Quite recently I derided auction houses at Retromobile for endlessly trotting out the phrase ‘matching numbers’ (for which there seems no translation) during the auction of various cars in Paris in February. The rest of the auction may have been in French – or anything else – but somebody would frequently say ‘matching numbers’ to somehow add authenticity to the vehicle being auctioned.
What does ‘matching numbers’ mean? Well, in a Facel Vega world, it means that all the various parts of the car are stamped with the production number. In the case of my Excellence, chassis number EX1 B074, it means that the production number, 84, is stamped inside the bonnet, for instance inside the dashboard, on many of the parts of the car, particularly pieces unique to Facel Vega.
Different manufacturers probably have different ways of identifying parts of the car, and it may be more vital on the products of one manufacturer than elsewhere. But we are often talking about cars produced in limited numbers in the fifties or sixties, even seventies. It can be fairly important that those parts remain with the initial car than be fitted with something else, even from another, similar car.
This was brought home to me recently when I had stripped all the various parts which will be painted wood effect in the Excellence – twelve in total. For some reason, I have two instrument panels which are mounted inside the dashboard. One had been covered with some rather nasty B&Q-type wood effect stick-on tape or covering – like a wallpaper – while the other was still original, with its faded paintwork. Rather than try to strip off the metal-backed wallpaper, I sent the other one to be stripped. Mistake.
When we got it back, we tried to fit it into the dashboard, but some little lugs which position it wouldn’t line up, so the entire thing wouldn’t fit. Then we noticed that the production number was 31, which matches up to an Excellence exported to the US, latterly in the possession of one Fred Kanter, whose New Jersey workshops I’ve been in touch with recently.
Now this dashboard came with the car – not in the car, I hasten to add, because the whole car was stripped out when I got it, but it came with the car. So did the other instrument panel that I have numbered 84, and that fitted into the dashboard perfectly, the mounting lugs slotting into their holes as they should. How or why we have the number 31 instrument panel, I don’t know but it’s surplus to requirements and doesn’t fit, as I mentioned. What I should have done is listen to those auctioneers and their ‘matching numbers’ credo and taken notice. That way I wouldn’t have wasted my time and got the wrong instrument panel stripped.
Incidentally, as you can see in the picture, there are different heater and de-mister controls at the bottom of each of the instrument panels. Number 31, being the earlier model, only has one insert for horizontal sliders whereas the later one has three inserts and is the correct one, and I have the sliders for that one. So when it comes up for auction – if ever – listen for those magic words: ‘matching numbers.’
I am lucky, incidentally, I have the original, but it’s not always that easy. I have heard the tale of a Belgian who came over to Britain to buy a bumper for his HK500 in the West Country. He drove all the way to Cornwall where the bumper was married up to its mounting points, but it simply didn’t fit. So the seller had to do a cut-and-shut operation on the bumper, taking out several centimetres if not inches to make the bumper fit onto the front of its new home before the Belgian set off back home.