Unique of the Week: 1961 Facel Vega Facellia

Classic Cars / Comments

Another case of beautiful car that failed to meet expectations.

If you go back and look at the history of automakers, you'll quickly realize there have been dozens upon dozens of small boutique companies that have popped up over the years. Some made it, most didn't, but many managed to make a historical mark somewhere along the way. One of those companies was Facel, whose brief existence lasted just 10 years, beginning in 1954. It was founded by a Frenchman named Jean Daninos, a trained engineer who worked with Citroen in the past.

Their first model, called the Vega, had its debut at the 1954 Paris Motor Show. In fact, Daninos designed the new car himself and it was available as both a hardtop coupe and cabriolet. Power came from a Chrysler 5.4-liter V8 engine and featured a tubular chassis, a double wishbone suspension up front and a solid axle at the rear, and weighed in at a hefty 3,968 lbs. Performance-wise, it wasn't a head turner with a 118 mph top and a 0 to 62 mph time of just under 10 seconds. The car received several updates during its short life, mainly as the recipient of larger engines and other cosmetic changes.

It was also known for its extensive use of stainless steel bright work, a luxurious interior and its airplane-inspired dashboard. Its rear seats also folded flat for increased rear storage. Production wrapped in 1962, the same year the Facel II Grand Tourer was launched, but it only lasted until '64. But it was in 1960 that Facel launched the car that would soon put them out of business entirely. Called the Facellia, it was intended to be a sports car competitor to the likes of the Mercedes-Benz 190SL. It ended up being anything but except in the design department.

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Available as a coupe with either two or four seats or a cabriolet, it carried over a large chunk of the Vega's styling which Mercedes supposedly liked enough to take when coming up with the design for the 230SL. Facel actually had a goal of being the "French Alfa Romeo" when it came to building cars, so they ended up making the unwise decision of moving away from American engines. In their place, Facel went with what turned out to be an reliable 1.6-liter four-cylinder (yes, half the size of what used to power the cars) built by a fellow French company.

Both the car and its engine were complete failures, which soon led to even more dire financial problems than before and, along with them, Daninos' forced resignation in 1961. Facel quickly replaced the lousy four-pot with a Volvo engine taken from the older Facel III, but the move was clearly too little too late. The Facellia was not a success like the previous Vega, some of whose famous owners included Pablo Picasso, Ringo Starr, Tony Curtis, Dean Martin, a Saudi prince here and there and even Sir Stirling Moss. All told, Facel built about 3,000 cars and lost money on each one of them.

This 1961 Facel Vega Facellia is powered by that lackluster four-cylinder and mated to a four-speed manual. While its performance is nothing to get excited about, this particular unit was only the 10th car produced out of a total of 482 two-seat coupes and is the only one that still retains its original engine. It's had a cosmetic restoration that included a fresh paint job in its original color scheme and the also original stainless steel bumpers have been given proper attention as well. The interior has also been completely redone. Mechanically speaking, it's recently been given a set of new brakes as well as period correct Michelin X tires.

While there are still a few restoration issues still needing to be addressed, it's had just one owner since 1982 who managed to preserve the original short wave radio and owner's manual. There's only 24,000 miles on the clock and a "Buy it Now" price of $35,000. Is it worth that amount? Perhaps, but it'll need to find the right owner who doesn't value it for its limited performance, but rather for its rarity and its one-time endeavor to be the French competitor to Alfa Romeo.

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