Before the Second World War, French-built grand touring automobiles included some of the greatest automobile names of the 20th century — Bugatti, Delage, Delahaye and Talbot-Lago.
In 1938, Jean Daninos founded the metal-stamping company Forges et Ateliers de Construction d’Eure et de Loire (FACEL). The company flourished and built everything from kitchen sinks to gas turbine parts for Rolls-Royce and de Havilland aircraft engines.
As the company diversified, it moved into the business of stamping automobile bodies and secured some lucrative contracts with Ford-France, Simca, Delahaye and Panhard.
Daninos began his automotive career at Citroen during the early 1930s and he never lost interest in cars. Soon, he was not only building the bodies as a sub-contractor, he expanded into the final assembly. One of his favourites was the Ford Vedette Comete coupe, which he designed.
He saw an opening in the lack of a French luxury sports car and decided to build something outrageously expensive, ultra-luxurious and flamboyantly French.
With the help of his brother Pierre — the famous writer and humorist — they decided to call it the Vega.
It featured a handmade body, powered by a 276-cubic inch De Soto Firedome V8 and an interior trim finished in rich leather complemented by faux painted woodwork on the dash and door caps. Pioneered by FACEL, this later became a combination adopted by the British and Italians in the 1960s, with the introduction of the Jensen and Iso, all fitted with American V8 engines. These cars were very powerful and luxurious, but far from economical.
The FACEL Vega was launched at the 1954 Paris Auto Show, and its $8,000 to $10,000 price tag was on par with a Rolls-Royce or Bentley. The company’s downfall came when Daninos decided to build a smaller all-French-built four-cylinder sports car called the Facellia.
The FACEL Company had a short life, spanning just one decade, during which time 1,178 cars were produced. Famous owners included Stirling Moss, Ringo Star, Tony Curtis, Ava Gardner, the King of Morroco and a number of Saudi princes.
Bonhams are auctioning Ringo Star’s 1964 FACEL Vega II at their Dec. 1 auction in London, and it is estimated to fetch between $505,000 and $590,000.