, The last version sure looks 1960s Imperial, I wonder if it was MoPar sourced?!? The first version is “GMish”, though!
All the glass was made in Belgium, the curved glass custom made just for this car.
Cool! and good to know! Being from Pittsburgh, glass is a “thing”! ? (Hey, we’re not just about steel!)
It’s interesting how they got started — basically as a body-making / design shop, kind of like the bigger Italian carrozzerie, though the design bit of the equation was sometimes left to others (Panhards were designed in-house; the Bentleys were penned by PininFarina, etc.).
The Facel II is probably the best-looking Facel and the most beautiful French car of the ’60s, tied with the Panhard 24. The Excellence is more ’50s, though still stunning.
I’ve never seen an Excellence in real life. Perhaps that’s for the best, as I might then be tempted to buy one. But that means I’d probably need to find another one. So perhaps I’m safe from temptation just because of the rarity of the thing.
I did see a Facel II once, which caused my first case of acute Facelitis. Fortunately, I was about 20 at the time, so I got over it by buying a book on Facels. The bug has always remained within, dormant. But when I read anything on the V8 Facels, I get flare-ups…
Congrats on this terrific article, Monsieur Imperialiste!
“acute facelitis” is awesome! (if only Humana covered it…) It’s interesting what cars “push our buttons”. I’m a Broughamantic who will go GaGa at a Corvair sighting (both generations) I’d take any random Buick Electra over any BMW 3 Series, But love me some AMC Sportwagons! We will never figure out this odd affinity we have for what is largely an extension of our legs, But I’m certainly thankful for the variety of the objects of our addiction. (Humana should at least give me a 64 Imperial to assuage my facelitis…)
Piloted an Excellence to a car show at the office yesterday. Before the Excellence, had a Facel II for 16 yrs, 6 of which it was my only car and daily driver. An HK500 and three Facellias were also in the stable from time to time. The Excellence looks like an Eldorado Broughham, but is compact in comparison – really a 4-door HK500 GT. Have had no trouble keeping up with period sports cars in road rallies!
Wow, HK 500’s bonnet scoop makes that an early one. You, Sir, win just everything!
A very interesting tidbit of automotive history I never even knew about! Thanks for sharing Tony!
Now to find a 58-59 Ambassador to re-work into a Facel-Vega
A small black & white front-end shot of this car appeared in a small-format magazine like Popular Mechanics in the early 1960’s, and I thought it was the most beautiful car I had ever seen.
My memory is that it was called a ‘Facel Velga’, and for years that was the name I remembered. Was it their misprint or my misreading? Probably the latter. 🙂
> In 1959, a New York-based syndicate was toying with the idea of a Packard revival (a perfectly awful idea that nevertheless seems to surface every few years), and was approached by Daninos, whose proposition was to bring traditional Packard styling cues and the Packard V8 to the Excellence
How would this have been possible? The tooling for the Packard V8 was scrapped in 1956 after only two years of production and the plant it was built in turned over to Curtiss-Wright/Utica Bend. There was no Packard V8 by 1959.
This is an old rumour, denied by Daninos himself in the 80s. Besides, as you pointed out, it doesn’t really make sense when you think about it. But it’s a very seductive “what-if”, so it’s been parroted all this time, but only by American sources.
I just stumbled onto the link for this post, so I’m a little late with comments, but here goes;
I first saw a Facel-Vega Excellence in Germany in the spring of 1975, when I was visiting Munich. It was black and sitting at a traffic light, but drove off before I could even get a photo. I was totally smitten. Had to have one. Was very upset to discover not only were they impossible to find for sale, but because anytime an owner wanted to sell their Excellence, all they had to do was look up the contact information for all the people who had begged to purchase the car. No need to place an advert for sale!
In the late 1980s, having given up on owning, driving, or even seeing another Excellence in person, my best friend showed me an ad in Hemmings for a non-running Excellence in Texas. Well of course the car ended up at my shop in Maryland. While the car was 100% complete and nothing on it had been changed except for a set of deluxe bumper over-riders added when new, it had not run in a very long time. Plus, the west Texas weather had not been kind to the leather interior. The car was metallic silver with gray leather interior. Even the headliner was 100% leather, sewn together from 20cm square pieces.
In looking at the facia, I quickly realized the “wood” was not like my Rolls-Royces and Bentleys. And yes, I discovered those panels were actually aluminum, meticulously hand painted by skilled artists.
So I began the slow process of learning everything about Facel-Metallon and the Excellence. My car was a 1961 EX1 version, with the serial number 101. I was told it was the second Excellence built in 1961. The man who owned it in Texas said it had been bought new by Adolfo López Mateos, the President of Mexico 1958-64, and on his death in 1969 it was put into storage. However as it was built with a MPH speedometer, I’ve not seriously believed his story. I bought the car on a bill of sale only, and on checking with the State of Texas, they had no record of the car.
Slowly I built up the needed materials to begin restoration, and decided that a 1962 Chrysler New Yorker 4-door hardtop wagon I owned would become the engine and gearbox donor car due to the Chrysler’s severe body rot. The reason I chose to use the Chrysler’s drive line was because it was one of only a couple examples built with the same Pont-a-Mousson 4 speed gearbox, and I wanted to make the Excellence a stick shift car. Plus the car had the 300H engine with the twin carbs. [The original owner of the Chrysler wagon wanted a big car with stick shift so he could tow a large boat.]
My big problem was the huge amount of customer work in my restoration shop, and I didn’t have a spare work bay for the Excellence So it sat, covered with a breathable fabric cover. Then on the night of 6 May, 1995, my large storage building adjacent to my shop was struck by lightning, and everything in it was destroyed. Due to a loophole in my insurance policy, the insurance company refused to pay out anything, except to cover a couple of customer cars that were destroyed, as they were covered under the liability section of the insurance.
While the Excellence escaped damage, my finances had not. I ended up selling the Excellence to a man in New England, and I’m told that the car in the attached photo may be my former car, now restored.
How cool, one of these rare gems was forever caught in a diner postcard! Circa 1967, when this diner opened in Bergenfield NJ. It was posted on a FB group page and I was like, hmmm, is that a Farcel Vega?! Yup