Curbside Classic: 1956 Simca Aronde (90A) – French Training Wheels

(first posted 1/23/2012)    I spent many happy days behind the wheel of a Simca Aronde exactly like this one. It was in Colorado, and I drove it on all of the most scenic and challenging roads in the Rockies: over Trail Ridge Drive, Mount Evans (the highest paved road in the US), Pikes Peak, and all sorts of rough jeep trails. And not just once, but repeatedly. It never missed a beat or let me down. Working its four-speed on-the-tree shifter furiously to extract every last horsepower out of the 1290 cc “Flash”, I was king of the road. Remarkably, the Aronde I drove was almost in the exact same condition as this one, right down to one vital detail:

It wasn’t running. Like this one, it was a discarded junker, sitting under a big pine tree next to the cabin my family rented every summer in the Rockies. I was ten or so, and after our daily hikes in the mountains, I was always eager to get back into its musty and dusty cabin, slip behind the wheel, and “take off”. Mastered that column shifter…no wonder I ended up with a (real) Peugeot 404. My travels are best approximated in this video:

although it’s the bigger V8 Vedette, and has the Rush-Matic automatic overdrive. Close enough.

Now, I’m a firm believer that we are very capable of learning new tasks by just playing them out in our imagination. And if anyone was ever over-qualified to slip behind my parent’s Dodge wagon a few years later, and just take off, it was me. Not that the Simca was my only set of mental training wheels, but I certainly logged more hours in it; well, maybe that and the junked ’48 Dodge on the Yoder’s farm. I shudder to think of just how many hours were spent that way; enough, on to the the Aronde.

Simca Aronde Sport

First though, a brief message from its sponsor: Simca’s history is a bit convoluted. It was Fiat’s extension into France, wholly owned for its early years, including the beginning of the Aronde era. Until the Aronde arrived in 1951, all Simca’s were actually Fiats, like this Simca 8 Sport, which was really a Fiat 508C, despite the Simca badges and its proud and very French-looking owner. And don’t let the long hood fool you; it had all of 50 hp under the hood. Tasty, nevertheless.

The Aronde arrived in 1951, Simca’s first non-Fiat mobile. But the engine was still the Fiat-designed Flash four, with 1221 cc and 45 hp. And I suspect that under the skin, it probably bore more than passing resemblance to the Fiat 1400. Typical for Fiats of the time, it was very conventional in its design and construction; not the stereotypical exotic Frenchie-mobile, like the Panhard. And don’t let those midgets in this rendering fool you; it was sized like a typical mid-level European sedan of the times.

That first version was the Series 9. In 1955, an updated 90A was introduced, which our featured car represents. It was built through 1958. I’m just guessing its exact year of manufacture.

The Flash engine (this picture is not from the featured car) was now packing 1290 cc, and between 55 and 58 hp. Enough to take an Aronde to a top speed of 82 mph, and not just in one’s imagination. Zero to sixty: 24 seconds. Typical for the times.

Now it should be noted that Arondes were not unusual in America during the mid-late fifties import boom. And after Chrysler bought a 15% share of Simca from Ford in 1958 (which they got from selling their French ops to Simca, which resulted in the flat-head V8 powered Vedette), Simcas were typically sold by Chrysler dealers, although not always.

It wasn’t just all sedans like these being off-loaded the old-fashioned way at a US harbor. A charming hard-top coupe  was available for lovers of that genre.

And for even more zest (and money) Simca also sold sporty variants, like this handsome Coupe De Ville. Cars like this were a bit of a challenge to sell in the US, because their coach-built bodies were expensive, yet with some 60 or so hp under the hood, it was  hardly a threat to that domestic Coupe De Ville.

The convertible here sports the moniker “Week End Convertible”, which was a bit of a departure from the the name it carried back home. Odd. Simca.

In 1959, the final version of the Aronde, the P60 appeared, along with a new/revised and delightfully named “Rush” engine, now with five main bearings. The Super-Rush even boasted 70 hp.

And a new sports convertible, the delightfully breezy Oceane evoked a touch of Thunderbird as well as Italian in its designer suit. Nice.

The Aronde pretty much “made” Simca, turning it from a small Fiat outpost into substantial operation. Which is of course why Chrysler wanted it, in their ill-fated effort to match GM and Ford in Europe. In the US, the Aronde met the same fate as so many other imports, dwindling away in the face of the Big Three compacts, as well as the domination of VW.

The Aronde was replaced with the Simca 1300/150). If any found there way to the US, I’ve never seen one.  The baby-Corvair rear-engined 1000 (above) gave Simca a genuine Renault-fighter, and some of them made the trip stateside. And Simca’s last hurrah was the brilliant 100/1204, the true winner of our 1971 small-car shoot out.

It was a nice surprise finding this Aronde on the side of a back-country road. My only regret was that I didn’t get a chance to “drive” it. I know it would have started right up for me.