Occasionally, a sports car made by a low-volume manufacturer can end up doing extremely well for the brand and market sector. During the 1950s when there was a booming uprise of these cars, Jaguar, Triumph, MG, and Healey, with the surprisingly reliable Austin Healey 3000, each succeeded gracefully with their sports cars, and set the ground for other manufacturers around the world to play on.
Chevrolet had just released the Corvette in 1953 and other European manufacturers like Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Alpine were getting to grips with the sports car genre. However, other brands just weren’t as lucky; be it because of financial difficulties or simply because the product developed a rough reputation.
The story of Facel Vega isn’t quite a successful one, which might explain that you might not have even heard of the brand before. Let’s find out why their attempt at a sports car, the Facellia, was a failure.
A Brief Overview Of Facel Vega
Founded in 1939, Facel Vega began as a steel manufacturer for the war effort. Afterwards, they began producing special bodies for Delahaye, Panhard and Simca in the late 1940s and early ’50s before in 1954, they decided to produce their own cars.
Based in Paris, production began on the Facel Vega FVS, a luxurious two-door coupe powered by an array of Chrysler V8s, from a DeSoto Hemi unit in the early cars to a 6.3-liter Typhoon engine in the later HK500. That car was later replaced by the sleeker, 149 mph Facel II.
Notable owners of the FVS included Pablo Picasso, Ringo Starr, Sir Stirling Moss, and even Frank Sinatra. So, it’s fair to say these cars appealed to a higher class of customers. You can almost certainly guarantee that Jay Leno is on that list too, given his obsession with collecting classic and vintage cars.
The Facellia’s Purpose
In 1960, they decided to introduce a new volume car to inject funds into the company. The Facellia was the answer to upmarket sports cars like the Mercedes 190SL and Alfa Romeo’s Giulietta Spider and a car that we absolutely love, the Porsche 356.
The Facellia was stylish, cool and fast enough to keep up with the competition. It was fully hand-made and screwed together with a fine eye of attention to detail. It would be the sort of car to appeal to movie stars, royalty, and musicians. Just like what the brand was overwhelmingly experiencing already with the current line up. Surely, the idea of a four-cylinder sports car to sell in higher volume would work perfectly, while also offering the V8 cars as a more exclusive offering.
Facel Vega even employed some accredited engineers to work on it, which sounds like a straight recipe for success, right? Unfortunately, it didn’t quite go that way.
The Facel Vega Facellia Suffered With Engine Issues
As Chrysler didn’t make a four-cylinder engine at the time, the car used a 1.6-liter twin-cam four-cylinder designed by Carlo Marchetti, former chief engineer for Talbot Lago, and built by French company, Pont-à-Mousson – who already supplied the manual gearboxes for the V8 cars.
The engine only had two bearings supporting each camshaft, rather than the four or five usually seen. This led to a number of disastrous instances, which included intense flexing, timing issues and numerous other engine problems. Although even in the modern era where lessons should be already learned, it is still possible to create problematic power units.
The situation got so bad that Rene Bonnet engineer, Charles Deutsch and mass transit specialist, Jean Bertin, were subsequently asked to amend the troublesome engine. It was eventually solved by the time the updated F2 arrived, but this would mark the beginnings of a seriously damaged reputation for the Facel brand.
The Damaging Effect
In 1961, a few months after the Geneva Motor Show, the company boss, Jean Daninos was pretty much forced to resign over financial difficulties caused by the Facellia. His replacement, Andre Belin acted quickly in an attempt to save Facel Vega.
His first move was to attend to customers with affected Facellias, simply by replacing the troublesome engines with brand new, updated units free of charge. Presumably for the purposes of good PR, this was to effectively restore customer relations, but replacing engines without a supply of income was never going to financially help. The Facellia effectively bankrupted the brand, just like other cars have done to their manufacturers.
The third update of the car used a Volvo B18 engine from the PV544 and heavily important Amazon models. This engine had already impressed Volvo customers due to their reliable nature, so it would only be natural to regain trust with Facel buyers. For 1964, the car was even available with a more powerful 2.9-liter BMC C-Series straight six, but in that same year, Facel Vega had to close its doors.
Unfortunately, however, despite Belin’s efforts, the damage was already done. Only 1,100 Facellias were ever made which may have been the largest-produced model from the brand, but along with the car’s issues, it was hardly enough to be the success that Daninos had wanted.
Sources: RM Sotheby’s, Bonhams Auctions, Automotive Catalog