The Interclassics Maastricht has become one of the fixed values in the BeNeLux. Robbert Moree went to drool over the promised Facel Vega’s. The story he brings home beats all imagination.
This year Interclassics has an extraordinary attraction on me. Of course there are the magnificent stands of the many clubs, with the Ferrari club taking center stage to celebrate the brand’s 70th birthday. But a more modest make like Simca for instance, also dedicate their exhibition to the gold jubilee of their Simca 1100. Examples of this once revolutionary hatchback model have become more rare than a Ferrari. The yellow Simca 1100 Van on show is the only running survivor in the country. This year the event is very well balanced, a little less Porsche dominating the floor. My interest though, goes mainly to the promised French dream cars on the Classic Job stand, the Facel Vega’s.
My first encounter with Facel Vega is due to the use of the overly reliable Volvo B18 engine in the Facellia. That cars original engine, the first in-house engine of Facel Vega, has a tendancy to blow itself up. The addition of a large portion of Swedish reliability comes too late to safe Facel Vega from bankruptcy, but the tale is strong enough to sell my Volvo heart to these French beauty’s. A shame about the bankruptcy, because Facel Vega is an icon of style and build quality. Not unusual for these days, Facel Vega arose from Jean Daninos’ strong belief he could make better cars then the ones on offer right at that very moment. Better looking than the American muscle and of better build quality.
Jean Daninos’ long story starts as an apprentice at Citroën, where he will be closely involved in the development of the extremely modern monocoque bodywork of the new Traction Avant. His specialisation in electrically welding sheet metal takes him through the aviation industries to establishing his own sheet metal molding firm in 1939. The Forges et Ateliers des Constructions d’Eure-et-Loir, Facel in short, produce the most common of house hold appliances, but also body parts for renowned manufacturers like Delahaye, Ford France, Panhard and Simca. This link to the car industry brings him the realisation of his dream in 1953, his own car, the Facel Vega. A luxury touring car in the tracks of Bugatti and Delage. His wish to deliver a one hundred percent French produce fails on the lack of a suitable powerful French engine. The Facel Vega’s have to ‘settle’ for an American Chrysler V8. The smaller 1959 Facellia does have an in house engine, but by now we know to what disaster that all led.
Many feel the large HK 500 is the most beautiful leaf on the Facel Vega family tree. At the Classic Job stand here at Interclassics my attention however is drawn by a Facellia. Thats right, one of the smaller models with the unreliable engine. Its owner is having it restored at Classic Job. The bodywork is nearly finished, the engine is still under revision, but that doesn’t show on the outside. When I approach the car, two elderly ladies are comfortably seated inside, while a few gentlemen of approximately the same age are leisurely hanging around it. They see me taking pictures and tell me one of the ladies inside the car is the former proprietor. Mrs. Ruhe, partner of Facel Vega connaisseur Hans Ruhe, joins the party and tells us the story of the car. This particular Facellia belonged to the wife of a wealthy Brit that bought himself a Facel Vega Excellence and presented his wife with a Facellia. She wasn’t really impressed and after a while their daughter ‘inherited’ the car. She drove it in Australia and back in England later on, where eventually she wrecked the engine as many other Facellia owners did. The specialist repair on the engine proved to be a disaster and the car disappeared into lock up for over thirty years.
The current French owner of the car bumps in to an old friend at the Paris’ Champs Elyseés. As so often, nobody can recollect how, but somehow the conversation ended in talking about Facel Vega. The friend telling him she knows someone that used to drive a car like that. That particular person happening to be in Paris at the very same moment gets the unexpected ball rolling fairly quickly. The guys enthousiasm leads to the British lady donating him the car under the strict promise he’ll take very good care of it. How’s that for a lucky strike? The happy new owner sticks to his promise and has the car meticulously restored. As a surprise he lures the generous donor as well as her Paris’ friend to Maastricht, where both of them get re-acquainted with the restored Facellia. Completely overwhelmed but ever so happy. What an extraordinary tale.
The Maastricht Interclassics takes place at the MECC in Maastricht, The Netherlands. You’re welcome to enjoy all this splendour until Sunday January fifteen.