All of us with old cars are constantly on a search for spare parts for our cars. This may be because we need them because something’s failed, or we are just building up a stock of parts for when we do need them. Finding these spares is easier for some cars than others. For instance, if you have something fairly common (no disrespect) like a Mini or even an old Jaguar, the spare parts may be much more available than for a Facel Vega.
So we just keep an eye on e-Bay, for instance, but not just for Facel Vega parts but the parts that Facel used from other cars. For instance, the boot lock that Facel used on the Facel 11 and Excellence came off a Ford Zephyr and Consul Mk2. A brace of these, advertised as Facel boot locks, came up on e-Bay several years ago and sold for £43 and £51, I think. Another, advertised at the same time as from a Ford Consul, made £13.
I tell this story because there’s a whole load of Facel parts on e-Bay at the moment here in the UK, although most of the bits come from the same seller in the USA. There’s one of those locks for sale at £183.39 and that’s not including postage and packing which, because the seller is slightly careless, comes out at around £90. I say careless because the P&P for nearly everything comes out at around £90, including a plastic rear light fitting for a Facel 11 which ‘only’ costs a third of that.
This constant search for spare parts can you lead you down various routes with varying results. There are a number of sources of spare parts. You could perhaps start with the owners’ clubs, either here in the UK or in France. Here in the UK we are too small a club to have any stock of parts or any subscription for new parts to be made, so it would simply be one individual recommending a source, which could be someone with a stock of available parts, or the knowledge of the original source of that part, which may be something produced by another of the contemporary French manufacturers. Or it may be a specialist supplier of, say, brake parts who has supplied another club member with success and will know the right part to supply and will have it in stock.
The Amicale in France is a much bigger club with a much bigger organisation and they often offer what they call ‘subscriptions’ to spare parts. By that I mean that they will suggest a run of a certain number of HK500 exhausts, for instance, having got a quote for a particular price. Onto that will go a small administrative fee and you have your price. They will announce this subscription to the members and those requiring the part will sign up and secure that part, which will be brand new. But they do also have a stock of spare parts on offer. They have excellent original cutaway drawings of the cars so that you can be pretty precise about which parts you want.
The great thing – but also the disadvantage – about the club system is that it is part of its philosophy, policy and raison d’etre to help get cars roadworthy and used. It is almost a charitable institution in that a club and its members are not making a living out it per se and therefore the prices are reasonable. At the same time, looking after the spare parts supply is an unpaid job, not the organisers’ top priority and therefore not the most efficient supply chain. I’m also not sure that the club has to pay VAT on the parts that it offers but this probably varies from country to country.
I talk about the philosophy or policy of a club. Belonging to such a club means that you are subject to or may benefit from its rules and regulations, and these will probably include something about helping other members in the promotion of the club and the continuation of the club’s focus, which in our case means Facel Vegas. So club members are meant to positively help other club members with advice and knowledge.
But here in Europe there are half a dozen or so Facel Vega specialists who supply spare parts as a business. For that reason, while they attempt to be efficient they are also more expensive than the club or if you can find the part from a major parts supplier of contemporary car parts. By that I mean that those specialists know that such and such a part came off a Peugeot 504 for instance but they won’t necessarily tell you that. You could go to a major classic car parts supplier and get the Peugeot 504 price, or to the specialist and get the Facel price. There will be a difference… But the Facel Vega specialist in France, Germany or Holland will have a good range of parts and if money isn’t too much of a problem, then that’s the way to go.
And finally there is the chancer on e-Bay, like our man from the USA, clearing out his garage and finding various bits which he thinks are worth a certain sum, particularly to some poor restorer who is desperate for just such a part. Most parts could be copied or substituted for something else, so one would have to be particularly desperate.
And that’s where there is an alternative: copying a part and having it re-manufactured yourself. Now this doesn’t always go well, as I’m finding out. Facel 11 and Excellence doorhandles were made from the dreaded Mazak which degrades from the inside out, so that you have a lot of little bubbles in the chrome of the door handle. These can be removed and the holes underneath filled before the handles are re-chromed. Our friend in the States is offering one of these re-chromed for £352, although I’m told that the bubbles can easily reappear after you’ve re-chromed them.
So I’ve been trying to get a set of doorhandles – four parts, two handles with buttons – re-cast for about a year now! The first company I approached – on recommendation – had my old ones for six months before giving them back and saying they couldn’t copy them. Now they’re with an individual who has had them for five months, saying he didn’t realise they were urgent. I’m waiting, but they should be around half the price of that mentioned above.
But technology has moved on, so that there are new ways of making some of the very individual bits that go on our complicated cars. Casting is certainly one way of securing parts if you already have one to copy but 3D printing by laser and rapid prototyping is becoming more and more available, as is the use of CNC. This is complex new technology which is comprehensively described in the article that appeared in Classic Cars November 2015 and no doubt elsewhere. It’s just a matter of finding how to replicate a part and the best way to have it manufactured and by who. A very individual part – such as bodywork which will only fit one car – can surely be reproduced for a great deal less than the £2k price that may be quoted even if it is bespoke.
There are therefore several sources of spare parts and the depression caused by overpriced parts on e-Bay can swiftly be erased. There are alternatives out there and bright young entrepreneurs willing to undertake the research necessary, so that your car will benefit from modern technology, while reflecting its heritage.