When it comes to “original hybrid” automobiles, forget everything related to the gas-electric, efficiency-minded commuter cars of today. We’ll forgive you if your mind runs to the modern performance supercar hybrids.
Decades ago, a hybrid automobile was one that tied exotic European coachwork with rock-solid mechanicals from Detroit. Names like Bizzarini, Intermeccanica, Griffith, Sunbeam, and, yes, Shelby were some of the makers of these sporting hybrids. But out of France came another sort of hybrid, one that combined understated elegance with Mopar motivation, a luxurious hand-made GT car, designed to whisk its occupants from Paris to la Côte d’Azur in a brief few hours at brisk speeds.
Facel Vega was the short-lived automobile marque that came from the Paris-based FACEL (Forges et Ateliers de Constructions d’Eure-et-Loir), an industrial company that made various things, from aircraft components to steel furniture, as well as steel stampings of bodies for other carmakers. For about a decade, the company produced a series of elegant GT cars of its own design, powered by big Mopar V-8s, machines that combined bespoke European coachwork and luxurious interiors with American horsepower and torque.
The fledgling automaker’s models included the original Facel Vega, the FVS, the HK500, and then the Facel II, all of which were hardtop coupes. The company also made the Excellence, an extended wheelbase four-door hardtop model also featuring Chrysler engines and transmissions. The two-door models carried the same overall look throughout the run, with the drivelines updated as Mopar updated its products.
Designed by company boss Jean Daninos, the Facel Vega, FVS, and HK500 were all of essentially the same design. Presently offered on Hemmings Auctions is a 1961 Facel Vega HK500, one of just over 500 examples built between 1958 and 1961.
Like the earlier models, this HK500 featured a wraparound windshield that cuts into the passenger cabin above the driver’s and passenger’s knees. The rounded hardtop roofline and the tall front fenders and rear quarters hinted at a different design direction as American cars were then becoming longer, lower, and flatter. The Facel Vega HK500’s design certainly seems to have withstood the test of time. This example features a tastefully aged, but complete and original rip-free leather interior, the red a striking contrast to the subtle silver blue metallic exterior.
Under the hood of this Facel Vega sits a Chrysler 361-cubic-inch V-8, a companion to the 383 engines found in other contemporary Facel Vegas. The French company offered both engines at the time. With a four-barrel carburetor, the 361 was rated at over 300 horsepower. The car also features another Mopar mainstay, a TorqueFlite three-speed automatic transmission shifted via dash-mounted push buttons (mounted to the left of the steering column just above the driver’s knee). The lack of a shifter in the interior gives the console-equipped HK500’s interior cockpit-like intimateness, the occupants treated to an expanse of leather, and the driver a full complement of gauges.
Capable of speeds of 120 mph or more, the Facel Vega HK500 held a unique place in the automotive marketplace, combining its continental looks and handcrafted interior with thunderous V-8 power. Given postwar France’s very high taxation on vehicles with engines displacing anything over 1.6 liters, the HK500 was produced as an export model, with the United States its primary destination and celebrities and stars among its original buyers.
This HK500, refurbished some time ago with fresh paint, but still sporting its original interior, which now boasts of an honest patina, offers a new owner the chance to follow in the footsteps of the famous owners who flaunted the French looks and thrilled to the power of the Mopar V-8 under the hood. Click on over to Hemmings Auctions, take a look at what a proper “hybrid” looks like, and tell us what you think.