Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Epitome of Class

Take a look at this photograph. It’s the epitome of class. The place is Paris; the year, 1964; the man, Stirling Moss; the car, a Facel Vega HK500. Sir Stirling, as he now is, was arguably the greatest racing driver of all time. He was certainly the most dashing. The Facel Vega next to him in this photo is his own car. Around them bustles the Champs-Elysees. The place, the man, the car, the era: no improvement is necessary.

1961 Facel Vega HK500
Of course, I can never hope to achieve this combination of style and circumstance in my own life, so it’s back to dreamland and my dream garage. Top of the list in my collection of Sportives is the very same Facel-Vega HK500, powered by a 6.3-litre “Typhoon” V8 and a Torqueflite 3-speed automatic, in which guise it was capable, when urged, of attaining 135+ mph (150 with the 4-speed manual), with the assistance of the 355 horses under the long tapered hood. Facels were produced between 1954 and 1964 at a factory outside Paris. They were never popular, nor were they intended–or priced– to be, but few cars have struck such a chord with the cognoscenti. Inside they were all burled-walnut and leather-upholstered elegance; outside, their style and craftmanship made them as easily identifiable as Jaguars or Ferraris. They were expensive, yes, and that, along with dodgy reliability in some, is why they died so soon. But their demise was written in their destiny. They were born to attain perfection for a day and then, like butterflies, to disappear forever. In the words of an Autocar magazine correspondent of the time,
To step down into a Facel … and go motoring must be the ambition of many who can never fulfill it. Such an experience is reserved for the few who can afford to buy one and for their friends and acquaintances.
The Facel Vega is the Schubert Unfinished Symphony of automobiles. Fittingly, Herbert von Karajan owned one. So did Picasso, Ringo Starr, Dean Martin, and Ava Gardner (actually, she owned 3). The Nobel-Prize winning writer and philosopher Albert Camus lost his life, violently, when his Facel left the road to embrace a tree. Poor man, it wasn’t even his car, but his publisher’s.

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