The Pinnacle Of French Elegance: A Facel Vega In Paris

I won carspotting in Paris: here is a Facel Vega rounding the Place de la Nation on a beautiful May day.

Parisian glamour is pretty self-evident, so let me explain what's just so great about the Facel Vega.

It was the most elegant car France could produce in the 1950s, which is about as elegant as a car can be, really.

The Pinnacle Of French Elegance: A Facel Vega In Paris

Under the hood is a massive Chrysler Hemi V8 and the skin (itself somewhat American) is something of a reverberating echo of France's glory days of auto design in the late 1930s. Then, coachbuilders like Saoutchik, Pourtout, and Figoni et Falaschi built the most extravagant car bodies in the world. You could argue that those 1930s French bodies cars are the most over-the-top car designs of all time, but that's a debate for a different time.

In any case, the Facel-Vega is a hopelessly rare, and wonderfully made car. Well, recent reviews find that the car capable of something around 150 miles an hour isn't all that great to drive. At least, that's what this old Top Gear piece puts forward.

It's a 1950s GT car, it's only going to be so good.

But there's a reason why so many very memorable people bought this thing. It was once the fastest car in the world, and it got that speed in style. Stirling Moss had one, as did Pablo Picasso, Ringo Starr, François Truffaut, Ava Gardner, and a host of other celebs nobody remembers anymore.

As Jonny Lieberman said when we inducted the HK500 into the Jalopnik Fantasy Garage nearly seven years ago, the Facel Vega is better known for one man who didn't own one.

Sadly, the Facel Vega HK500 is best known as the car that killed one of my favorite authors and thinkers, Albert Camus, who died in one on January 4, 1960. Many people mistakenly believe the HK500 belonged to Camus. The car in fact belonged to his publisher, Michel Gallimard, who drove the car into a tree. Camus, who disliked fast driving — often saying, "Hey, little friend, who's in a hurry?" was hurled from the vehicle and died instantly. The speedo was pegged at 90 mph. Interestingly, the manuscript for Camus's final work, Premier Homme, was found in a bag inside the car, though it wasn't published for another 35 years.

It might not be the most French car ever made, but it's certainly up there. And I got to see one cruising by a Parisian square and off onto a tree-lined boulevard. Carspotting doesn't get much better than that.

The Pinnacle Of French Elegance: A Facel Vega In Paris

Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove