Daninos’ Facels in the Alps

jean_daninosYou’ve probably noticed that the site has gone a bit quiet after the initial burst of enthusiasm with the Retromobile sales but I’ve been writing profiles of the some of the cars (FVs, Excellence, little cars) which will be posted early next week, and I’m also skiing in Austria.

Which reminds me that the inspiration of Facel Vega, Jean Daninos, was a regular visitor to and keen skier at Klosters in Switzerland. He had been an expert ice skater, I think, but loved his skiing too. It must have been quite a trek from Paris to Klosters in the east of Switzerland at that time, although maybe not in a Facel or a Bentley, although once there, neither would have been the most practical of transport in the snow. Daninos’s wife is seen with one of the Bentleys in the snow; the snow is so thick it just looks like a white backdrop. It is not known if the car was stranded but she was smiling so maybe not!

Klosters figures in the Facel story for other reasons. For instance, there’s a pic of several pre-production Facellias being tested in Switzerland, outside the Hotel Parsenn, which from memory, is halfway between Klosters and nearby Davos. The Parsenn is the skiing area which serves both resorts. And Daninos’s Bentley Cresta is named after the skeleton toboggan run at nearby St Moritz. I’m not aware as to whether the Vauxhall Cresta was named for the same reasons!

I have been a haphazard visitor to Klosters over the years and first visited in about 1961 when Daninos would have been struggling with Facellia engine problems. One of the names bandied about Klosters at that time was Irwin Shaw, the acclaimed American short story writer who owned a Facel, no doubt charmed by M Daninos. I think Shaw had a home in Klosters and he certainly died in Davos.

There were one or two American actresses who had chalets there who would have met M Daninos. I was reading a disappointing biography of Ava Gardner  a couple of years ago, hoping for a Facel mention but to be disappointed,  and recognised another Klosters name whose name I forget at this time but I wonder if he was the contact between Gardner and Daninos which resulted in the American actress buying three cars.

There was quite a presence of British motor racing characters in Klosters in the fifties and sixties; they stayed at the Hotel Wynegg which was run like an English prep school by the long-suffering Ruth Guler, principally because her guests behaved like prep school boys which caused her to call all of them ‘bloody men.’ Among those who visited were Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton who won the 1953 Le Mans 24 hours, and also Tommy Sopwith who famously cancelled an order for a Facel Vega Excellence; he explained to me quite recently that it was because he had taken over Woking Motors which was a Mercedes agency and they wanted him to drive a Mercedes. My uncle James Tilling was another regular; one of his great friends was George Abecassis who owned HMW and InterContental Cars which imported Facels to the UK.

Both Facel Vega CC chairman Mark Walker and I have been recent visitors to Klosters. We’ll have to make inquiries regarding Jean Daninos and the Facel connections.

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