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Facel Vega HK500: Buying guide and review (1958-1961)

Facel Vega HK500: Buying guide and review (1958-1961) Classic and Performance Car
Facel Vega HK500
Few marques are more enigmatic than Facel Vega, founded by Jean Daninos in 1938 as Forges et Ateliers de Construction d’Eure-et-Loir, to produce machine tools for the aircraft industry. This mysterious French company introduced its first car in 1954, having produced bodyshells for Panhard, Simca and Ford beforehand, but it created cars under its own name for just a decade. Despite its brief existence, almost 3000 cars were built in all, about half of which have survived.
By the time Facel Vega introduced its first car, grand routier concerns such as Delage and Delahaye were history, leaving Talbot Lago as the only French luxury car builder – but that too was dead by 1959. Now in a unique position, Facel Vega did well in France, Germany, the UK and the US; confirmed fans included the Shah of Iran and King Hassan II of Morocco, plus numerous celebrities such as Ava Gardner, Tony Curtis, Ringo Starr and Stirling Moss.
Of all the V8 models offered by Facel Vega it’s the HK500 that was built in the greatest numbers; if you include its predecessor the FV series and its successor the Facel II, this line of V8 coupés accounts for about a third of the company’s total production. Fantastically expensive when new, the cars are now relatively far more affordable, with values kept low through a lack of demand. Potential buyers are scared off by fears of a lack of support, with many more simply unaware of the marque’s existence.

Which Facel Vega to buy?

Very few really good V8 coupés come onto the market. Most that are sold require at least some work, if not a complete overhaul. This above applies to the FV and HK500 but Facel IIs are rarer and more valuable as they’re more sought after. 
Finding one in the UK won’t be easy. Indeed, to find any Facel you’re better off looking in the US or Europe, but as these cars are appreciated more in Europe and America than in the UK, asking prices tend to be higher.
Thanks to increasing interest in Facel Vega, more parts are being remade than ever, largely through the various clubs. Parts supply used to be a real issue – rebuilding a Facel has always been a huge undertaking because of the rust issues and poor panel availability. Getting embroiled in a full restoration is still not a task for the faint-hearted, but it’s starting to make economic sense. 

Performance and specs

Engine V8, 5907cc 
Power 390bhp @ 5400rpm
Torque 425lb ft
Transmission Four-speed manual or three-speed auto
0-60mph 8.4sec
Top speed 142mph
Fuel consumption 15mpg

Dimensions and weight

Wheelbase 2670mm
Length 4600mm
Width 1803mm
Height 1359mm
Kerb weight 1830kg

Common problems

• With an unstressed Chrysler V8 in the nose, the engine should be the least of your worries. With low-tech American power, everything is available to rebuild any of the Facel Vega V8s, with parts generally cheap and the work easy to do. Keeping up with the various displacements used can be tricky, but the important thing is that you shouldn’t be fazed by anything under the bonnet.
• A lack of use that causes the most problems, with sticking piston rings and dried-out seals the result, so be wary of cars that have stood for years without ever being started; a full engine rebuild is pretty much guaranteed to be needed.
• The exhaust manifolds are made of cast iron and can fracture. If any cracks are evident, you could struggle to find replacements, although welding might be an option, or even having tubular manifolds made.
• All manual cars featured a four-speed Pont-à-Mousson transmission, with some bits now impossible to find; things are barely any better for the automatics. Although they’re generally reasonably durable, the intermediate gears can struggle to harness the V8’s torque, and they can wear as a result. 
• If the car has wire wheels, take a look at each one closely. These cars are so heavy that the spokes can get broken due to the load the wheels are put under – so look for cracks and breakages. 
• Most of the Facel’s brakes were taken from the Jaguar parts bin, with callipers borrowed from the MkVIII, while the discs were bespoke. Where replacements aren’t easy to find, it’s usually possible to repair what you’ve got (such as retempering the rear springs) or modify something period to fit (such as the brake discs). 
• Dampers are Koni units that are available off the shelf. If the car has never been restored, it’s likely that the suspension bushes will have perished. A visual inspection will allow you to quickly assess their state; replacements are available from the club.
• Major corrosion led to the death of many Facels thanks to a lack of rustproofing when the cars were built. Genuine replacement panels dried up a long time ago, but a complete range of remanufactured items is now available, batch produced to keep prices down.
• There isn’t anywhere that’s immune from the rust bug, with rot possible pretty much anywhere. The front floors and outriggers are the most likely areas to be holed, thanks to constant bombardment from the elements. The main chassis is incredibly strong, so the chances of structural corrosion are minimal. That’s not the case for the inner and outer sills though, which corrode readily. 
• The electrics are generally trouble-free, although time can take its toll on wiring looms; oxidisation can also lead to dodgy connections. 
• Switchgear and instruments are bespoke, so if there’s anything missing you’re going to have a hard time replacing it. Light units can be sourced in France and the electric window lifts are taken from the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud – and they’re usually reliable.

Model history

1954: FV prototypes are built
1955: First production coupés and convertibles are made, with 4528cc De Soto Hemi engine and six-volt electrics. They later get 4770cc Fireflite Hemi power 
1956: The FV now has a 5413cc Hemi V8 and 12-volt electrics, then from November there’s a 4527cc Polyspherical powerplant. Stacked headlights are phased in, in this year.
1957: There’s now a 4940cc Wedge V8, while autos are now a three-speed push-button Torqueflite unit. From May the FV is longer and wider. Cars for US market have first 5801cc Hemi power; from November it’s a 6430cc unit.
1958: HK500 replaces FV, with a 5907cc V8. Right-hand drive available for the first time, along with disc brakes. 
1959: From May, a 6286cc V8 is fitted to the HK500
1961: The Facel II replaces the HK500, with a completely new bodyshell and 6286cc V8 plus disc brakes all round.
1962: Manual cars now have a 6765cc V8
1964: The final Facel II is made in October, when Facel Vega is officially declared bankrupt.

Owners clubs, forums and websites

• facelcars.com – Facel Vega USA
• www.facel-vega.com – The main Facel Vega online resource
• club.facel-vega.com – Facel Club USA
• www.facel-vega.asso.fr – Amicale Facel Vega (France)
• www.facel-vega-ig.de – Facel Vega Club Germany 
• www.amicalefacel.nl – Amicale Facel Holland

Summary and prices

Few cars this exclusive and imposing are ever affordable, but a good FV500 coupé can be surprisingly good value. Of course that supremely torquey V8 isn’t cheap to feed, but for long-distance cruising these Facels are quite brilliant. They’re not so good on twisty roads though; handling was never a Facel strong point.
Prices have moved significantly over the past decade, and while restorations were once considered to be not economically viable, that’s not the case today. Of all the V8 Coupe models, it’s the special Facel II model that sits at the top of the tree, with top examples fetching upwards of £275,000 when they do surface.
That makes the HK500 perhaps the best buy today. Prices range from scruffy cars at £85,000 to the best now commanding north of £170,000. Restoration projects can make sense (if there is some good metal to work with) from around £50,000.
Facel Vega HK500
Last updated: 11th Oct 2016
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Facel Vega HK500
198500 215000 GBP
  • Lot 350

    Facel Vega HK500

    £130,000 - £150,000 est. £130,000 - £150,000 est.
    Auction Date: 10 Nov 2018
    • Mileage: 35000 mi
    • Engine size: 6229
    Auction Date: 10 Nov 2018
    £130,000 - £150,000 est. £130,000 - £150,000 est.
    Auction Date: 10 Nov 2018
    Silverstone Auctions
    +44 (0) 1926 691 141 View contact number
  • 1959 Facel Vega HK 500

    $198,500(£0) $198,500(£0)

    1959 Facel Vega HK500 s/n HK J2-0426, Engine no. TY41834 Pale Yellow with Bordeaux Leather Post war Europe saw the emergence of some of the most innovative automotive companies and engineering ideas the modern world had ever seen. Companies had learned so much about mass production, they were eager to meet the opportunities in the growing world market for sporting and luxury cars. When French steel-press manufacturer Facel S.A. decided it was time to build their own car, they approached their project with pride, craftsmanship, and excellence not only in manufacturing but in the finest design and quality for each of their limited production cars. Automobile stamping was not new to Facel. They had already provided bodies for a range of companies including Ford, Panhard, Simca, and Delahaye, so it was not to great a leap for them to assume a car of their own complete design. After a series of developments with luxury brands including Bentley and the handsome Ford Comete, and work in the aviation industry, Facel debuted the “Vega” model in 1954. The design was large and yet sporty, with a low roofline, dramatic wraparound windshield, featuring wire wheels, and a potent V8 engine. Emplo

    • Year: 1959
    • Mileage: 41690 mi
    For sale
    $198,500(£0) $198,500(£0)
  • 1959 Facel-Vega HK500 Coupe

    $215,000(£0) $215,000(£0)

    Jean Daninos, the founder of Facel, believed that even in the 1950's France needed a prestigious, exclusive, fast, comfortable, beautiful, luxurious automobile to carry on the tradition of its great marques like Bugatti, Delahaye, Delage and Talbot-Lago. A successful tool maker and manufacturer with interests in a variety of metal-working enterprises, Daninos created the Facel Vega, the first, and still one of the greatest, European-American hybrids, to express his vision in metal. Daninos and his resident designer, Jacques Brasseur, created a robust but largely conventional chassis with independent front suspension and a live rear axle. To it was welded Brasseur's masterpiece, a low, smooth-sided body -- described by Michael Sedgwick as a 'pavilion' -- on which was placed a thin pillared coupe greenhouse with generous glass area. The interior, particularly the dashboard and instrument panel, was equally simple and eloquent with lever controls, big instruments and generous, comfortable front seats. To propel this beautiful vehicle Facel obtained big, long-legged V-8 engines from Chrysler in America. At introduction at the 1954 Paris Show this was a 276 cubic inch, 180 horsepower DeSoto Firedome, but it was soon supplanted by larger and more powerful Chrysler engines, eventually reaching 383 cubic inches in 1959. Production continued but Facel tried to create a smaller version, the Facellia, with a proprietary 1.6 liter twin cam four that proved to be difficult and drained the company's resources. Even a revised HK500, the Facel II, could not keep the company alive. The HK500 is the best of the Facels, and it was chosen by a litany of wealthy, famed and powerful owners including William A.M. Burden (great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt and one-time owner of the Miller V-16 road car), Count Volpi (patron of Scuderia Serenissima), Danny Kaye, Stirling Moss, Tony Curtiss, Richard Starkey (better known as Ringo Starr), the King of Morocco and the first owner of this HK500, Arthur Christopher John Soames. Educated at Eton and Sandhurst, Soames served in World War II with the Coldstream Guards earning the Croix de Guerre in 1942. In 1947 he married Mary Churchill, youngest daughter of Sir Winston and Lady Spencer Churchill, turning to politics in the early 50's after his Army career and serving in a number of important posts including difficult assignments as Ambassador to France 1968-72 during a time of strained relations and in 1979-80 as the last British Governor of Rhodesia, negotiating the colony's transition into the nation of Zimbabwe. He bought this Facel Vega HK500 in 1959 while serving as the UK's Secretary of State for War in the Harold MacMillan government. His accomplishments earned him a lifetime peerage, Baron Soames of Fletching, in 1979. Christopher (as he preferred) Soames' Facel Vega is righthand drive and is marked by its engine, the powerful dual four-barrel carburetor 383 Chrysler of 350 or so horsepower, and 4-speed Pont-a- Mousson manual gearbox, the latter a rare and highly desirable option to the standard Chrysler Torqueflite automatic. The engine is correctly numbered FY7 for its Facel Vega application and has it correct air cleaner assemblies. It is equipped with power windows, power steering, European style headlights, Motorola solid state radio and has a set of new Borrani centerlock wire wheels with 3-ear Facel Vega nuts, another rare and desirable factory option. It was comprehensively restored in every detail in the 90's and comes from its second subsequent owner. The attention to detail in the bodywork, light yellow paint, oxblood leather upholstery and interior trim, engine compartment and trunk is exceptional. Facel Vegas are noted for their extensive use of stainless steel for exterior brightwork, even the bumpers, and the highly polished bright trim on this example is a delight to see. Soames was known as much for his sense of humor as for his size (contemporaries noted when he became ambassador to France that he was taller than Charles deGaulle) and his HK500's license plate proudly proclaims it to be 'Winston'. This is not only one of the best Facel Vega HK500s in existence, it also has the most desirable dual 4-barrel 383 engine, 4-speed manual gearbox and Borrani centerlock wire wheels. Its Christopher Soames provenance is the crowning feature on a singular automobile.

    For sale
    $215,000(£0) $215,000(£0)