Following The Edge Of The Sea In A Facel Vega HK500
Photography by Virgiliu Andone
“This never happened.
I was never there. I never saw that man. If you repeat it enough times you may end up believing it yourself. What good would it be for you to spend all those long years away? Watching your face in the mirror each day, witnessing the wrinkles getting ever deeper, growing ever wider across your face. Not even rocks can survive unscathed in the face of time. So say it like you believe it.”
This never happened.
There was no young brigand on the jagged shores of the Costa Brava that day. He never took a drive to the scene of the crime the morning he had to appear before a judge to testify, knowing that if he got that wrong he would have to spend long years locked away far from his beloved salty breeze. As the sun began to rise, there was no sign of the majestic silver Facel Vega bravely descending on the perilous road down to a bay that only smugglers and sirens know of. The lavender skies were there only for the fishermen out to tempt their luck at trapping the creatures of le grand bleu.
The sound of the crushing waves was not accompanied by the rumble of a muscular V8. The fresh fragrance of pines and sea didn’t permeate the impeccable black suit of a man who came to face the sea before a crucial moment in his life. He didn’t take off his shoes to feel the cold morning waves on his skin, perhaps for the last time in many years to come. Nobody sat on those plush leather seats and quietly implored the sea to give him the strength to go through that one day. And the sea never gave him any sign. The sea never shared its power with him. Never whispered in his ear that he is right. That he can do this. As he always does.
His trusted friend, shiny as a sinful gun, with just enough battle scars to convince you that it has been around the block a few times, was not there. What you saw was not his car, it must have been another. Who even knows what a Facel is, let alone what it looks like? His Facel was surely still in the Auto Storica garage, in Barcelona, untouched. Ready to call its Chrysler Hemi V8 into action if called upon itself. Ready to fill its cavernous trunk with whatever bounty its owner needs it to. Just not on that beach. Not a chance.
The story of the Facel Vega is just as unbelievable as the events of that day. It’s a story of a piece of pre-war France that refused to move on with the times. A company that would have been in its element just a little over a decade earlier; its beginnings, surrounded by the stars of the Parisian belle epoque, the Delahayes, Delages, Voisins or Talbot Lagos, dressed by the car couturiers such as Saoutchik, Figoni et Falaschi, and Chapron, in the most extravagant of shapes, oozing with prestige. Instead of a birth in the champagne drenched years that were so fertile for the French coachbuilders, as well as for the Hexagon’s luxury car industry as a whole, Facel placed its flag in the ground in the mid 1950s.
In a country ravaged after the war. Where the resources were scarce. Where even the most illustrious brands crumbled to, in the best of cases, mere shadows of their former selves. The world of the people working for the Forges et Ateliers de Constructions d’Eure-et-Loir was really just as distant as the star they named their first car after. Vega. Facel Vega. The last stand of a pre-war vision of the pinnacle of motoring a la francaise was to be in the hands of a company that started life as a metal forgery founded by a military aircraft making company, not any of the household names from the belle epoque.
The first cars had an air of Bentley about them, but not because they were trying to copy their British rivals. Before designing their own cars, Facel designed and built some custom Bentleys, as well as special bodies for other manufacturers. It was those designs that eventually matured into a style of the company’s own.
It would be easy to assume that the audacity to go completely against the trends of the times and try to rekindle a different era would lead to the demise of the company. In fact, Facel was initially successful. The company’s strength—the designs—ended up influencing other manufacturers that still survive to this day. Facel sold cars to some of the most influential people of the times, even though their prices were eye-watering . It was all going great until Facel decided to create an engine of its own—sort of—subcontracting the design and manufacturing. It seems that the protective spell that kept Facel safe from the monsters that hunted down the rest of the French luxury car industry of the times did not extend far enough to shield their suppliers. That engine was a disaster.
It was the death of Facel, the Trojan Horse through which the post-war reality finally managed to infiltrate this once serenely defiant company. A Facel tells a story of a France that is very far from the usual stereotypes. It’s not romantic, not a pastis-infused tale happening in one of the coquette villages of Provence. It’s more like a story happening on the ramparts of Saint-Malo, a story of fearless and powerful corsairs who go out to sea to wrestle from the deep unknown the wealth that should belong only to them. It’s not a story with parasols and tan skin sunbathing in the south, but of storms and clenched fists. On a quiet morning, in a rocky unassuming Mediterranean bay, the gates of imagination are broken and the character of this mysterious creation is unleashed in its full glory. Like a being from another dimension, or just a young streetwise and sharply dressed smuggler descending into our realm to claim his territory in grand style. Only, of course, this never happened.