Boylan’s Dream Garage

Part 2

The Sportives

By Roger Boylan

07.15.2008

Take a look at this photograph. It’s the epitome of class. The place is Paris; the year, 1964; the man, Stirling Moss; the car, a Facel Vega HK500. Sir Stirling, as he now is, was arguably the greatest racing driver of all time. He was certainly the most dashing. The Facel Vega next to him in this photo is his own car. Around them bustles the Champs-Elysees. The place, the man, the car, the era: no improvement is necessary.


1) 1961 Facel Vega HK500

Of course, I can never hope to achieve this combination of style and circumstance in my own life, so it’s back to dreamland and my dream garage. Top of the list in my collection of Sportives is the very same Facel-Vega HK500, powered by a 6.3-litre “Typhoon” V8 and a Torqueflite 3-speed automatic, in which guise it was capable, when urged, of attaining 135+ mph (150 with the 4-speed manual), with the assistance of the 355 horses under the long tapered hood. Facels were produced between 1954 and 1964 at a factory outside Paris. They were never popular, nor were they intended–or priced– to be, but few cars have struck such a chord with the cognoscenti. Inside they were all burled-walnut and leather-upholstered elegance; outside, their style and craftmanship made them as easily identifiable as Jaguars or Ferraris. They were expensive, yes, and that, along with dodgy reliability in some, is why they died so soon. But their demise was written in their destiny. They were born to attain perfection for a day and then, like butterflies, to disappear forever. In the words of an Autocar magazine correspondent of the time,

To step down into a Facel … and go motoring must be the ambition of many who can never fulfill it. Such an experience is reserved for the few who can afford to buy one and for their friends and acquaintances.

The Facel Vega is the Schubert Unfinished Symphony of automobiles. Fittingly, Herbert von Karajan owned one. So did Picasso, Ringo Starr, Dean Martin, and Ava Gardner (actually, she owned 3). The Nobel-Prize winning writer and philosopher Albert Camus lost his life, violently, when his Facel left the road to embrace a tree. Poor man, it wasn’t even his car, but his publisher’s.


2) 1963 Mercedes-Benz 300SL

No, not the “gullwing”: interesting as a gimmick, but in my view an esthetic mistake, somewhat like Breuer’s chair, or anything by Jackson Pollock. I prefer the sleek and still fresh-looking Roadster, with its doors opening in the normal way and impeccable aerodynamic lines. Silver is best for a classic Benz, but black or red will do at a pinch. The 300’s 3-liter 220-hp engine was one of the first commercially available with fuel injection, which boosted top speed to the highest levels then found among production cars: around 160 mph, pretty mind-blowing even today. Mind you, my 300 Roadster would spend most of its time just looking beautiful and being the faithful companion of its dignified cousin, the 300 “Adenauer” sedan in the Standards section of my garage. The occasional excursion would be a must, though. I think the little Benz would look especially good dashing down the Corniche on a sunny Sunday morning with its top down. It wouldn’t feel too bad from the driver’s seat either, as these cars were known for their comfort and maneuverability. After all, in their day they racked up the successes at prime racing venues like Le Mans, the Mille Miglia, and the Nurburgring. Everyone goes for the gullwing, so more pedestrian versions with ordinary doors can be had for (relatively) much less. Dream on.


3) 1958 Jaguar XK150S

The best of British, from back when Britain made the best and Jaguar was at the top of its game, having won the Le Mans 24hrs outright five times since 1950. The XK150 evolved from the XK120 and became that rara avis, an instant classic; it was the summum bonum of all things Jag, minus only the bonnet leaper. It is one of the world’s great sporting cars. With the 3.8-liter engine, shared with the second iteration of the 3.8 S-Type saloon, the XK150S, with 265 horses, could top 135 mph and reach 60 mph from standstill in around7 seconds, sufficient verve to take on today’s contenders, let alone those of the early ’60s. But the racetrack dynamics are only half the story. This is a car to look at. Admire its 3/4 side view: the flowing curves, the wire wheels, the neatly tapered tail. From the front, the classic Jaguar grille and quad-headlight array. From the side, the aerodynamic shape: a master craftsman’s masterstroke. I’d spend a lot of my time just looking at this beauty, lunging at imagined scratches and dust motes, shammy in hand.


4) 1985 Ferrari 412

About five years ago I saw one of these Italian superstars drive into the arena at a car auction in New Braunfels, Texas. It made quite a contrast to the aging VW Beetles, battered Land Rovers, and repainted Pontiac Firebirds that had preceded it. It was shiny black, with a tan leather interior. Up went my hand: I bid, I think, about a hundred, a ludicrous sum that was soon trampled under the stampede of further bids but at least allows me to say today that I once bid on a Ferrari, the Ferrari of my dreams. The car finally sold for around $40 grand, if memory serves. It’s welcome to visit my dream garage any time. The 412 was and is a thoroughly modern Ferrari, with a GM-sourced Turbo-Hydramatic automatic transmission, Bosch fuel injection, air conditioning, and (an industry first, or second) all-wheel ABS. The 400 line was introduced at the 1976 Paris show as the “family Ferrari,” a civilized 2+2 to cruise to and from the local private academy to Gucci or Neiman-Marcus and on to the beach house at Montauk or Rimini. The body is by Pininfarina; everything else, including the five-spoke magnesium wheels, is by the House of Enzo, especially the Daytona-based 4.8 litre engine that turned loose as many as 390 ponies at a time. Ché capo lavoro.


5) 1967 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint Speciale

Not quite in the automotive stratosphere wherein Jaguars and Ferraris dwell, but a little stunner nonetheless, and one capable in its heyday of a sustained and true 120 mph, and that with a mere 112 horses and 1.5-liter engine. Its speed was due to its ability to slip effortlesly through the air; it had near-flawless aerodynamic lines, courtesy of the Bertone design studios. From my days in Italy as a youngster, I remember these cars roaring down the Autostrada del Sole and ruling the left lane of the Turin-Milan autostrada that served in the early morning hours as an Alfa Romeo test track. The same mighty mouse of an engine powered the Alfas of the Squadra Volante, the Flying Squad of the national police, one of whom who might be in hot pursuit of a Giulia SS on that stretch of autostrada. Even then, there were speed limits, although anyone at the wheel of one of these machines who respected speed limits had no claim whatever to bella figura. Red is ideal, of course, but I already have that red Ferrari over there, so I’d go for a soothing navy blue for my Alfa, as in the accompanying picture.


7) 1973 Lancia Fulvia Rallye 1.6 HF

Quirkily persisting with right-hand drive from 1906 until 1956, when the Lancia clan relinquished control, the distinctive products of Lancia S.p.A. ruled the roads, then were forgotten, nearly died in the ’60s from popular dissatisfaction caused by shoddy construction and prevalent rust, and rose from the dead under the all-encompassing benevolence and marketing savvy of Fiat. I loved the classic Aurelias of the ’50s, and the stately Flaminias, the kinds of cars the old Piedmontese and Sicilian nobility would drive, or be driven in. (Also the clergy: a priest friend of my father’s in Rome drove a red Flaminia.) Later, I was smitten by the snarling little Fulvia coupe, which in its HF hot-rod version virtually took over dominance of the international rally circuit. This is the version you see before you in my garage. It will be my workout car, to recall me to the bare essentials of motoring: a four-on-the-floor of a type I haven’t shifted since about, oh, 1973; a thigh-hugging leather driver’s seat; huge easy-to-read gauges on the wood dashboard; and up front, the loud hectoring of the valiant little 1.6-liter V-4 engine trying to round up 130 or so horses and impel us forward at something over 110 mph. Cornering will be a blast; this is the Italian counterpart of the MGB, which was also quite a star in the road rally firmament.



8) 1995 BMW 850CI

Finally, a Beamer. I could have lots of them in my garage because there have been so many splendid ones; but why not the best? Hang the expense, at least in my own private dreamland. This opulent, high-performance (even for a BMW) classic boasts a V-12 5.6-liter engine with a mad power output of something like 380 horses and God only knows what top speed (185, give or take)–it was, after all, tuned by BMW’s renowned M high-performance division. Yes, it will cut a dashing figure on the Corniche and the Autostrada (or -bahn), and so might I, if I were driving it. As I would, as often and as far as possible: coast to coast, for example, or John O’Groat’s to Greece. But despite its over-the-top performance and excessive price when new (somewhere north of $100K), there’s a simplicity about it, too, almost a modesty, that appeals to me. It has the understated efficiency and clean lines of something from the Bauhaus. Unlike, say, a red Ferrari, a silver 850 will turn only the head of the connoisseur, not that of the man in the street. There is much to be said for such discretion when you find yourself topping 80 mph in second gear.


9) 1992 Porsche 928GTS

This one has to be in my garage because I have an emotional attachment to it. The 928 made its debut at the Geneva show in ’77 and I was there, via city bus and shank’s mare, tongue hanging out, head full of unrealizable dreams, of which having a Porsche was one of the more realistic. The model on show was silver, of course; Porsches must be, unless they’re black. The 928 was never the success it should have been, although it won the European Car of the Year award in ’78. Purists were unsettled by the big booming front-mounted 300-hp V8 and the somewhat (for Porsche) radical design. I’d take this as a complementary stablemate for the BMW 850, which it resembles, both of them being expensive, powerful, grand tourers rather than hammer-and-tongs sports cars. Maybe early some morning Uli, my imaginary Swiss head mechanic, and I could do a stoplight derby in the BMW and the Porsche. Unless Uli were the sober kind of fellow I’d hope he would be, with the fate of my dream garage in his hands.


10) 1976 MGB GT V8

Finally, another British roadster, the best-selling one of all time, whose reputation in its day ran the gamut from sterling to atrocious, depending on the year, the model, and the tuning. These GT V8s were the best ones, unhampered by Federal emissions-control regulations, with a solid alloy 140-hp Rover (née Buick) V8 under the bonnet/hood (which bulged in the middle to accommodate the bigger engine), retuned suspension, and a choice of transmissions. I remember these cars on the roads of Britain in the ’70s, usually driven by the sportier kind of City banker/stockbroker type, invariably with sideburns and wide-knotted ties. The drivers were unappealing, the cars very much so. Mine would be British racing green with wire wheels. I’d watch those puddles, though; MGs were never at their best in downpours. Odd, for British cars.


Next installment: The Utilities

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Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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8 Comments

  1. These are some great cars on your list. I am pleased to see that you didn’t go the usual exotic car route. I could see myself owning a lot of these cars.

  2. The photo of Stirling Moss and the Facel Vega exudes a certain class and absolute wonderful-ness. It’s a great shot.

  3. Fortunate is the gentleman who can park his Facel Vega on the Champs-Elysees during the daytime.

    MORE fortunate is the gentleman who can park it at a freakin’ 45 degree angle.

  4. Had a BMW 840i and I regretted selling it almost immediately.

  5. I quoted a good text to read about Facel-Vaga founded at How Stuff works site.

    < <...Richard M. Langworth, writing in Collectible Automobile® magazine, opined that “it’s probably just as well that Facel died when it did. It’s difficult to imagine what its cars would have been like in the age of emission controls and 5-mph bumpers...As it stands, the Facel record isn’t bad for a firm of its size.” Langworth then went on to quote writer Bernard Cahier, who provided this fitting epitaph: “[The Facel Vega was part of] that elite group of classic, high-powered touring machines which were immortalized in the prewar days by such as Duesenberg, the Talbot, and the Delahaye…Daninos created a car of which France could be proud, and much credit must be given to his efforts and persistence in creating such a superb machine.”>>

    I have to agree with this text and at a fanart site named Deviantart, I saw some nice rendering about what if the Facel-Vega was still around today
    first fanart
    second fanart
    third fanart
    forth fanart

    and more screenshots of the Facel-Vega from various movies spotted at Internet movie cars Database.

  6. It’s the Porsche 928 for me. I’ll take the S4 model. Black is fine, although I’m happy to take silver as well. I drove one for about two years and loved it ever, ever so much. Think about having a Corvette engineered by, and screwed together by, Germans.

  7. Lancia Fulvia, of course, what a wonderful car! There were rumours the Fulvia was going to make comeback in the Lancia model range a couple of years, but it seemed to come to naught.

  8. Ferrari 412? I never owned one but I drove my employer’s 412 around occasionally for a couple of years. It’s a nice car and all, but not that nice. Seems to be sort of the black sheep of the Ferrari range at the time, not very exciting to drive around. The GM three-speed auto does a good job in it, though.

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