Ford Motor Company Part IV – The Ford Comète

Ford Comète

Ford Comète1951-54 Ford Comète
Overview
Manufacturer Ford SAF
Production 1951–1954
Body and chassis
Class 4-seater sports car
Body style 2-door coupé
2-door cabriolet
(only 2 produced)
Layout FR layout
Related Ford Vedette
Powertrain
Engine 2,158 cc Aquillon V8
till 1952
2,355 cc Aquillon V8
1952-
3,923 cc Mistral V8
1953-1954
Transmission 3-speed manual
Dimensions
Length 4,620 mm (182 in)
Width 1,740 mm (69 in)
Height 1,420 mm (56 in)
Curb weight 1,290 kg (2,840 lb)

The Ford Comète (also the Simca Comète) was a car built between 1951 and 1954 in France by the Ford Motor Company‘s French subsidiary, Ford SAF. Intended as the luxury model in the range, the Comète’s bodywork was built by FACEL, who later produced the better-known Facel Vega luxury cars under their own name. The original engine was a 2.2 L V8 produced by Ford SAF of French design, also used in the Ford Vedette, with a Pont-à-Mousson 4-speed manual transmission fitted.

The original model had a single horizontal bar across the grille with a chromed shield or bullet in the centre, somewhat similar to contemporary Studebaker products, among others, with steel wheels and chromed hubcaps.

More power for 1953

In October 1952, for the Paris Motor Show, the Comète appeared with an engine enlarged from 2,158 cc to 2,355 cc. Claimed horse-power was raised from 68 hp to 80 hp indicating that there was more to the engine upgrade than simply an increase in the cylinder bore from 66.0 mm to 67.9 mm. (The stroke remained unchanged at 81.3 mm.) The most obvious of several other engine enhancements at this stage was the increase in the compression ratio from 6.8 : 1 to 7.4 : 1, reflecting the appearance of slightly higher octane fuels. Torque and engine flexibility were also improved and the claimed top speed increased from 130 km/h (81 mph) to 145 km/h (90 mph).

Much more power available for 1954

Available from the start of 1954, a new “Monte-Carlo” model appeared with the 3,923 cc V8 engine normally fitted to Ford trucks; this engine, befitting its truck heritage, delivered 78 kW (105 hp) with plenty of torque. Performance was much improved, but the new engine did not endear itself to buyers of the car having a “truck engine”, The engine’s large displacement meant that its taxed horsepower rating imposed by the French government was 22CV, giving a high road tax in a country where government taxation policy, especially after 1948, was high for cars with engine sizes above 2 litres. This new model was fitted with wire wheels, a fake hood scoop, and a typical for the time Ford egg-crate grille, consisting of vertical and horizontal equally spaced bars. The French called this grille a “coupe-frites”: a “french-fry cutter”.

Commercial

The Comète combined the elegant style of a body by Facel with the mechanical underpinnings of the Ford Vedette combined with a shortened wheelbase. The rear seat was stylishly designed, especially on the upmarket “Monte-Carlo” version with its two-colour leather seat covers, but nevertheless offered insufficient leg space for adults, other than on the shortest and most unavoidable of journeys. The economy was beginning to grow robustly by the mid-1950s, but the market capacity for cars of this size remained small and Comète sales were correspondingly modest. Above all, it was handicapped by a list price that was (in October 1953) 65% higher than that for the mechanically similar Vedette. Customers interested in the larger engined 3,923 cc versions were faced with a price for the “Monte-Carlo” (once it became available at the start of 1954) that was 51% higher than that of the spacious four door Vendôme.

Change of manufacturer

During 1954, Ford SAF was sold, and the Comète’s final year of production took place under Simca. The Simca Comète Monte-Carlo continued to be offered till July 1955.

See also

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FACEL SA 1939 FACEL-VEGA 1954 till 1964 Paris France

Facel                                                         Logo de la marque de voiture disparue Facel Vega

Facel SA
Industry Automotive
Founded Facel SA 1939 (Facel-Vega : 1954)
Defunct 1964
Headquarters Paris, France
Key people Jean Daninos
Products Automobiles from 1954

Facel was a French manufacturer of automobiles from 1954 to 1964.

The company was named after the original metal stamping company FACEL, and the company’s first model, the Vega, named after the star, was introduced at the 1954 Paris Auto Show. The cars were advertised with the slogan For the Few Who Own the Finest.

Initially successful, the company failed after the debut of its mechanically troubled Facellia model.

Company history

1951 Facel-Metalon bodied Bentley Mark VIFacel-Metalon bodied 1951 Bentley Mark VI

The marque Facel Vega was created in 1954 by Jean Daninos (brother of the humorist Pierre Daninos, who wrote Les Carnets du Major Thompson), although the Facel company had been established by the Bonzavia Company in 1939 as a subcontracting company for the aviations industry. FACEL (Forges et Ateliers de Construction d’Eure-et-Loir, in English: forge and construction workshop of the department of Eure-et-Loir) was initially a metal-stamping company but decided to expand into car manufacturing in the early 1950s. Facel entered the automobile business as a supplier of special bodies for Panhard, Delahaye and Simca.

Small numbers of other special bodied cars such as the Bentley pictured were also made, and Facel made the pillarless coupé bodywork for the Simca/Ford Comète. Around 45,000 Comètes were built, this lucrative contract enabling Facel to market a car of their own.

Products

Facel Vega

1961 Facel Vega HK500Facel Vega HK500 1961

The Vega production cars (Facel FV, later and more famously the HK500) appeared in 1954 using Chrysler V8 engines, at first a 4.5-litre (275 cu in) DeSoto Hemi engine; the overall engineering was straightforward, with a tubular chassis, double wishbone suspension at the front and a solid driven axle at the back, as in standard American practice. They were also as heavy as American cars, at about 1,800 kg (3,968 lb). Performance was brisk, with an approx 190 km/h (118 mph) top speed and 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in just under ten seconds.

Most cars were 2-door hardtops with no centre pillar, but a few convertibles were built.

The 1956 model was improved with a bigger 5.4-litre (330 cu in) Chrysler engine and updated transmission and other mechanicals. In the same year production began of a four-door model, the Excellence, with rear-hinged doors (suicide doors) at the back and no centre pillar. The pillarless design unfortunately made it less rigid and the handling was thus poorer than that of the two-door cars, and surviving examples are rare.

1959 models had even bigger engines, a 5.8-litre (354 cu in) and later a 6.28-litre (383 cu in) Chrysler V8, and were quite a bit faster despite their extra weight. The final evolution of the V8 models came in 1962 with the Facel II, which was lighter, with sleeker, more modern lines, substantially faster still, and famously elegant.

Facellia

1964 Facel IIIFacel III

1959-63 Facellia F-2Facellia F-2, 1959 to 1963

In 1960, Facel entered the sports car market with the Facellia, a small car similar in size to the then popular Mercedes 190SL. Facellias were advertised in three body styles: cabriolet, 2+2 coupé and 4-seat coupé — all with the same mechanicals and a 2,450 mm (96.5 in) wheelbase. Styling was similar to the Facel HK500, but with rather elegant (though fingernail-breaking) flush door handles. Following Facel Vega’s demise several of M Daninos’s styling cues were “borrowed” by Mercedes-Benz. Prices were roughly US$4,000 for the Facellia, US$5,500 for the Facel III and US$6,000 for the Facel 6.

With the idea of creating a mass-produced all-French sports car competing with the Alfa Romeos, Facel moved away from American engines. The Facellia had a 4-cylinder 1.6 L DOHC engine built in France by Paul Cavallier of the Pont-à-Mousson company (which already provided manual gear boxes for the company’s larger models). The engine had only two bearings supporting each camshaft, using special steels, as opposed to the usual four or five. Despite the metallurgical experience of Pont-à-Mousson, this resulted in excessive flex, timing problems and frequent failures. The engine was pronounced a disaster and the Facellia with it. Company president, Jean Daninos having been obliged to resign in August 1961 in response to the company’s financial problems, the new boss, a former oil company executive called André Belin, gave strict instructions to the after-sales department to respond to customer complaints about broken Facellia engines by replacing the units free of charge without creating “difficulties”. The strategy was intended to restore confidence among the company’s customer base. It would certainly have created a large hole in the income statement under the “warranty costs” heading, but it may have been too late for customer confidence.

The troublesome engine was replaced with a Volvo B18 powerplant in the Facel III, but the damage was done. Production was stopped in 1963 and despite the vision of it being a “volume” car only 1100 were produced, which is Facel’s highest production number. Facel lost money on every car they built, the luxury car side of the company being supported entirely by the other work done by Facel Metallon, Jean Daninos’s obsession being very similar to that of David Brown of Aston Martin.

The small Facellia met with little success and the losses from this, due to strong competition at the luxury end of the market, killed off the company. Facel left the car market completely in 1964. What was, according to some, the best small Facel, the Facel 6, which used an Austin Healey 2.8-litre engine, came too late to save the company, fewer than 30 having been produced when the French government scuttled the endeavour.

Prominence

Prominent owners of Facel Vegas (mainly of Facel IIs) included Pablo Picasso, Ava Gardner, Christian Dior, Joan Collins, Ringo Starr, Max Factor Jr, Joan Fontaine, Stirling Moss, Tony Curtis, several Saudi princes, Dean Martin, Fred Astaire, Danny Kaye, Louis Malle, The President of Mexico, François Truffaut, Robert Wagner, Anthony Quinn, Hassan ll King of Morocco, Debbie Reynolds, The Shah of Persia, Frank Sinatra, Maurice Trintignant, Brian Rix and French Embassies around the world. Race-car driver Stirling Moss would drive his HK500 from event to event rather than fly.

The French writer Albert Camus died in a Facel Vega FV3B driven by his publisher, Michel Gallimard. At the time of his death, Camus had planned to travel by train, with his wife and children, but at the last minute accepted his publisher’s proposal to travel with him.

In the 1989 film “Dealers”, Paul McGann, as Daniel Pascoe, drove a Facel ll.

A Facel Vega HK500 appears in computer-animated form in the film Ratatouille (Pixar, 2007), driven by one of the main characters.

A Facel Vega Facellia appeared in the music video for Caravan Palace‘s Dramophone.

Models

1955 Facel-Vega FV Front-view 1955 Facel-Vega FV Rear-viewVega FV

1956 Facel Vega FV2B no56106Facel Vega FVS

1958-61 Facel Vega HK 500, french sportscar, at a Suffolk Motor showFacel Vega HK500

Facel Vega Facel II CoupéFacel Vega II

1960 facel excellence

Facel Vega Excellence

1960 facel facellia 1600

Facel Vega Facellia

Coupé Facel-Vega Facel III.Facel III

1964 facel vega f6 coupe

Facel 6

1951 Facel-Metalon bodied Bentley Mark VI 1954 facel vega paris 1955 facel vega fv 1 cabrio 1955 Facel Vega FV1 1955 Facel-Vega FV Front-view 1955 Facel-Vega FV Rear-view 1956 facel excellence paris 1956 facel fv-56 coupe 1956 facel vega coupe 1956 Facel Vega FV2B Coupe 1956 Facel Vega FV2B no56106 1957 facel excellence 1957 Facel Vega 6.3 l Chrysler Typhoon engine 1957 facel vega fv3 1957 Facel Vega FV4 Typhoon at the 2011 Desert Classic, La Quinta, CA 1957 Facel Vega FV4 'Typhoon' at the 2011 Desert Classic, La Quinta, CA 1957 Facel Vega FV4 Typhoon 1957 facel vega 1958 facel coupe 1958 facel excellence 1958 Facel Vega Excellence! 1958-61 Facel Vega HK 500, french sportscar, at a Suffolk Motor show 1959 facel AAI176 facel vega 1959 facel excellence 1959 facel hk 500 1959 Facel Vega Excellence AP-35-01 1959 Facel Vega Excellence 1959-63 Facellia F-2 1960 facel excellence 1960 facel facellia 1600 1960 Facel Vega Excellence 1960 facel vega facellia paris 1960 facel vega hk 500 1960 Facel Vega HK500 Saloon 1961 facel facel 2 1961 Facel lia F 1961 Facel Vega HK500 1962 facel facel II 1962 facel facellia cabrio 1962 facel facellia f2 1962 facel facellia 1962 Facel Vega Facel II Coupe 1962 facel vega facellia tyl 1963 facel  facellia 2+2 1963 facel vega facel III 1963 Facel Vega Facel 1964 Facel III 1964 Facel Vega 6 1964 1964 Facel Vega Excellence PDB interieur 1964 Facel Vega Excellence 1964 facel vega f6 coupe 1964 facel vega facel II 1965 Facel Vega FX1 Coupé Facel-Vega Facel III. Facel Vega back Facel Vega Excellence EX2 F Facel Vega Facel 6 Facel Vega Facel II Coupé Facel Vega french sportscar facel vega hk500-ext Facel Vega Facel Vegal excellence berline h-top F Facel Facel-Vega Facel III Facel-Vega Facellia cabriolet type FA. Facel-Véga Facellia F2. Logo de la marque de voiture disparue Facel Vega