Chrysler hemi-head VP, Mr. Daninos, reasoned that anyone able to purchase his expensive cars would not be unduly worried by an annual car tax of $127 at the time. The first car, simply called the Facel Vega was announced in 1954 and excited a great deal of interest among journalists and potential owners alike. The bodywork was slightly bulbous but undeniably attractive and the front end carried the distinctive radiator grille which was to remain with the car in various modified forms until the end.
1954 Facel Vega FVI
Hemi V-8, and a Pont-a-Mousson four-speed manual transmission, Daninos built the first Facel Vega
1958 Facel Vega interior steering side
1957 Facel Vega Excellent interior shot from passenger side window
The car developed into the HK 500 in 1960, by which time the car had the 6.2-litre (384 cu in) Chrysler engine which gave 360 bhp, endowing the car with a top speed of 140 mph and shattering acceleration for a big (1+ tons) car.
In 1962 the HK 500 developed into the Facel II, a much leaner, more attractive car. It was still a-big, two-door, four-seater but its weight had come down slightly, yet the car’s power had gone up as the Chrysler engine now supplied 390 bhp (SAE) at 4800 rpm. The driver had the choice of a four-speed manual gearbox or the Chrysler Torqueflite three-speed automatic. With the former, some people claimed that a top speed of 149 mph was possible along with a standing start 1-mile time of 16.3 seconds.
The interior of the car was sumptuously trimmed and the fascia, trimmed in walnut, had so many switches and gauges that it was like the 'controls of a bomber' as one critic put it. Unfortunately, the price had risen to astronomic heights, and buyers could choose from other exotica such as Ferrari, Maserati, Bentley, Aston Martin etc. at about the same or even lower prices at the time.
The company had also taken the disastrous step of building its own sports car complete with their own twin cam engine. Although the new car, the Facellia, was pretty and sold well initially in both coupe and open form, its engine was very unreliable and owners soon suffered major defects with pistons, as the cooling system was incorrectly designed.
Although this problem was eventually overcome, public confidence was lost and an attempt to sell the car with the Volvo Pl800 engine had little success and the company also tried the Austin-Healey 3000 engine, reduced to 2.8 liters, to beat the tax limit. This was no more successful and in 1964 the company was finally wound up.
The HK 500 and Facel II remain as two of the great White Elephants of all time and those that remain are eagerly sought after by enthusiasts prepared to pay very high prices, up to $80,000 for some.