Jean Daninos is a fascinating character in automotive history. A powerful industrialist of the post-WWII era, he is revered for his business savvy as much as his playboy lifestyle. He founded his business, FACEL (Forges et Ateliers de Construction d’Eure-et-Loir) in 1938, which grew into a leader in the forging, stamping, and welding of alloys and stainless steel. The company was a significant contributor to the French aviation industry, which earned him numerous official accolades after the war. Prior to founding FACEL, Daninos got his start in the automotive business, training at the right hand of Andre Citroen where he helped design the revolutionary and highly significant Citroen Traction Avant; an experience that would serve him well in the future.
In the 1940s and 1950s, FACEL diversified into consumer products such as stainless steel furniture, while remaining active in the aviation industry. Jean Daninos had a penchant for stylish luxury automobiles, and his passion led him to add a coachbuilding division to FACEL’s operations. Through his connections in the automotive world, he secured contracts to produce car bodies for Panhard and Simca, and from 1951 through 1954, supplied the coachwork for the pretty little Ford Comète. Later, FACEL partnered with Pininfarina to construct a series of ten bodies for the Bentley Mk VI, paving the way for expansion into the luxury car market.
In 1954, Daninos realized his long-running dream when he expanded the coachbuilding operation into a full-fledged automobile manufacturer. With the new Facel Vega FV and HK500, Daninos created a distinctly French GT car with lavish trimmings and sophisticated style. Chrysler provided their potent V8 engines and robust automatic transmissions. The extravagant Facel Vega was 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 fast and comfortable Facel between races on the Continent. The next natural step from the two-door GT came in the form of stately four-door luxury sedan worthy of world leaders and captains of industry.
The aptly named Excellence debuted in prototype form at the 1956 Paris Salon. This striking four-door sedan shared similar styling to the 2-door model, but with sweeping, finned quarter panels and dramatic rear-hinged doors that opened to reveal a fully pillarless cabin. Aimed at cars like the Bentley S-Type, Mercedes-Benz 300 Adenauer, and later the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham, the Facel Vega Excellence was France’s premier luxury automobile. It shared its underpinnings and 5.9-liter Wedge or 6.4-liter Hemi V8 with the FV4 and HK500, albeit on a stretched platform. Production cars came in three series, the EX (11 cars including the prototype), EX1 (133 built) and EX2 (8 built). Rarely seen today, the Facel Vega Excellence is a fascinating alternative to more common luxury cars of the era, with a unique, instantly recognizable style.
The 1961 Excellence offered here is a later production EX1 and is one of approximately 113 known surviving Excellence sedans. This car enjoyed long-term ownership on the East Coast of the United States since 1971 when the most recent owner purchased it from Pennington Enterprises in New Jersey. The early history is not known, although factory records indicate this car was one of a select few US models delivered new through Max Hoffman Imports. More recently, it has undergone a cosmetic restoration of the body and interior, presented in a striking livery of bright blue over a tan leather interior. This EX1 is well-equipped with Chrysler’s 5,907 c.c. Wedge V8 topped with a single four-barrel carburetor. Other features include the pushbutton Torqueflite automatic transmission, electric windows, air conditioning, and a sunroof – one of just three known Excellences so equipped.
After more than 45 years in the owner’s collection, which included numerous other Facel Vegas, chassis B104 received the restoration it wears today. The striking blue paint suits the lines quite well, and the body shows good panel fit and crisp detailing. Extensive stainless steel brightwork is a hallmark of the Facel Excellence, and this car wears lovely, well-maintained original trim. It rides on black wall tires fitted to bolt-on steel wheels and specially designed wheel covers, unique to the Excellence series.
Opening the doors to reveal the fully pillarless body makes a dramatic statement, and passengers are greeted with vast swaths of gorgeous tan leather and plush carpet. The interior is fully restored as part of the recent restoration, and it remains in outstanding order, looking taut and showing only the slightest use since the refurbishment. Leather covers the intricate door panels, dash top, and center console, all beautifully finished. The aircraft-inspired dash puts all the dials and switchgear within easy reach of the driver, with the Jaeger instruments set into a refinished woodgrain fascia. Equipment includes electric windows, a period-correct Smiths Radiomobile His Master’s Voice radio, and the aforementioned sunroof.
Mechanically, this car retains its period correct-specification Chrysler Wedge 360 (5.9 liters) topped with a four-barrel carburetor. Appropriately for a luxury saloon, it features power steering, a smooth shifting Torque-Flite automatic transmission. Powerful four-wheel drum brakes and independent front suspension ensure good high-speed road manners. As part of the restoration, the engine and braking systems were completely rebuilt. This car also features the original air conditioning system, although the compressor belt has been removed.
Now offered from nearly five decades of continuous ownership, this Facel Vega Excellence is a marvelous example of this seldom seen model. With its dramatic styling and pillarless doors, it is sure to make a bold statement wherever its next keeper takes it.
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