Jean Daninos is one of France’s greatest industrialists of the post-World War II era. Famous for his business savvy as much as his playboy lifestyle, he rewarded his success with the creation of one of France’s most glamorous and prestigious post-war cars. He founded his business, FACEL (Forges et Ateliers de Construction d’Eure-et-Loir) in 1938 and soon became a leader in the forging, stamping, and welding of alloys and stainless steel, and his company became a significant contributor to the French aviation industry which earned him numerous accolades after the war. Before founding FACEL, Daninos trained at the right hand of Andre Citroen and contributed to the design of the revolutionary and hugely important Traction Avant.
In the 1940s and 1950s, FACEL diversified rapidly, manufacturing consumer products such as stainless steel furniture, while still contributing to the aviation industry. Jean Daninos always had a love for automobiles, and he would soon expand his business to include a coachbuilding division. He secured contracts to produce car bodies for Panhard and Simca, and from 1951 through 1954, Facel supplied the coachwork for the pretty little Ford Comète. The firm’s first foray into high-end production came when they partnered with Pininfarina to construct a series of ten bodies for the Bentley Mk VI.
All along, Jean Daninos remained a dynamic leader of his businesses, and lived an extravagant lifestyle, with the likes of Gianni Agnelli counted among his friends. Daninos had an appetite for fast, expensive motorcars (including a one-off Bentley for his personal transport) and his passion led him down the inevitable path to expanding the coachbuilding operation into a full-fledged automobile manufacturer.
Unsurprisingly, Jean Daninos’ first complete automobile was a reflection of his vision of what a real luxury car should be. The Facel Vega was fast, opulent, and refined, with exquisite build quality, lavish trimmings, and engines sourced from Chrysler, which built some of the most potent production V8s available. The power and refinement put the Facel Vega in the same class as Rolls-Royce, Bentley, and the Cadillac Eldorado. It proved to be an immediate hit, and the list of prominent owners includes Pablo Picasso, Christian Dior, Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, and even Stirling Moss who preferred driving his Facel between races instead of flying. Approximately 350 FV-series cars were built between 1955 and 1958, before being replaced by the HK500, with the flagship of the line being the high-performance, 392-powered dual carburetor FV-4.
In our 30 years in business, Hyman Ltd has sold numerous examples of Facel Vega automobiles and we have become great fans of these cars. In those years, however, we have never encountered an unrestored Facel Vega as original, sound, and unmolested as this 1958 FV-4. This car, production number 312, is a desirable FV-4 which, according to Hans Ruhé’s Facel Registry, is the last FV-4 specification car built before HK500 production began later that same year. Completed in February 1958, it was delivered new to the USA via Max Hoffman Imports. It came highly optioned, starting with the 392 cubic-inch, dual-carburetor, 325 horsepower “TY6” series Hemi V8, shared with Chrysler’s high-performance 300C. This car was also equipped from new with the exceedingly rare Pont a Mousson four-speed manual gearbox to create the ultimate 1950s Grand Tourer. Remaining options included the 2.93:1 rear axle, tinted glass, and knock-off wheels. According to the registry, the car is finished in its original shade of Verte Foncé (dark green) with a matching roof and a beige interior. The body appears that to have been painted in the past; however, the panels remain very original, straight and with no apparent visible corrosion.
Some of the paint has been ground back to expose the original metal around the headlamps, grille, and front wing. The metal is in fantastic condition, showing no signs of rust or pitting in these typically problematic areas. A small area requiring repair is found around the left headlamp; however, the overall condition of the body is astonishingly good. The body panels are excellent and very straight, with only some minor dings acquired from several years in storage. Even after six decades, the doors shut with vault-like solidity, and with the slightest effort. Panel gaps are consistent and precise, and the exterior trim and brightwork are constructed of high-quality stainless steel; a nod to Facel’s industrial expertise. The quality of the Facel Vega’s construction is reflective of its $9,750 base price when new.
The Facel Vega was one of the most expensive and opulent cars of its day, so it is not surprising to find the four-passenger cabin covered in vast swaths of high-quality leather. The original materials have held up remarkably well, though the front seats are moderately weathered. Door panels are very good, and the rear seats appear hardly used since 1958. While it may be past the opportunity for complete preservation, it may be possible for some of the original materials to be reused. Factory switches, Jaeger instruments, and controls are all intact and in fine condition. Even the original tool kit and jack are still in their rightful places in the boot.
While some attention is needed to return this Facel Vega the road, it does run and it is far from the typical basket case projects we often see, and it is deserved of the effort required to return it to its former glamour. In the rarified world of these fabulous French motorcars, this example shines for its desirable high-performance specification, four-speed manual gearbox, and truly remarkable original condition.
For more information on finding a Facel Vega FV or on our car consignment program, contact us today. We're here to help.