It’s easy to understand the spell American V8s cast upon gearheads all over the world. The sound, the “punch like” acceleration, the whole “bad ass” attitude it represents. Here in Brazil it’s no different; we are suckers for “American Muscle”, and this passion began a long time ago. And just like in the US, as well as number of other countries, it all started with the Ford Flathead, that was imported from the USA in during the 30s, 40s and 50s.
The recipe was simple: the Ford V8s were plentiful, affordable, and easy to squeeze some extra horses out of it. But just how it came to Brazil, and how our country kept it going and turned the little flatty into an ohv hemi-head is a story worth telling.
Here in Brazil and in Argentina, we had our own version of the American Hot Rods, called “Carreteras”, and most of them were powered by Flattys. My grandfather was the mechanic of this white and green Carretera in the photo, during the early 50s.
They were crude and raw, and symbolized the beginning of our tradition in motor racing. We learned to love and understand the Ford Flathead, and to love its qualities and understand its flaws. But little did we know the venerable Ford V8 would be around in Brazil for many years to come, in a very odd application.
In the US, Ford shut down the production of flatheads in 1953, and a year later the Australians did the same. But in Europe and South America the little engine was around for way longer. From 1959 to 1969 we were able to buy in Brazil a brand new, stylish car equipped with the Flathead. Let’s see how it all happened.
During the infancy of our auto industry, some automakers that were out of the “Big League” tried to establish themselves in the country. The most well-known of these were: the Italian Alfa Romeo, the German DKW – Auto Union, the American Willys and the French Simca.
The history of the Simca (Société Industrielle de Mécanique et Carrosserie Automobile) is quite confusing. It was founded by none other then the Italian FIAT, in 1934, and after WW II it became the second largest French auto maker, behind only Renault. The French economy was facing a hard time in this period, and 70% of it’s production was exported.
During its life time, Simca was affiliated with many others automakers, but let’s talk about the more important one for the context of this post.
Ford Motor Company had a French subsidiary called Ford SAF (Société Anonyme Française) that was founded in 1916. Like others Ford branches across Europe, the plant started building the Model T until 1925. Between 1927 and 1931 it built the Model A.
From 1932 to 1934 the plant built the model “Y” which was a specific Ford model for the overseas market. The French Ford also imported some B models equipped with the Flathead V8, but it was not very popular due the poor fuel efficiency and the high final price.
After some hard times that included a not very successful joint venture with the French company Mathys, and the German occupation during the war, Ford was sold to Simca in 1954.
The main product Ford SAF had since 1948 was the Vedette. If the Vedette looks rather American, that’s because it was originally designed to be a smaller, compact Ford. But when GM decided not to build its compact Cadet, Ford decided not to take the risk of entering the compact market either, and sent this car to France, where it became the Vedette. It was equipped with the small Ford V8 flathead, the 2.2 L, 136 CID version often referred to in the US as the V9-60, after its original hp rating. It was never a popular engine in the US, which preferred the bigger flatty, but was used in Europe and found its way to Brazil. The Vedette had a 3 speed transmission and a innovative front suspension called “McPherson”, one of the very first cars to feature what has become the common front strut suspension.
A more expensive version, the Vendome, used the larger 3,9 L 239 CID Ford flathead. Both of these cars were the only V8 cars available in France at the time, and were unusual for anywhere in Europe.
When Simca bought the French Ford, the Vedette was about to be refreshed, so it was decided to start building the new version in and just call it Simca Vedette.
The new Vedette was a gorgeous car, the design was totally influenced by the American drawings by that time. It was a compact car in terms of the American standard, with a 105.9 inch wheelbase, but it was a big car for European standards.
The Vedette had a comfortable ride, roomy interior and employed quality materials inside and outside of the car. The small V8 was enlarged a bit, to 2.4 L, and produced 75 hp. The performance was not breathtaking, after all, since the little flathead had to pull nothing less than 1,175 kg (2,550 lbs).
There were many different versions with different names and even a station wagon called “Marly”
The first generation of the Vedette ended in 1957, and the second generation got even more American looking in its design, with little fins on the rear quarter panels, and a bit more powerful version of the “Aquillon V8”, now making 84 hp.
In 1958 another player appeared on the Simca horizon: it was Chrysler. “Mother Mopar” had the desire to enter the European market, and the easy way was to buy 15% of the Simca shares.
Business was in full throttle for Simca, and in 1959 they started the production of the Vedette in Australia and Brazil.
Interesting fact: in order to start selling the car in Brazil, they had to change the name. Vedette means “Star” in French, but in Portuguese, it means “nightclub dancer”. The name problem was settled with the adoption of “Chambord”, which was one of the many French versions for the Vedette. Even the engine name was changed to “Tufão” (hurricane).
The factory in Brazil was established in the state of São Paulo and latter was transferred to Minas Gerais.
The car was aimed to the higher class Brazilian costumers ,and its rivals were the FNM “JK” and the Aero Willys. The Simca Chambord had some positive points when compared to the JK: It was cheaper, it had a V8 under the hood and it had the unmistakable “50s American way of life” looks.
The negative points were obvious. The little 2.4 L V8 was a Flathead with same power output as the four cylinder Alfa engine. The Chambord was not half as tightly built as the JK. It was gorgeous outside but flimsy inside. The electrical system proved to be a nightmare.
All of us know how hot a Flatty V8 likes to run, let alone in a tropical country. The “Tufão” engine had a very low tolerance for abuses. But when compared to the Aero, the Chambord was a better car overall.
Even with all those downsides, the Simca sold well in Brazil. In 1961 came the “Presidente” version; it was a top-tier luxurious model with some exclusive items like a Continental spare tire kit, all leather interior, AM radio, heater and a very cool bottle and crystal glass compartment for the passengers in the back seat. The engine of the Presidente version had double two barrel carbs and higher compression ratio, delivering 105 hp. It cost 20% more than a regular Chambord.
People of Simca do Brasil were so thrilled by the performance of this engine that they decided to create a sports version of the Chambord called “Rallye”. The car had some exclusive chrome trims, brighter choices of color and two fake hood scoops.
In 1964, all the Brazilian Simcas received a higher roof and bigger windshields making the car even more comfortable. The station wagon was also presented in this year, called “Jangada”.
The engines got a bit more powerful; the “Tufão” had 2,414cc (147 cid), 100hp @ 4800 rpm, and for the top versions there was the “Super Tufão” with 2,505cc (153 ci). The car got a better cooling system for the engine, relieving the overheating headache.
In 1966, Chrysler assumed total control of French Simca, and in that same year, its influence started to show in the Brazilian products. The most notorious of the influences came in a last-ditch effort to improve the performance of the good and old Flatty.
A French engineer name Jack Jean Pasteur, created (or just copied) a similar solution as Zora Arkus Duntov created in 1947, a pair of “OHV” aluminum heads, with hemispherical combustion chambers, improving dramatically the flow of the gases and the cooling of the whole engine. The compression ratio was now at 9.5:1 and that required high octane gasoline in order to run smooth, and the power output jumped to 140hp. To keep all those horses running cool, an oil cooler was installed.
The new engine was unveiled in April 1966. It was indeed a scaled-down “copy cat” version of the Zora Arkus “Ardun” heads.
Chrysler gave its final touch naming the creation “Emi-Sul”, something like: The “Hemi of the South”.
Yes sir!!! We did have our own Chrysler Hemi… sort of.
The “Hemi” gave a new breath of performance to the Chambord, but the car was pretty much outdated. By July 1966, a newly designed Simca debuted in Brazil. The top of the line was called “Esplanada” and a simpler version “Regente”
In the next year, the first wave of Chrysler directors came to take care of business in Brazil. All the cars in production kept the “Simca” badges but a little tag inside the engine compartment says: “Produced by Chrysler Corp. of Brazil”
With the Americans in charge, the quality of the car improved significantly. They even sent a few Esplanadas to the USA for evaluations to see what could be done to make the car more reliable.
By 1969, Chrysler unveiled the Esplanada “GTX” with cool racing stripes, hubcaps that imitated alloy wheels, tachometer and the most important: a four on the floor transmission.
The GTX had a very short life indeed, because in the very same year, Chrysler presented to the public the Dodge Dart, a real Mopar, equipped with a modern, “tough as a nails” small block V8, the LA 318. It would be the only engine option for the Brazilian Darts until its retirement in 1981.
After its discontinuation, Simcas became “a dime a dozen” in the used market. They were a very good option for those who insisted to have an affordable V8 in the garage and for a family who lived constantly in a tight budget like mine, it was perfect. My father is an unconditional fan of the car and he owned more than a couple of them.
It’s a shame he didn’t have a single pic of the cars…
He used to tell us many stories about street racing and how to make the “Tufão” scream:
“When you buy a Simca, the first thing to do is: Install double pipes and make it straight… no mufflers !!!”
Those stories didn’t affect me much; besides I always saw Simcas as very gorgeous cars, but it was a strong influence in my best high school buddy. Later he became a Simca collector and one of the best versed enthusiasts of the brand.
The Brazilian Simcas were a kind of “love it or hate it” car, but no matter what opinion we have about it, the car will always have a special place in our hearts just for being the very first of the Brazilian V8s.