|Facel Vega FV3B|
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The French were automotive pioneers and during the first half of the 20th century built spectacular road and racing cars. In the 1930s the country excelled in building exquisite luxury cars with fantastic custom coachwork. Sadly one by one manufacturers like Talbot Lago and Delahaye were forced to shut down in the early 1950s. Eventually all of the great names had disappeared. It was not quite the end for luxury car production as an ambitious Jean Daninos jumped into the void. His Forges et Ateliers de Construction d'Eure et de Loire SA (Facel) had made quite a fortune manufacturing steel parts for other companies. Among his customers were automobile manufacturers like Simca and Ford, for whom he made complete bodies on a rather large scale. Facel also constructed more exclusive custom coachwork, most notably on a Bentley chassis.
In 1954 Daninos decided to go ahead and develop a complete car under the Facel Vega badge. Instead of wasting much time and considerable resources to develop every part of the new luxury sports car in-house, Daninos decided to use existing parts where possible. The single biggest 'off the shelve' part was the engine, which was sourced from Chrysler subsidiary DeSoto. With a displacement of just over 4.5 litre, the newly introduced V8 engine produced a competitive 170 bhp from the factory. Coincidentally that was exactly the same as Bentley quoted for the straight-six engine in the top of the range Continental model. The DeSoto V8 came together with a three-speed automatic gearbox. Daninos realized his potential customers were likely to have higher demands, so he added the locally built Pont-a-Mousson gearbox to the option list. It featured syncros on all four forward gears.
The chassis was completely bespoke and consisted of a straightforward but sturdy tubular frame. Suspension was by wishbones and coil springs at the front, while the rear featured a live axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs. Large 11-inch finned drum brakes were fitted to provide plenty of stopping power. What really made the Facel Vega special was the beautiful in-house coachwork. Clearly inspired by the American designs of the day, the Facel Vega sported an understated two-door coupe body. Much of the trim was in stainless steel instead of in chrome as on most other luxury cars. Equally impressive was the finely upholstered interior. Leather was used throughout the passenger compartment, even on parts that were not visible. By fitting many of the buttons on the center console on top of the driveshaft, the dashboard was a very clean affair.
The prototype Facel Vega 'FV' was introduced on July 29, 1954 at the Facel plant. At the time the car still sported a standard curved wind-shield, which was replaced by a wrap-around screen after the first eleven cars were produced. This was in keeping with the latest American luxury cars, which Daninos considered his closest competition. Production got under way in earnest in 1955. The custom coachbuilding roots were not shed and it is safe to say that no two FVs alike left the factory. One of the first major revisions was the introduction of a larger version of the DeSoto engine in the 'FV1'. It saw the power rise to 203 bhp. In September of 1955 the FV2 was launched followed in quick succession by the FV2B, FV3, FV3B and FV4, each featuring detail changes and different V8 engines. Between 1954 and 1957 Facel produced just over 350 examples in total before the FV was replaced by the new HK500.
In period the Facel Vega FV was very well received by the press as it offered great performance and exquisite luxury. At one point it was the only car built in France that had a displacement of over two liters. It was also very expensive and one of the few machines in its class that used a third party engine. The likes of Bentley, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz and Maserati all offered cars that were their own creation from top to bottom. This was one of the reasons why the FV was not the best seller it could and perhaps should have been.
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