4 unexpected cars from Facel

Monday, january 28, 2019

As time passes we forget details and only retain the essential. This is why in the collective imagination Facel Vega will always stay the last French prestigious brand without thinking about the subcontractor Dreuxs intense work that allowed the brand to develop its own collection with the FV, HK500, Excellence, Facel II, Facelia, Facel III and the Facel 6. Here are 5 models made by Jean Daninos’ (who was also the brother of the writer Pierre Daninos) firm.

Bentley Cresta

Yes a Bentley was actually bodied in France at Facel-Metallon ! Of course we find Jean Daninos at the origin of this curious adventure. Already this bold leader knows that his firm was competent in creating luxurious and prestigious creations and thus proposes to Bentley to make a 4 seat coupé based on the English MkVI. With the constructors permission (and its Rolls-Royce headquarters), Facel goes for it with Pinin Farina (via Stabilimenti Farina, his brothers Giovannis business) to refine the old-fashioned line of this English antique. With the Cresta presented in 1948 they offered a more fluid and sporty allure.

Rolls and Bentley are satisfied from the results and authorize the production of a small series (distributed by Franco-Britannic in Paris) on the condition of modifying the grill that is too small to their tastes for a Bentley. In total 12 copies are made including 3 prototypes between 1948 and 1949. Prestigieuse clients rolled in this Bentley Cresta signed with a stylised double F (for Farina Facel of course) : such as  Rainier de Monaco (prince of Monaco), Pamela Churchill and Yves Montand (French singer and actor).

The whole interest of this strange mix of a British-French-Italian Bentley was to announce what Facel Vega was to become. Jean Daninos persited on this concept making the Cresta II even more original, outside of the agreement with Bentley. It was to test using the same base with a new design but without the constraints and requirements of a third party firm. The Cresta II, which was also Jean Daninos’ own personal car, began what the Facel Vega would be from 1954 onwards.

Ford Comète

The Ford Vedette, that was launched in 1948, was a hard sell first from lack of viability and secondly from lack of power. This was a new luxury car with a V8 motor from Ford SAF (the American giants French subsidiary). This missed launching cost Maurice Dollfuss, the CEO of the time, his job. He was replaced in 1949 by the controversial François Lehideux who was Louis Renaults nephew by marriage. He was said to have suspicious activities during the second world war. A man of character he plunged into the reconstruction of the Poissy factory ( such as when he fired strikers after a 4 week strike and with the assistance of the police force). To launch his Vedette and to show his independence towards the American stockholder, Lehideux decided to very secretly study a coupé version of his high-end sedan.

For this the SAF Ford boss leaned on two businesses: the French Facel-Metallon who took care of the model development as well as its production and the Italian Stabilimenti Farina for the design. Besides the need for an absolut secret making him have to contact outside providers,  Lehideux knows that this a vehicle with a small batch image would be impossible to produce at the Poissy factory. Daninos, who already proved himself producing carbodies for Panhard, and complet cars for Simca became the natural Ford partner.

The Farinas sketch is superbe and Lehideux got his project validated. The Comete was presented to the press on the 17th of August 1951 in Biarritz. Unfortunately the initial idea of a more powerful motor was confronted with industrial reality and the Comète inherited the same V8 as the Vedette which was a tad sluggish with 74 horsepower for 2.2 liter cylinders. In 1953 the motor evolved to 2.3 liters and 80 horsepower. In 1954 the new version named Monte Carlo got the V8 Mistral 3.9 liters and 105 horsepower (SAE). Beautiful certainly, but sluggish and expensive, the Comète only sold 2,165 copies.

Simca Océane et Plein Ciel

Since the end of the 40s Facel-Métallon worked with Simca to produce its small series versions : the Simca 8 and 9 sport and then the Week-end and “Coupé-de-ville” and finally the two we are interested in : the Oceane and “Plein Ciel” (full sky). There is complete trust between Jean Daninos and Henri Pigozzi. This encouraged Henri Pigozzi to renew his trust in Facel-Métallon in 1956 for the production of these two new models derived from the Aronde sedan.

At this time Facel had already become a prestigious constructor since 1954 under the name Facel Vega and this new statut reinforced even more the prestige of the Simcas “Plein Ciel” and “Oceane”. Contrary to obvious assumptions the Océane is the convertible and the “Plein Ciel” is a coupé.

First with a 1300 “Flash speciale” engine with 57 horsepower and then the 62 horsepower of “Rush Super”  and finally the 70 horsepower Super M motor the two cars have very correct performances, an American style but on a European scale and a good finish. They suffered from a relatively high price.They were twice as expensive as an Aronde which limited their potential clientele. After 6 years of production only 1424 examples were fabricated at Colombes.

Delahaye VLR

It can be surprising to find out that Facel took part in a project of a light-weight recognition vehicle for the French army. However it wasn’t surprising at the beginning of the 50s.  Let’s not forget that Facel-Metallon was a famous automobile subcontractor specialized in bodywork at that time. At the same time Delahaye who was supervising the project was trying to make his finances healthy for one last time. Delahaye did not have a mastery of making a cars shell, being much more competent in the frame and mechanics part. From then onwards it made sense that Facel would be the producer of all the Delahaye VLR cars.

The VLR responded to the call to tender by the French army to replace its out of fashion Jeep from the second world war. The French businesses were solicited to give a push for French industry instead of knocking on Willys door. Delahaye, who had converted itself to utilitarian vehicles during the war, saw in this public market a steady income that would allow it to go back to its natural market of luxury cars.

Unfortunately in spite of its intrinsically interesting qualities (excellent performance capacities, a more powerful motor then the competition and innovative solutions) it suffered from an often exaggerated reputation of being hard to drive and needing very precise maintenance (a real problem for a military vehicle). Facel produced 9,623 VLR cars but then the French army decided to stop the costs.  In any case Delahaye was going bankrupt thus had to resign itself to being absorbed by Hotchkiss who did not hesitate to propose his own army project : quite simply an under license MB Jeep .

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