Her Excellency, The Facel Vega Excellence

Images: Artcurial Motorcars

If the Porsche Panamera may be seen as the ultimate amongst high-performance sports saloons, the great grandmother of ‘em all seems to have been forgotten altogether…

Facel Vega Excellence_Artcurial Motorcars’ Paris Retromobile Auction_01
With a very distinctive design of vertically stacked lamps, the Excellence shared the front-end designs with other Facel Vegas

Way back in the 1950s, French marque Facel Vega launched the Excellence, a car that combined very high performance with four-five-seater luxury in a low and long shape that was wonderfully elegant, as well as sporty. Very expensive, but fragile, barely 150-odd Facel Vega Excellences were made in a six-year production run, making them very rare and exotic. Therefore, when a fine example comes up for auction, which is just about once in a blue moon, it is worth an article.

The very first Facel Vega was unveiled at the Paris Motor Show of October 1954 and barely 10 years later, the marque was dead.

Facel Vega Excellence_Artcurial Motorcars’ Paris Retromobile Auction_02
With very elegant lines, the Facel Vega Excellence embodies good taste and style

The Facel company (an acronym for Forges et Ateliers de Constructions d'Eure-et-Loir) was founded on December 20, 1939, (three months after the declaration of war) as a subsidiary—located in Dreux, in Eure-et-Loir—of the aeronautical subcontracting company Bronzavia, as a part of the war effort for military aeronautics.

Two directors of the Bronzavia company were appointed to lead this new subsidiary: General René Keller, from the French air force, and an engineer Marcel Koehler, were appointed chairman (non-executive) and general manager, respectively. Jean Daninos, the technical director of Bronzavia, left for the United States in 1941 to continue the war effort with the Allies, by making available the patents of the French company.

Facel Vega Excellence_Artcurial Motorcars’ Paris Retromobile Auction_03
Low and long, the Excellence's design managed to bridge American flamboyance with European good taste

Daninos returned in 1945 to take over the management of Facel, which he merged with the Métallon company, creating Facel-Métallon, which took on the subcontracting of special car bodies for major carmakers such as Simca, Ford France, Panhard, and even Delahaye.

Facel Vega Excellence_Artcurial Motorcars’ Paris Retromobile Auction_04
With pillarless construction and a pair of suicide rear doors, the Excellence was a tad fragile as the slightest chassis realignment affected the closure of the doors 

To showcase Facel-Métallon’s abilities, Jean Daninos underwrote a Bentley-based four-seater coupe, the Bentley Cresta, featuring a Pininfarina design. The dozen Crestas made, in a sense, previewed the Bentley R Type Continental that followed.
In 1951, Jean Daninos built a unique 2+1 coupe (2 seats + 1 transverse at the rear) for his personal use, which was named Bentley Cresta II. The front face of the Cresta II went on to inspire the looks of the Facel Vega cars that followed.

Facel Vega Excellence_Artcurial Motorcars’ Paris Retromobile Auction_05
From the rear, the discreet tailfins distinguished the design of the Excellence from its sister models

When Jean Daninos decided to develop his own luxurious 2+2 coupes, he realized that none of the bigger French engines being made then were powerful enough for his car’s desired specifications, so he turned to Chrysler Corporation for the supply of a powerful V8.

In the meantime, Facel-Métallon was split into two separate entities in 1953: Facel S.A and Métallon S.A. In addition to Facel S.A., Jean’s brother Pierre Daninos—a journalist and writer—suggested Vega, one of the brightest stars in the constellation of Lyra, a symbol of power and prestige. And that is how Facel Vega, the marque, came about.

Facel Vega Excellence_Artcurial Motorcars’ Paris Retromobile Auction_06
The mighty Chrysler V8 which gave the car a top speed of over 200km/h

Although the first Facel Vega—the FV3 coupe—was shown at the ‘54 Paris salon, the Excellence was unveiled at the 1956 Paris Motor Show. With brilliant pillarless styling, the Excellence was derived from the FV3 coupe, combining the performance of coupes (which was being lauded as the fastest four-seater in the world) with the comfort of luxury limousines.

Very expensive, the Excellence was worth the price of four Citroën DS 19s when launched!

Facel Vega Excellence_Artcurial Motorcars’ Paris Retromobile Auction_07
With the doors open, one gets a clear view of the opulent interiors of the Excellence 

The first Excellence was delivered in May 1958, and it featured the 360bhp Chrysler V8 of 6.4-litres. Eleven of these 6.4L Excellence vehicles were made, before Facel Vega switched to the 5.9L Chrysler unit. For the latter, engine output was between 335bhp and 360, depending on the choice of transmission. The same engine also went into the sister car, the HK 500 coupe, which was produced in parallel. As many as 134 of the second series Facel Vega Excellence were made until July 1961, when the Excellence EX2 was put into production. The EX2 was powered by the 390bhp 6.3L Chrysler V8.

Facel Vega Excellence_Artcurial Motorcars’ Paris Retromobile Auction_08
Two large seats at the front provided the maximum of comfort 

The Excellence featured disc brakes (which appeared at the end of 1959 as an option), it had a radio with electric telescopic antenna, as well as air conditioning, even a telephone as an option. The EX2 type is the rarest with some 81 units made, with the last completed in June 1964.

The car that we are featuring here is the one coming up for a forthcoming auction by Artcurial Motorcars and can be seen (and bid for) if you are visiting Paris’ Salon Retromobile during 1-5 February. It is a 1960 Excellence EX1, with its original engine.

Facel Vega Excellence_Artcurial Motorcars’ Paris Retromobile Auction_09
Instrumentation was comprehensive with the lesser dials grouped together at the centre

The main Facel Vega club, the Amicale Facel confirms that this Excellence was delivered new on the 16th of January 1960, to the Los Angeles dealer, Peter Satori. It was black in colour then, with bright red leather upholstery inside, and had green tinted windows and air conditioning. An automatic transmission, power steering and US-specific headlamps completed the package.

The car was then registered in San Diego, California, in 1965, and retained this registration until 1990 when it was imported into France. It remained in the Indre et Loire region before being sold in 1999 at an auction, to a dealer who would go on to sell it to a Parisian member of the Amicale Facel the same year.

Facel Vega Excellence_Artcurial Motorcars’ Paris Retromobile Auction_10
Facel Vega was famous for its trompe-l'œil way of painting over a metal dashboard to give the impression of wood veneer

In 2001 it was acquired by the well-known Facel Vega enthusiast and collector Alain Ragault, who became the happy owner and drove many kilometers in it: “I love it. The atmosphere of the Excellence is wonderful. It represents the Glorious Thirties, a golden age when France was at its best.”

Restored to its original configuration, this Excellence still has its original Chrysler engine and displays just 45,774 genuine miles on the odometer. Epitomizing the best of French know-how in high-end automobiles, the Facel Vega Excellence was a car for the who’s who of the world—indeed a very rare and enviable collectible.

Gautam Sen

Serial concours judge, author, founder-editor of several Indian auto mags, as well as co-conspirator with design greats Marcello Gandini, Tom Tjaarda, and Gérard Godfroy on a few vehicle projects


Sign in or become a deRivaz & Ives member to join the conversation.
Just enter your email below to get a log in link.