It must have been a match made in heaven: one of the most beautiful and charismatic movie stars of the ’50s, and one of the decade’s most luxurious cars.
Now actress Ava Gardner’s Facel Vega Excellence is going to auction, meaning you could soon be driving around like Hollywood royalty. Well, if you can afford the £135,000 price tag.
The Excellence will be the star lot at Coys’ Interclassics Maastricht sale in the Netherlands on 11 January, and rightly so: it’s a highly desirable vehicle even without the star connection.
Only 152 examples of Facel Vega’s first four-door saloon were built, making it a rare machine by any standards – but as one of just 10 first-series models built, Ms Gardner’s car was more exclusive still.
Those first 10 vehicles all carried the gargantuan 6.4-litre version of the Chrysler Hemi V8, which pumped out 375bhp and could supposedly propel the Excellence to 140mph.
That power was hardly redundant, though: the Excellence was longer and wider than previous Facel Vegas such as the HK500, with its tubular chassis stretched by 20in from the coupé models that preceded it.
It was also some 250lb heavier, but was nonetheless a handsome beast. Our own Martin Buckley drove one for us in 2006, and remarked that "the steel body showed all the elegant assurance of the two-door Facels while capturing something of the well-judged proportions of the better American designs."
Not that everything about its design was perfect. The decision to give it a pillarless ‘suicide door’ setup – with the rear doors opening backwards – may have made for a lovely wide opening from which the rich and famous could disembark on to their red carpets, but it didn’t do much for chassis stability. When parked on uneven ground the doors would sometimes not open or shut, and there were even reports of them flying open on the road.
Gardner, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in the 1953 film Mogambo, took delivery of her Excellence directly from the factory. The last of the 10 first-series models built, it was delivered to her in September 1958, just as she was beginning work on the movie On the Beach with Gregory Peck.
It’s been subject to an older restoration, and shows what Coys says is “a wonderful patina”. Judging by the photos, the interior needs a little work to regain its full glory, but more importantly it is said to run and drive nicely.
“We have had considerable interest in this car,” says Chris Routledge, CEO of Coys. “It is great opportunity to own one of the fastest and certainly most glamorous cars of the 1950s.”
The Facel Vega Excellence will be sold at Coys’ Interclassics Maastricht sale on 11 January with an estimate of €150-180,000 (£135-150,000). For more information, click here.