Ex-Ringo Starr, Earls Court Motor Show 1964 Facel Vega II Coupé Registration no. EPH 4B Chassis no. HK2B 160 Engine no. 277614
'The HK500 was the most interesting car we ever made but the Facel II was the best. It was totally elegant.' Jean Daninos.
In its relatively short life, the French firm of Facel produced approximately 2,900 cars, all of which were stylish, luxurious and fast. Hand built, they were, of course, necessarily very expensive the Facel II was priced in Rolls-Royce territory and were bought by the rich and famous seeking something exclusive and distinctive. The roll call of owners includes royalty, politicians, diplomats and entertainers: Tony Curtis, Danny Kaye, Joan Fontaine, Ava Gardner and Ringo Starr first owner of the car offered here - being counted among the latter. Confirming that there was high-performance substance behind Facel's unquestionable style, they were owned and driven by great motor racing figures such as Sir Stirling Moss, Maurice Trintignant and Rob Walker.
Founded by Jean Daninos in 1939, Forges et Ateliers de Construction d'Eure-et-Loir (FACEL) specialised in the construction of aircraft components and metal furniture. After the war the company engaged in the supply of car bodies to Panhard, Simca and Ford France, before branching out into automobile manufacture in its own right with the launch of the Vega at the 1954 Paris Salon. Government legislation had effectively killed off France's few surviving luxury car manufacturers after WW2, but that did not deter Jean Daninos in his bold attempt to revive what had once been a great French motoring tradition. A luxurious Grande Routière, the Vega took its name from the brightest star in the Lyra constellation and featured supremely elegant coupé bodywork welded to a tubular-steel chassis. There being no suitable French-built power unit, Daninos turned to the USA for the Vega's, that chosen initially being Chrysler's 4.5-litre, 180bhp V8, while there was a choice of push-button automatic or manual transmission.
Improvements to the first FV model were not long in coming, the FV1, introduced in March 1955, featuring a lengthened wheelbase for increased rear seat room and a 4.8-litre, 200bhp Chrysler V8. A few FV1 cabriolets were built but Daninos was not keen on soft-tops and production concentrated on fixed-head coupés, although there was also the Excellence, a limited-edition four-door saloon on an extended wheelbase.
An improved model, the HK500, appeared in 1957. Maximum power was now around 360bhp courtesy of the latest, 5.9-litre (later 6.3-litre) version of Chrysler's 'hemi' V8 and top speed rose to around 140mph, making the HK500 one of the fastest cars of its era and almost certainly the fastest four-seater. Power steering became an option and Dunlop disc brakes were adopted as standard equipment in 1960. Capable of effortless and virtually silent 120mph cruising, the HK500 possessed, according to 'The Motor' magazine, 'a brilliant combination of good comfort and quite exceptional roadholding.' HK 500 production amounted to only 500-or-so units between 1958 and 1961, with circa 98 delivered to the UK.
Launched in 1961, the successor Facel II was destined to be the last of the V8-engined models. Road testing one in 1962, 'The Autocar' commented; 'A striking amalgamation of French, American and British components, the big Facel has a wonderful way of covering the miles extremely fast without mechanical fuss.' Following an unsuccessful venture into engine manufacture that effectively bankrupted the company, production ceased in 1964 after a mere 182 Facel IIs had been built. Today these rare Franco-American Grandes Routières are among the most highly sought after of post-war classics.
Chassis number 'HK2 B160' is the very last of only 26 right-hand drive Facel IIs made and the only one of five RHD examples equipped with the Pont-à-Mousson manual gearbox that also had the 6.7-litre, 390bhp, 'Typhoon' twin-carburettor engine. Other noteworthy original features include power assisted steering and the rare chromed disc wheels.
One of the last Facel IIs to be imported by HWM Intercontinental Cars Ltd, '160' was first registered by the importer as 'EPH 4B' in October 1964. Thirteen months later, in November 1965, the car was sold to its first private owner, Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, whose real name (Richard Starkey) appears in the accompanying original logbook. It cost over £5,000, putting it in the same league as a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III. Although kept at Ringo's home in Weybridge, Surrey, the car was registered to him at Albemarle Street, London W1 where The Beatles Ltd occupied offices. A copy of the press release issued by Intercontinental Cars (George Abecassis) is on file, listing this car and another Facel II (finished in metallic silver-grey and fitted with automatic transmission) as its exhibits at the 1964 Earls Court Motor Show.
Born in July 1940, Ringo Starr was a member of another Liverpool group, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, when The Beatles formed in 1960, only joining them when Pete Best left in 1962. He sang lead vocals on hits such as 'With a Little Help from My Friends', 'Yellow Submarine' and 'Act Naturally', is credited as co-writer of 'What Goes On' and 'Flying', and as the sole author of 'Don't Pass Me By' and 'Octopus's Garden'. By the time Ringo took delivery of the Facel, the Beatles had had nine UK No.1 hits and eleven in the USA, and had just completed their second feature film Help! in which he played a central role. In only a few years the 'Fab Four' had gone from owning little more than their instruments and the clothes they stood up in to being the most successful pop group on the planet. Small wonder then that they felt the time was ripe to reward themselves with a few luxuries.
In May 1968 ownership passed to one Reginald Kearsley of Wellingborough, chairman of United Carriers. Interviewed by the Evening Standard in March 1968, Ringo explained his reason for parting with it: 'I like the security of marriage and the family. In fact, I'm thinking of selling my Facel Vega and getting an ordinary family saloon, something like a Mercedes.'
The original logbook records various subsequent changes of registration and lists a further three owners, the last of whom Mark Walker acquired the car in 1970 and fitted the Webasto sunroof. Old-style V5 registration documents on file record the next owner as Eric Phillpott (from December 1988). The current owner acquired the car from the Phillpott family in March 2012.
Subject to a restoration in 2012/2013 costing over £40,000 (invoices on file), the Facel retains its original engine and beige leather interior, and is finished in metallic red. Said to drive perfectly, 'EPH 4B' has covered only some 1,000 miles since the rebuild's completion earlier this year and is presented in generally excellent condition.
Chassis number '160' is featured in various books on the marque, including Martin Buckley's definitive 'Facel Vega Grand Luxe Sportif', and appears in the current edition of 'Classic & Sports Car' magazine in an article about cars owned by The Beatles. In 1981, while in Mark Walker's ownership, it featured in 'The Autocar' magazine (6th June edition). A copy of the November 2013 edition of 'Classic & Sports Car' is in the accompanying history file together with the aforementioned registration documents and restoration invoices. Also in the file are copies of the original History Sheet and chassis listing; DVLA and previous-owner correspondence; copies of press cuttings and marque-related literature; copy owner's manual; and a quantity of expired MoTs and tax discs, etc. The car is currently taxed and MoT'd and comes with current V5C registration document.
A unique example of an already exclusive model, this exquisite Facel Vega represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for anyone who loves both fine cars and The Beatles.
Please note the correct engine number for this lot is HA-413-367.277614