Photos courtesy Artcurial.
To build a magnificent, imposing and graceful automobile takes time. Time, however, has a way of diluting many of the strongest dreams, so building such a car also requires an unshakable vision. Though built decades apart, two cars coming up for auction next month in Paris illustrate how individuals, firm in their convictions and assisted by a heaping helping of American mechanical bits, can produce stunning automobiles.
Frenchman Jean Daninos didn’t initially set out to become a carbuilder, but after working closely with American companies during World War II, he spent his postwar years not only building his stainless steel business but also laying the groundwork for what would become Facel Vega. Those early efforts include designs for coachbuilt Bentleys and a stint supplying bodies to Panhard, Delahaye and Simca, and by the early 1950s Daninos set out to finally build a car of his own, the Facel Vega.
With a Bentley-inspired design of his own, a De Soto Firedome 276-cu.in. Hemi V-8, and a Pont-a-Mousson four-speed manual transmission, Daninos built the first Facel Vega (chassis number FV-54-0002) between 1952 and late 1953 and, according to Artcurial’s auction description, first registered it in August 1954.
Unlike later production four-seater Facel Vegas, which sat on a 103.5-inch wheelbase, the prototype sat on a shorter 99-inch wheelbase, which only allowed room for a luggage space behind the front seats. In its original twin-headlamp configuration, it wore a two-tone blue-grey and dark blue paint scheme and Robergel wheels, later replaced with a grey-and-black paint scheme and Borrani knock-off wheels.
Facel used the prototype as a show and test car until the summer of 1962, when Daninos ordered the above changes and took ownership of the car. He then held on to it until 1976, when he sold it to a former president of the Facel Vega club, who has since sold it to a co-founder of the club. Artcurial estimates that the Facel Vega will sell for 350,000 Euros to 550,000 Euros (about $380,000 to $600,000).
As opposed to Daninos, the visionary behind the Bucciali that will cross the block at the same auction as the Facel Vega was inspired by a prototype that the French carmaker built decades after the carmaker then destroyed it. Of the three TAV-30s that Paul Albert Bucciali built with 5.2-liter L-head Continental straight-eight engines in 1930, only one featured a Saoutchik-built Bugatti Royale-inspired convertible body.
According to the Artcurial auction description, Bucciali had hoped the spec-built convertible TAV-30 would attract an investor or at least a buyer, but the only interest in it came from a customer who wanted a sedan body, not a convertible, so Bucciali eventually destroyed the convertible in 1934.
That car then remained non-existent until about 2010, when a Bucciali enthusiast set out to replicate it. After buying a Cord L-29 chassis and getting permission from the current rights holders of the Bucciali name, the enthusiast then tasked the Bonnefoy shop in Cher, France, with scratch-building the replica on the Cord chassis, using the Cord’s L-head Lycoming straight-eight engine.
Bonnefoy wrapped up the Bucciali-approved replica within a year, in time to show it at Retromobile 2014. Artcurial estimates that the car will sell for 500,000 Euros to 700,000 Euros (about $540,000 to $760,000)
Artcurial’s Retromobile auction will take place February 5-6 in Paris. For more information, visit Artcurial.com.