Curbside Classic: Simca 1000 – The Franco-Italian Baby Corvair

Simca 1000 f 1200(pictures posted at the Cohort by Bryce)

Bryce, why are you showing me these pictures of a Simca 1000 at bed time? This is a car I’ve long wanted to write up here, but if I get into the story in great detail, I’ll be dreaming about Simca 1000s with their tails out all night. But it is a rather compelling bed-time story, so I’ll just have to try to tell it to you a wee bit quickly.

Simca 1000 Berline

Until 1963, Big Papa Fiat was little nephew Simca’s primary shareholder. That gave Simca’s Director-General Henri Pigozzi, an Italian (obviously), unfettered access to Fiat’s advanced studios. After the launch of the very successful rear-engined Fiat 600 in 1955, Fiat set itself the task to develop a slightly larger car, but still rear-engined. Two prototype concepts were developed; a two-door sedan and a four door.

CC 26 100 1200

Since Fiat eventually went the two-door route with the 850, like this one that buzzes around Eugene like a hysterical Chihuahua, Pigozzi was essentially given the four door prototype, as Simca was hankering for a small car with which to do battle against the big bad Renault Dauphine.

The Fiat “Project 122” was a boxy little car, and Simca took it gladly and developed it into the production 1000, which premiered in 1961. Styling was done by Mario Revello de Beaumont, also an Italian ex-pat that had worked at GM’s Design Center before going to Simca in 1955.

Corvair 1960 500

It’s a tidy little car which shows some tell-tale styling influence of the Corvair, which was shown at the Paris Auto Show in September of 1959, just when the styling on the 1000 was being fleshed out by Sr. de Beaumont. Not it’s not one of the more blatant European Corvair clones, but it does pay some homage, mainly around the front end. And of course it was also rear-engined, but much smaller. The Corvair was a large car for European standards of the time, with a wheelbase the same as an S-Class Mercedes.

Simca 1000 rq

Despite it being a Fiat hand-me-down, Simca did develop a new engine for the 1000, a 944 cc water-cooled ohv four with five main bearings and alloy cross-flow head. This engine, known as the “Poissyengine”, would be built in many sizes, from 777cc all the way to 1592cc, and would even find its way into Chrysler’s Omni-Horizon twins, replacing the VW base engine. It was not loved in that particular role.

Simca 1000 engine -1951101362170720image: collectioncar.com

In its use in the Chrysler twins, it was often mistakenly called a Peugeot engine, but that’s only because Peugeot had by then  bought the remnants of Chrysler’s European ops from Chrysler. Maybe it was Peugeot’s way of getting back at Chrysler, for the basket of bum goods it ended up with. Renaming them Talbot didn’t help any either. So it should really have been called the “Talbot” engine in those Omnirizons. Whatever. The last use of the Poissy was in 1991, in the Peugeot 309; fitting.

Simca 1000 Abarth

But that engine had plenty of sporting potential, which Italian tuner Abarth soon put to good use with a series of tuned Simca-Abarth 1150s. These had 1137 cc and between 55-65 hp, with optional disc brakes and a six-speed(!) transmission. Where did that come from?

Simca  1000 _Rallye_2_coupe_SRT_77_-_Front_right_1image: wikipipedia

Simca eventually built its own line of Rallye models, which gave the Renault Gordini R8s a run for their money. These little rear engine bombs were a hot item in the late 60s and early 70s. The final Rallye 3 had no less than 103 (DIN) hp, and would have run circlus around a Corvair Corsa. And that orange Matra Bagheera in the background used a number of Simca 1000 components, as well as a version of the Poissy engine.

Simca 1000 ad _62

The Simca 1000 enjoyed quick success in France; it wasn’t able to best the Dauphine, but it handily beat the Citroen Dyane and was the the #2 seller in its class. It was noted for its fairly roomy interior despite the small size, light steering, and sporty handling, with beaucoup dé la oversteer (pardon my French). Since the Simca also had its gas tank in the rear, weight distribution was 35/65, about as extreme a rear-bias as any production car ever. Calling Ralph Nader!

simca 1000 ad  ph

In 1963, Chrysler took a controlling share in Simca. The 1000 was sold in the US by those few Chrysler dealers adventurous enough to keep an oar in the import waters in the mid 60s, by which time it was tougher sledding for Simca than it had been in the 50s, when the Simca Aronde had been quite popular during the Great Import Boom.  (CC here)  It wasn’t very common, but one would see 1000s around, although it’s been an eternity since I’ve seen one. It’s on my CC-finds Bucket List.

Simca 1000 s

But Bryce caught this one on the streets in New Zealand, and it looks like it’s been getting some love and attention, even a two-tone paint job. The 1000 was also built in Spain, and had a long life, lasting until 1978 in France. By that time, it was pretty obsolete. The very advanced FWD Simca 1100/1204 had long superseded it as Simca’s main compact car.

Simca Coupe 1000 Bertone

Of course, there’s another whole chapter to the Simca 1000 story, the exceptionally handsome Simca Coupe 1000 (later Simca 1200S), built by Bertone, and designed by the newly-hired young Giorgetto Giugiaro. This is his very first design, and clearly hints at many others to come that bore his distinctive touch. If this coupe was anything to go on, it was obvious that Giugiaro was headed for a bright future. But we”ll have to leave that for another night; lights out.

Related reading:  1956 Simca Aronde   Simca 1204-1971 Small Car Comparison #2