French Luxury American Muscle: 1960 Facel-Vega

I’ve long admired these lovely and very French automobiles, whose elegant exterior hides the powerful American muscle underneath. They made an impression—French existentialist Albert Camus was killed in his friend’s speeding HK500 in 1960. What we have here is an unrestored but gorgeous 1960 Facel-Vega Excellence, with 383 Chrysler police-pursuit power, for sale here on Craigslist in Plano, Texas with an asking price of $109,000.

The values of these short-lived models have zoomed upward. Something like 20 years ago I saw one as nice as this on sale at Hershey’s car corral for $4,500. You could say I should have bought it, but who had $4,500 20 years ago?

I have to say I prefer the more under-stated HK500. The Excellence’s big rear fins are more than a nod to the American market, they’re open obsequiousness. But this example is so nicely preserved I could overlook its styling deficiencies—and it still has that lovely Facel Vega front end, which still looks imposing.

The owner informs us that this is one of 28 Excellences handcrafted in Paris in 1960. It’s a California car, sold new by Peter Satori Motors in Pasadena (though in Texas since 2017), and retains its numbers-matching V-8. Also imported from Chrysler is the pushbutton three-speed Torqueflight automatic. The car is loaded with options, including air-conditioning, power brakes, power steering, and dual heaters. The interior is over-the-top luxurious, with copious use of decorative wood (including for what appear to be picnic tables in the back of the front seats).

The car is described as “unrestored,” but quite a bit has been done to it. The Facel-Vega was painted in the original “toreador red” in the 1970s. The paint has wear spots and is said to be driver-quality. The original upholstery would have been leather, but this one was reupholstered in nice-looking red vinyl in the 1970s. The engine appears to have recently been detailed, and the power front discs are now, as is the power steering box. The carpet appears recent. The odometer says 65,000 miles but, as they say, TMU.

The car is a driver and benefited from a recent mechanical service. It was driven from Los Angeles to Monterey, a distance of 800 miles, twice (in 2010 and 2014). It’s a show car, too, with stops including the Pacific Grove Rally, San Marino Motor Classic and the Greystone Mansion Concours d’Elegance in Beverly Hills. It has no obvious needs now.

The history is interesting. Jean Daninos owned Facel Metallon, which built bodies for Dyna, Simca, and Ford (the milestone Comete). Daninos decided to build his own luxury cars, and the Facel-Vega coupe debuted in 1954, with a 4.5-liter Chrysler V-8 under the hood.

The four-door Excellence appeared in 1957 and used a pillarless design that made it not quite as rigid as it should have been. The HK500, with disc brakes and a 6.2-liter, 360-horsepower version of the Chrysler engine, debuted in 1960. A fascinating late entry for the company was the smaller Facellia coupe and convertible (at left in the photo below), which is one of its guises used (of all things) Volvo 1800 power (with an optional Laycock de Normanville overdrive). The company was on the ropes by 1964.

This Excellence looks good from every angle, with that vinyl interior being the only possible demerit. It’s a car you could have fun with, and also show with a reasonable expectation of winning a trophy. Does it belong as part of your muscle car collection?

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Comments

  1. Rex Kahrs Member

    I’m a bit of a stranger to the Facel.

    Like 3
  2. Ike Onick

    What an amazing tag line for a Facel- “Camus Was Killed In One”. A little more dramatic than “Quality Is Job One”

    Like 13
    • Will Fox

      Poor taste, Ike. Poor taste…..

      Like 2
      • Ike Onick

        Eight people disagree.

        Like 5
    • Dave Mazz

      On the other hand, I would guess that stating, “Albert Camus freely and responsibly chose to ride in this car…and it killed him;” wouldn’t have done too much for Facel-Vega sales. :-( :-(

      Like 2
  3. CharlesinDallas

    I’ve seen this cars at various gatherings around Dallas. I always thought the Facel Vega was factory custom cool. Never knew they manufactured a four door until I saw this car several years ago. What something rare to show at a show? Here you go! This car is as nice as in the photos.

    Like 8
  4. Will Fox

    These are EXTREMELY rare, and not many reside here in the US in ANY condition! Actually, $109K isn’t bad for these; some Facel-Vegas go for over $250K. At any rate, these are very exclusive and draw crowds at shows. I myself have only seen one other Excellence sedan in this country–a black `58.

    Like 9
  5. Fred W

    I was also unaware of the 4 door. This is one of those cars that, if I were single and had a large warehouse and unlimited cash, I just couldn’t resist.

    Like 5
    • local_sheriff

      Nah, too many doors – pass… for that price a 60s Rustang, Camaro or Charger must be way more unique vehicles… 😁

      Like 4
      • DN

        Is that a Valentines Day joke?

        Like 5
      • local_sheriff

        DN – go figure ! 😁

    • IkeyHeyman Member

      Being married with a large warehouse and unlimited cash is not necessarily a bad thing……unless you have to divorced.

      Like 3
  6. James HGF

    Craigslist posting deleted by its author.

    For those who wish to know more about Facel and Facel Vega here’s a link to that history:

    http://facel-vega.asso.fr/histoire.html

    Monsieur Google will translate by request.

    Click on “Production Facel” in the menu for production numbers/specifics of the Facel Vega variations including 153 of the four door Excellence.

    On the history page one will also see the Ford Comete flathead V8 coupe bodied by Facel.

    Like 5
    • MikeH

      I thought I knew my French cars but you got me with the Comete. Heard of the Ford Vedette? I once stumbled across a meeting of the Vedette club of France.

      https://www.automobile-catalog.com/make/ford_france/vedette_ford/vedette_ford_series_1_berlina/1950.html

      Like 1
      • James HGF

        Hmm, how to reply to interest the Barn Finds community?

        Let’s take the Vedette division of Simca a stage further as in the luxurious 1957 Vedette Chambord with it’s elaborate bright trim, fins, and two tone blue paint as seen in Agatha Christie’s Criminal Games a funny French murder mystery series set in the early sixties. That’ll work.

        Series 1 through 3 are available on MHz Choice on line or video with English subtitles. Depending on the episode they at times are chock-o-block full of early ’50s to mid ’60s American iron. American iron for the posh folks.

        Inspector Lawrence drives a Facellia coupé and the Chief Inspector drives the Vedette Chambord. Alice Avril, girl reporter, a bit of a nemesis to the Inspector, rides a scooter, and Marlene, Inspector Lawrence’s blond secretary who adores Marilyn Monroe drives occasionally.

        The normal run of cars from “our” era include not only French police,emergency. and private vehicles, but German and Italian brands too. Even micro cars show up.

        This 4:36 minute montage of the Inspector and Alice Avril is titled “i love you, me neither”. Theirs is not a love interest. The clip has Aaron Neville’s 1966 song “Tell it like it is” – the Facellia, Vedette Chambord, and other cars are in the background from 2:45 – 3:01. At 4:30 Lawrence says to Avril, “have a good day” and leaves her behind. C’est normal:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iv5p3Ij5ug8 – “je taime, moi non plus”

        Like 3
      • James HGF

        here’s a short 1:40 clip from series 3 ep 301 (episode 1 of 8) with the Lille police station, Facellia and Chambord in the first couple of seconds. Episodes are 90 minutes long:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xfPMDK00wc

        Subtitles are clear easily read.

        Like 2
      • Fireman DK

        James HGF, I’m kind of liking that model in red…..the car’s not to bad either !!! lol……

      • MikeH

        James—thanks for the links. I love old movies. It’s funny how some directors are car guys and old cars are everywhere, while other directors pay no attention to cars. “Je t’aime, moi non plus” is so erotic the Barn Finds censors may delete it. There’s another famous French song like that, but I can’t remember the name.

  7. Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

    Excellent find, Jim M.! A magnificent car, and I’ll bet it sounds fantastic with those four exhaust ports.
    Sadly, Facel -Vega appears to be the trend in that this was another automotive artist that was a better artist than businessman. But what a beauty they made here and with their other models as well.

    Like 2
  8. art

    Many people had $4,500 twenty years ago. What they didn’t have was vision (or maybe storage).
    Sharp looking car that is very unique. It seems to have been well cared for.
    I imagine this car flies on the freeway. A beauty.

    Like 7
  9. Dave Painter

    Sinatra had one. ‘nuf said.

    Like 4
    • Will Fox

      His was a `59 HK500 coupe. A silver one if I recall correctly.

      • Paolo

        I thought Sinatra had a Dual Ghia.

        Like 1
  10. DETROIT LAND YACHT

    Gorgeous cars. One of my neighbors in Miami (back in the 90s) had an off-white coupe. Dude was a middle aged pipe-smoking architect.
    Usually took it out for Sunday drives…with some young just-out-of-college miss.Gotta figure the car helped seal the deal.

    Like 4
  11. luke arnott Member

    It is my understanding they were only good in a straight line!

    Like 1
  12. Ethan

    I’m pretty sure Ava Gardener had one.

    • hatofpork

      Probably Frank’s.

      Like 1
  13. Farhvergnugen

    darned but that rear end looks like a Rambler Ambassador…without the conti kit thankfully, but same midwing tail lights and fins…

    Like 3
    • Will Fox

      1958-`59 vintages, YES!!!

  14. Philip

    This one just sold for a little more that the one offered here. Looks like a much better deal than this red car.

    https://rmsothebys.com/en/auctions/pa20/paris/lots/r0022-1959-facel-vega-excellence/830793

    Like 1
    • CeeJay

      That one sold for a lot more! That Car exchanged hands in pounds not US dollars.

      • Philip

        You are incorrect, that is EUROS, not Pounds (it sold in France, not England). $116k, not $138k.

    • CeeJay

      The resto was Definitely worth the 30 grand more… I agree with you the one from Sotheby’s seems a better value

      • Philip

        At $116k the sales price is a ton of value better than the asking price of this vinyl upholstered example.

  15. seth johns

    I do see the Rambler American influence from the rear, but even more so the debt owed Mercedes Benz for capturing the rear aspect of the 1957 sedan, albeit in a Franco – Benz flavor.

    • Robert L Roberge

      A mini ’56 Eldorado comes to mind, too, especially with the thru the bumper exhaust pipes.

      Like 1
  16. stillrunners stillrunners Member

    Yes they were popular with the movie stars….and a coupe’s been on my list a long time…waiting on the lottery…..

  17. Rex Kahrs Member

    Ringo Starr had one.

  18. ACB

    A four door hardtop with suicide doors and no truncated pillar (al la the 1960s Lincolns) meant it was difficult to get the doors properly to close; turning corners can induce sufficient torsional stress for the doors to spring open mid-corner. The “wood” isn’t actually timber but painted metal, a trick Humber also used. There was a second series of these with less exuberant coachwork but only a handful were built.

    It was an early early example of the four-door trans-Atlantic. Iso, Monterverdi and De Tomaso all offered them until the mass extinction after the first oil shock in 1973.

    Like 1
    • Bill McCoskey

      ACB,
      I had 1961 Facel Vega Excellence #101, silver metallic paint with grey leather [even the diamond-tufted headliner was leather]. Never had a problem with the doors opening on hard cornering. And yes, you are correct, all those burl walnut facia panels are hand-painted aluminum!

      Note that all the bright trim on these cars, both inside & outside, are cast & polished stainless steel, even the massive bumpers are cast alloy, as Facel Metalworks was very proficient in aluminum casting work.

      I miss my Excellence . . .

  19. Angel Cadillac Diva

    Now that you mention it, there is a little Rambler Ambassador in the rear end, but when I first looked at it, it reminded me of a ’58 Cadillac.

  20. Bob McK Member

    I have never seen one of these before, but it sure is beautiful. More than I can afford, but I can dream.

  21. John

    These were truly amazing cars — American V8 power and reliability with European coachwork. Putting vinyl upholstery in it would be like putting a tattoo on Audrey Hepburn. Fortunately, that could be corrected easily. I hope someone who really understands it buys it. It should be preserved.

    • Bill McCoskey

      John,
      It may come as a surprise to you and other readers that many European luxury automobiles in the late 1950s & early 1960s offered a “Luxury Vinyl” interior at extra cost! At that time, bulk vinyl was more expensive than leather hides.

      Leather interiors in European cars, especially British vehicles, were quite common, even in smaller mid-level cars like the Rover & Riley sedans

      I had an early USA spec red Jaguar MKX sedan, factory equipped with a red vinyl interior!

      • John

        I had never heard that before. Interesting facts. Thanks.

  22. Del

    I have always warned people about becoming Existentialists.

    • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

      🤣
      Now that’s hilarious!

      • John

        Sartre did not drive a Facel-Vega.

  23. chrlsful

    the Facel -Vega is outrageous in person. More should eye ball one in the flesh. Agreed w/the vinyl treatment, shame. One recently was converta-bal-ized (into a POS). Shame.l
    CL is NOT the place to sell something like this – its a test of the market (poorly done there)…

    • John

      Well said.

  24. JG

    If I had about £100k GBP (or $120k) to spend and it was compulsory to use it for a car, I’d make a serious offer for this Facel (and use the rest for initial upkeep). I was hugely fortunate to see three of these amazing Excellences last week in Paris. The black one sold by RM Sotheby’s, the grey one, still unrestored (formerly of French collector Roger Baillon) sold by Artcurial, and a white one brought to Retromobile by a Facel Club member. The Craigslist link has now been taken down for this red example in the US so, I wonder, does anyone know the unique chassis number? Thank you, in advance, if so.

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