Facel Vega Excellence

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Facel-Vega Excellence
Facel Vegal Excellence front.jpg
Production1958–1964 (156)
Body and chassis
ClassFull-size luxury car
PlatformBody on frame
EngineChrysler V8s: 6.4, 5.9 or 6.3 litres
Transmission4 speed manual by Pont-à-Mousson
or Chrysler Torqueflite 3-speed automatic
Wheelbase3,170 mm (125 in) EX1
3,180 mm (125 in) EX2[1]
Length5,235 mm (206.1 in) EX1
5,280 mm (208 in) EX2[1]
Width1,830 mm (72 in)
Height1,380 mm (54 in)
Curb weight1,920 kg (4,233 lb)

The Excellence is a luxury saloon automobile that was unveiled by Facel-Vega of Paris, France, at the Paris Auto Show in October 1956 to rave reviews by the motoring press.

Production started in 1958 and lasted until the company ceased production in 1964. The car was based on an elongated chassis from the Facel Vega FV Coupé. It was the only four-door model the company ever made. Production ended after only 156 cars had been built. The low production figure is a direct result of the car's exorbitant purchase price. When new, it cost about as much as four Citroën DS saloons, which themselves were hardly to be considered cheap cars. The towering price could still be boosted by ordering optional equipment, which gradually became available over the car's production run, such as power steering, power brakes, electric windows, wire-spoke wheels, and air conditioning.


The Excellence features some styling elements usually found on American cars of the era, like tailfins, the wraparound windshield, and the "hardtop" roof without B-pillars. But the overall design is distinctively European, with its stacked quad-headlights and rakishly low profile. Its low beltline and comparatively high greenhouse predicted the automotive architecture that became mainstream in the late Fifties, and lasted throughout the Sixties. The Facel-Vega Excellence also incorporates a pillarless four-door mechanism, allowing the car to be designed with rear-hinged "suicide" styled rear doors for easier access and egress. This layout could also be found on the limited production Cadillac Eldorado Brougham, which was unveiled later in 1956, and on the mass-produced 1961-1969 Lincoln Continental.

Inside, the car has a lavish interior with seats covered in aromatic leather, a fake walnut dashboard with full instrumentation, and a make up kit located in the back of the centre armrest, consisting of a chrome-handled brush and comb, and two perfume bottles, the latter albeit being supplied empty by the factory. Still, the interior is not nearly as roomy as one would expect from a car with a wheelbase exceeding three metres.

The Excellence was a top performer and could hold its own among the best GTs Europe had to offer. Some high-performance American cars, most notably Chrysler's 300 'letter series' models, could probably outrun an Excellence in straight-line performance, but they were neither as refined, well built, nor had they the 'panache' of a Facel-Vega. Although the Excellence could match the wheelbase of most full-sized American cars of the time, it was considerably shorter, narrower, and most of all, lower. Its comparatively compact measurements gave it the edge in the handling department, which came in handy, especially under European road conditions.

In an article for the November 1985 edition of Collectible Automobile Magazine, noted automotive historian Richard Langworth stated his opinion that "The Excellence is a large vehicle...better suited as a car of State rather than a daily driver." How he came to this conclusion despite the unanimously positive reviews regarding the roadability of the Excellence from the contemporary motoring press as well as its owners, has been a matter of debate ever since.[citation needed]

Chrysler connection[edit]

Powered by contemporary Chrysler V8 engines, like other Facel-Vega cars, the initial Excellences were fitted with the famed Hemi, which Chrysler discontinued for the 1958 model year. Facel-Vega continued to use those engines until their stocks were used up in late 1958. From then on, the V8 powered Facel-Vegas were powered by the Chrysler B-series "Wedge" big-block engines.

All Chrysler powered Facel-Vegas could be had with either the Pont-à-Mousson built four-speed manual, or the Chrysler built Torqueflite three-speed automatic. Whereas the American automatic transmission was optional for the Facel-Vegas, the French manual gearbox conversely became optionally available in selected Chrysler high-performance models.

1958 (Model 'EX')[edit]

First generation
Facel Vega - Flickr - Moto@Club4AG.jpg
ProductionMay 1958–October 1958
AssemblyParis, France
Body and chassis
Body style4-door hardtop
Engine6435 cc 392 Hemi V8

While the Paris Show Car of 1956 was fitted with a 331 CID (5.4 Litre) unit, the initial batch of production Excellences was equipped with the monster 392 CID (6.4 Litre) version of the Chrysler Hemi V8. This engine, producing 360 hp (268 kW), was shared - among others - with the Facel Vega HK500 and Chrysler's own Imperial. Facels could either be ordered with the Pont-à-Mousson built four-speed manual, or the Chrysler built Torqueflite three-speed automatic. Contemporary road tests showed, that they performed equally well with either gearbox. Arguably the most powerful Excellences to ever hit the roads, these were genuine 140 mph cars. Allegedly a mere eleven 'EX'-series cars were built, seven of which are known to survive. The Hemi-engined Excellences can be easily recognized by their inclusion of a hood scoop not seen on later models.

1958–1961 (Model 'EX1')[edit]

Second generation
1961 Facel Vega Excellence EX1, front left (Greenwich 2019).jpg
ProductionOctober 1958–July 1961
AssemblyParis, France
Engine5913 cc 361 B V8

For model year 1958, Chrysler discontinued the Hemi engines, and after stocks had dried up, Facel-Vega started using the 361 CID (5.9 Litre) Chrysler 'Wedge' head V8 engines. Why Facel-Vega didn't go for the top-of-the-line 413 CID (6.9 Litre) engines remains a mystery, but the French road tax system, which is based on engine displacement, is often cited as an explanation.

Be it as it may, a 361-powered Excellence was anything but a slouch. It had the same nominal horsepower output as the Hemi it replaced, namely 360 hp (268 kW). The more faint at heart may be pleased to learn, that from late 1959 onwards, an Excellence could be stopped via optional power disc brakes up front.

The 1958 to 1961 Excellences were the most numerous of the bunch with 137 examples being built. Late models incorporate nearly all of the advancements generally considered to be part of the EX2 update, including the non-panoramic windshield, chassis and steering upgrades, as well as the lesser fins.[2]

1961–1964 (Model 'EX2')[edit]

Third generation
Facel Vega Excellence EX2.jpg
ProductionJuly 1961–June 1964
AssemblyParis, France
Engine6277 cc 383 B V8

The Excellence received its only significant facelift in 1961. It now came with a bigger 383 CID (6.3 Litre) engine, rated at 390 hp (291 kW) , a mindboggling figure back then, especially for a saloon car. However, no significant gain in performance could be noted in contemporary road tests, and the initial Hemi-powered cars remain the fastest Excellences ever built.

Rear view of restyled Excellence EX2, showing the more muted tailfin design.

The 'EX2' lost its wraparound windshield and the tailfins were severely clipped, which resulted in a considerably less flamboyant appearance. Despite these measures, the Excellence did not gain significantly more modern looks in general. It rather lost some of its previous elegance. But a complete re-styling of the car would have been prohibitively expensive, especially given its low production figures. More importantly, the chassis was updated, incorporating advancements introduced on the HK500, meaning that the EX2 flexed considerably less than earlier models. The door handles were also changed to better latching turn-down units.[2]

The domestic market price quoted for the car at the EX2's first Paris Motor Show, in October 1961, was 72,500 new francs for a car with automatic transmission.[1] The same money could at that time buy more than twelve Renault Dauphines.[1] Of these "EX2" models, only eight were completed, when production finally ceased for good.

Discussions with Studebaker-Packard[edit]

Following the proposition of a New York based conglomerate wanting to revive the luxurious Packard brand in 1959, Facel-Vega boss Jean Daninos entered into negotiations with Studebaker-Packard Corporation president Harold Churchill. The idea was to badge-engineer the Excellence with Packard nameplates and the trademark Packard "Ox-Yoke" grille, using Packard's new for 1956 and powerful V8's, and market it through the more "exclusive" Studebaker-Packard dealers in North America. However, Daimler-Benz, which already had a marketing partnership with Studebaker-Packard, using Studebaker's dealership network to sell its Mercedes-Benz brand of cars in the United States, objected to the plan. Mercedes never got used to the idea of selling their brand next to a working man's car, Studebaker, but also did not want floor competition for its luxury Type 300 model. Churchill realized that he could never get the same cash stream from Facel-Vega that he did from Daimler-Benz, and the whole project was abandoned. The Facel-Vega Excellence-cum-Packard did make it to the planning stage, but contrary to popular belief, not a single actual prototype was built. However, a number of Excellences were imported to the USA by private owners.

In popular culture[edit]

A Facel-Vega Excellence appeared in the 1959 movie Count Your Blessings starring Deborah Kerr and Maurice Chevalier. Other Excellences make brief appearances in the 1961 movie Goodbye Again, the 1963 movies Le temps des copains and Love Is a Ball, the 1972 movie Slaughter, and the 1990 movie Dancing Machine. None of them were the EX2 versions. At about the 40 minute mark of the S1 E8 episode of the TV series "Blood & Treasure" a blue Facel-Vega Excellence is seen on a street in Havana.

External links[edit]

Sources and further reading[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d "Automobilia". Toutes les voitures françaises 1962 (salon Paris oct 1961). Paris: Histoire & collections. Nr. 19: Page 48. 1200.
  2. ^ a b Lot 442: 1960 Facel Vega Excellence Sedan (auction description), Bonhams, 2012-10-08, archived from the original on 2014-07-20