1958 Facel Vega HK500 Coupé
First owned by Tony Franciosa
1958 Facel Vega HK500 Coupé
•The sixth HK500 produced
•Delivered new to Rome for the celebrated American movie star, Tony Franciosa
•Full professional restoration by marque specialist (2010-2014)
•Facel Vega Attestation d'Identification on file
In its relatively short life, the French firm of Facel produced approximately 2,900 cars, all of which were stylish, luxurious and fast. Hand built, they were, of course, necessarily very expensive – the Facel II was priced in Rolls-Royce territory – and were bought by the rich and famous seeking something exclusive and distinctive. The roll call of owners includes royalty, politicians, diplomats and entertainers: Tony Curtis, Danny Kaye, Ringo Starr, Joan Fontaine, Ava Gardner, and Tony Franciosa - whose car is offered here - being counted among the latter. Confirming that there was high-performance substance behind Facel's unquestionable style, they were owned and driven by great motor racing figures such as Sir Stirling Moss, Maurice Trintignant and Rob Walker.
Founded by Jean Daninos in 1939, Forges et Ateliers de Construction d'Eure-et-Loir (FACEL) specialised in the construction of aircraft components and metal furniture. After the war the company engaged in the supply of car bodies to Panhard, Simca and Ford France, before branching out into automobile manufacture in its own right with the launch of the Vega at the 1954 Paris Salon. Government legislation had effectively killed off France's few surviving luxury car manufacturers after WW2, but that did not deter Jean Daninos in his bold attempt to revive what had once been a great French motoring tradition. A luxurious Grand Routier, the Vega took its name from the brightest star in the Lyra constellation and featured supremely elegant coupé bodywork welded to a tubular-steel chassis. There being no suitable French-built power unit, Daninos turned to the USA for the Vega's, that chosen initially being Chrysler's 4.5-litre, 180bhp V8, while there was a choice of push-button automatic or manual transmission.
Improvements to the first FV model were not long in coming, the FV1, introduced in March 1955, featuring a lengthened wheelbase for increased rear seat room and a 4.8-litre, 200bhp Chrysler V8. A few FV1 cabriolets were built but Daninos was not keen on soft-tops and production concentrated on fixed-head coupés, although there was also the Excellence, a limited-edition four-door saloon on an extended wheelbase.
An improved model, the HK500, appeared in 1957. Maximum power was now around 360bhp courtesy of the latest, 5.9-litre (later 6.3-litre) version of Chrysler's 'Hemi' V8 while top speed rose to around 140mph, making the HK500 one of the fastest cars of its era. Power steering became an option and Dunlop disc brakes were adopted as standard equipment in 1960. Capable of effortless and virtually silent 120mph cruising, the HK500 possessed, according to The Motor magazine, 'a brilliant combination of good comfort and quite exceptional roadholding'. HK 500 production amounted to just 500-or-so units between 1958 and 1961, and today this rare Franco-American Grande Routière is highly sought after.
The sixth HK500 produced, 'HK6-A6' was first registered in France as '3662 TTB 75' for 'Temporary Transit'. Facel's Attestation d'Identification on file shows that the car was originally finished in Dove Grey with black interior, while optional equipment included automatic transmission, power assisted steering, Rudge wheels, and a Radiomobile radio. The car was immediately exported and on 29th July 1958 was delivered to the Hotel Excelsior in Rome for its first owner, the celebrated American movie star, Tony Franciosa. It was not delivered through an agent but directly from Facel SA. At this time, Franciosa was in Italy for the filming of The Naked Maja, in which he played the role of Spanish painter Francisco Goya, starring alongside Ava Gardner. Soon after delivery, the Facel was photographed with Tony Franciosa and Ava Gardner, who also owned a Facel. For a long time it was assumed that the car in this famous photograph must have been Ava Gardner's, but Facel documentation confirms that it was Franciosa's.
Subsequently, the HK500 found its way to the USA where it went from California to Oregon, remaining there until 2011. Interestingly, somewhere during this period the rear lights were 'Americanised' while in the picture with Ava Gardner the car still had the European style rear lights. When advertised for sale, the Facel was described as phenomenally well preserved, with doors that shut perfectly, engine re-commissioned, and all over in very well maintained and largely original condition.
The current (Belgian) owner bought the car in the USA and proceeded to commission a full restoration to concours condition, which was carried out in France between 2011 and 2014 by marque specialists, Atelier Tisserand. An absolute fortune was spent to bring the car to its former glory, the exterior colour being changed to red in the process. Over the past four years the car has participated in several classic car events such as the prestigious Zoute Grand Prix in Belgium. Said to drive superbly, this supremely elegant motor car is offered with its old US Title, Facel Vega Car Club correspondence, restoration photographs and invoices, current Belgian registration papers (2014), and the aforementioned Attestation d'Identification from Facel Vega.