Well, it cannot be put off any longer: we’re finally coming to the Simca saga. This edition of French Deadly Sins will attempt to untangle one of the most complex automotive clusterfucks ever devised by modern man. Tomorrow, we will (re-)visit the ancient Talbot marque, which was famously resurrected to replace Simca, only to fade away again. And then, we’ll look into the whole Matra side of things – another genealogical headache. But let’s kick off with the meat-and-potatoes: What happened to Simca?
The lead character in our Simca story is “Henri-Théodore” Pigozzi. Born in 1898 as Enrico Teodoro, Pigozzi arrived in Paris in 1922. Pigozzi wasn’t an immigrant per se. He was more of an expat, sent by Fiat to find sources of scrap metal for the Turin factories. Pigozzi was a Fiat man through and through. And he noticed there were a number of Fiats on French roads. They were imported, but tariffs on imports made them less competitive than if they were assembled locally. The 26-year-old Pigozzi persuaded Fiat that he was the man to do it. He rented a small factory and CKD kits were sent over from Turin – subject to a much lower tariff, naturally.
The operation was an immediate success: almost 30,000 cars were sold in the first 20 months. In 1926, Pigozzi was officially made CEO of Fiat-France, even as a bigger factory was bought in Suresnes, just west of Paris. This area was quite the French Motown at the time: only Berliet, Bugatti, Mathis and Peugeot were based out in the provinces.
The CKD operation had its limits, though. Custom duties on spare parts were increased in 1930, and Fiat were keenly aware that this hamstrung their efforts in France. Pigozzi’s solution was to increase locally-sourced content: by 1933, the French Fiat 508 Balilla was 100% made in Suresnes. The second step was to create a new company, the “Industrial Company for Automobile Bodies and Mechanicals” or Société industrielle de mécanique et de carrosserie automobile (SIMCA, pronounced “Seem-kah”), in late 1934. The cars proposed by Simca-Fiat, as the business was known initially, were virtually identical to the 1-litre Fiat 508 Balilla and 2-litre 518 Ardita.
The issue of production capacity soon became evident. The Simcas were too expensive because they were not produced on a modern assembly line. But this was the heart of the Depression and Automakers were going bust left and right. Jérôme Donnet, who had just built a huge factory in Nanterre, declared bankruptcy in the last weeks of 1934, around the same time as André Citroën.
While Michelin took over Citroën, Simca-Fiat acquired the state-of-the-art Nanterre factory, but ditched the Donnet range. Pigozzi was, at age 36, at the helm of one of the biggest operations in the Parisian auto-belt. All he needed now was a smaller car than the 11CV that was the marque’s mainstay up to now: that segment was getting far too crowded for comfort (see: Berliet).
The tiny Fiat Topolino, known as the Simca 5, arrived in 1936, soon followed by the Fiat 1100 (Simca 8). The cars became plain “Simca” after 1937, but the designs were just as Fiat as before. Simca’s strategy was to increase volume as much as possible, and the 5 and 8 were perfect for the French motorist of the late ‘30s.
The dark war and German occupation years were tough on a man like Pigozzi, who was viewed with suspicion by all sides: an Italian citizen, he was de facto under the protection of the occupant. But he was not too cooperative and kept well-placed friends on the French side of the equation. As a citizen from an enemy country, Pigozzi necessarily went through a bumpy ride after the Allies liberated Paris in August 1944.
After couple of years in legal limbo, Pigozzi managed to regain control of his creation. He promptly kicked out J.A. Grégoire (See: Hotchkiss and Panhard) and his front-drive follies and resumed production of the 5 and 8.
Simca’s first “non-Fiat” design was a Nanterre-made restyle of the Topolino called the Simca Six. Displayed in 1947 but not really produced until 1949, it was Simca’s first taste of failure. The car was too small for its segment, competing against 4-door saloons like the Citroën 2CV, Panhard Dyna X and Renault 4CV. Simca killed off their little car range in 1951, focusing instead – from now until the end, really – on the “standard 1200cc family car.” The only real competition in this segment was Peugeot, so this promised to be a juicy money-maker.
Work on the new mid-range Simca began in 1946 and was entirely undertaken in Turin, alongside the Fiat 1400. Pigozzi wanted a slightly smaller 1300cc car, with its own look, though it still used the Fiat 1400’s monocoque body. The Simca 9 Aronde, one of the marque’s iconic models, arrived in late 1951 and was an immediate and prolonged hit, taking Simca to stratospheric heights.
Pigozzi was careful to also provide Simca with a halo car. The Simca Sport, a Farina design that was also seen on early Ferraris, was included in the range in 1948. The body was built in France by the famous Facel firm and mated to a Simca 8 1200 chassis. That was upgraded to the 1300cc engine in 1951.
Simca Sport production was entrusted to a new but promising player in the field. Facel CEO and chief designer Jean Daninos provided several iterations of the deluxe Simcas, which were easily the carmaker’s most luxurious product to date. Until the closing weeks of 1954, that is…
In another display of excellent business acumen, Pigozzi negotiated the acquisition of Ford’s French branch (Ford SAF), along with its modern and massive Poissy factory, as well as a range of V8-powered cars and trucks. The American-designed Vedette began to bear Simca badges in early 1955, giving Simca a ready-made executive range and the only 8-cyl. car made in France – and eventually, in Brazil. The Simca V8 story is worth a whole post to itself, which fortunately exists already.
Having the Aronde and the Vedette meant that Simca’s production volume (around 200,000 cars per year) exceeded Peugeot’s, and Poissy – Simca’s largest factory by far – could be harnessed to potentially double that number. Once truck-makers Unic and Saurer were purchased in 1955-56, combined car and truck production at Simca was at times higher than even Citroën.
The Aronde kept being refreshed every couple of years, and now included 2-door variants: a splendid hardtop coupé and a handy wagon. And if you didn’t fancy a factory-made one, there were options out there…
There were also quite a few coachbuilt specials made in those days. Pigozzi was close to his compatriot Joseph Figoni, whose last custom bodies were made on Simca chassis. But there were others too – Simca was now a major player on the European scene.
Simca’s ownership had evolved to include a few French and Swiss investors, as well as Ford, but Fiat kept a controlling share. In 1958, Ford and some of the smaller investors sold their Simca shares to Chrysler, who wanted to have a foothold in Europe like the other Big Two. Always seeking extra factory space, Pigozzi purchased his old neighbour and compatriot Antoine Lago’s Talbot works in the summer of 1958.
At that precise time, a strange episode took place at Poissy. The Aronde’s latest facelift was about to be unveiled, and the firm’s production managers took it upon themselves to start a pre-series of 700 cars. When he discovered the cars in August 1958, Pigozzi flew into an almighty rage. He hadn’t given the design his final personal green light, and he absolutely hated it. Assembly was immediately halted and the cars, all finished in black, were parked in Bacalan, near Bordeaux. Most were discreetly exported to the Eastern Bloc (especially Hungary, Czechoslovakia and East Germany) in 1959 – the Simca that went to the cold…
The Pigozzi-approved P60 facelift was presented a bit later, but that was to be the Aronde’s last. The key to success was necessarily going to involve a new small car, which Fiat engineering and Chrysler money would facilitate.
The Simca 1000, a 1-litre rear-engined 4-door saloon, was launched in 1961. Perhaps it was not the wisest choice in terms of layout in retrospect, but at the time, the rear-engine solution still had its appeal – especially over at Fiat.
The 1000 sprouted a handsome Bertone coupé variant in 1963, taking over from the old generation Simca Sport. That Italian connection remained strong… But the little 1000 had a lot of sporting potential, for those who cared to look for it.
Carlo Abarth did just that: in late 1962, he began importing Simca 1000 floorpans and started a series of Abarth-Simca specials, packing an Abarth engine in the tail and draping the whole with a stylish lightweight body. Choices included a 1.3, a 1.6 and a 2-litre – the last of which was really in the same realm as the Porsche Carrera.
These were outrageously expensive and blindingly quick (200 to 230 kph), making them the only genuine sports cars ever associated with the name Simca before the tie-up with Matra. They were certainly the fastest street Simcas ever – though altogether only a couple of hundred were made until 1965.
The bigger headache was the replacement of the rest of the range. Simca had created the Ariane in 1957 by marrying the Aronde’s engine with the Vedette’s pre-facelift body – a roomy family car ensued, much cheaper than the V8-powered models. The model sold very well. Plus, Simca bought the iconic G7 taxi company in Paris around this time, making the Ariane a must-have with that profession for years. The V8 cars were allowed to die off in 1961 without a successor; the Ariane retired in 1963.
By this point in time, the Aronde had had its day as well, at least in terms of looks. Simca and Fiat worked on a completely new bodyshell, longer and wider to match the Ariane’s measurments, but kept the Aronde’s suspension and engine pretty much untouched, with the exception of a new 1.5 litre version. The Simca 1300/1500 was launched in 1963, amidst tempestuous changes within the company.
Fiat sold a majority of their Simca shares to Chrysler in late 1962, giving the Americans 65% of Simca’s automobile branch. But Chrysler soon realized they had been duped: Pigozzi had split Simca’s car-making and truck branches, the latter being called Simca Industries, in 1960. Simca Industries also included the group’s forges, the Nanterre plant and several subsidiaries. Pigozzi (and Fiat) remained in control of that side of the business, which was essential to the whole. This meant that Chrysler were forced to buy components and spares from Simca Industries, at least for the meantime. Pigozzi was fired from his post as CEO in May 1963 and replaced by former Sud-Aviation boss Georges Héreil.
Henri-Théodore Pigozzi – alias Monsieur Simca – died of a heart attack in 1964. Simca Industries, which was also distributor of Fiat cars in France, kept producing trucks under the Unic marque for decades and became one of the largest car importers in the country, even as Neckar deserted the field. Chrysler’s buying spree continued, as the American giant took over Rootes in the UK and Barreiros in Spain.
On the new car front, work had been pressing ahead on a completely new design, in the works since about 1961. A sketch by a young Robert Opron, then working at Simca’s small styling studio, had caught the eye of Fiat designers, and the idea blossomed into a completely new car. The Simca 1100’s handsome hatchback design was refined and mated to an all-new transverse-engined FWD platform – all very modern for the time.
Chrysler initially balked at the model’s technically more complex solutions, but the Simca designers won them over. Launched in 1967, the Simca 1100 became a huge hit throughout Europe (though it bombed badly in the US).
Chrysler figured that the French were competent enough for the compact segment, but not the executive one. A form of internal competition within Chrysler Europe was taking place in the second half of the ‘60s, pitting the Simca “Projet 929” against the Rootes boys’ efforts. The Brits wore or less won the whole deal – they did have much more expertise in big cars than Simca did – and the new “big” Chrysler Europe car went ahead.
The result, unveiled in 1970, was the Chrysler 160/180. It was not badged as a Simca or a Humber, hoping instead to reap the benefits of the “magic” of the Chrysler name. That was Chrysler’s view of it, anyway. Chrysler even conjured up a 6-cyl. version for the Australian market, the infamous Centura.
In Europe, it was available with a choice of 1.6, 1.8, and later 2-litre Simca 4-cyl. engines, which were deemed quite adequate. At issue were the 160/180’s bland styling, rather derivative and Detroit-esque, courtesy of Roy Axe, the man behind the Hillman Hunter and Avenger. The Chrysler 180 fit well into Rootes’ range, but seemed a bit lost above Simca’s. The car’s conservative underpinnings and somewhat bastardized nature did not help, either.
Two other important events took place in 1970 for Simca. One was the Matra deal, inked in December 1969. The upstart marque, which was a defense contractor before buying out René Bonnet, brought massive amounts of racing cred to Simca, as well as a daring GRP-bodied coupé, the Matra M530. It was an interesting machine, but used a Ford engine. Matra were quick to develop its successor, the 1973 Matra-Simca Bagheera. This became a new line for Simca: mid-engined coupés, using the same 1.3 as found on the marque’s rear-engined, RWD and FWD saloons. Simca tried to spin that into a good thing…
The Matra joint-venture also meant that Simca’s partners Chappe & Gessalin were put into an uncomfortable position. Chappe & Gessalin had developed their own GRP-bodied Simca-engined sports car, the CG marque, which had been available via Simca dealers since late 1967. The CG became somewhat superfluous after 1970, yet carried on for another three seasons, its sales eroded down to a few dozen cars by 1973. The Matra-Simca Begheera took over that year and the CG marque died out.
Also, from January 1st 1970, the company was officially renamed “Chrysler France,” as part of Chrysler’s grand European plan. This meant the Pentastar replaced every Simca swallow emblem on the many Simca showrooms in France and abroad, but very little else. The Simca name was far too entrenched to disappear from the cars themselves, or from the ads. At most, a discreet pentastar logo was added to the wing or the dashboard. Only the Chrysler-branded cars had them on the grille – at least, initially.
Barreiros, who mostly manufactured Dodge trucks but also a few Darts, had become “Chrysler España” and began to assemble some Simca models for the local market. Chrysler UK’s remains could also now be distributed through Barreiros and Simca, though few people were tempted. But whereas the Rootes brands were already on borrowed time, it seemed that the Simca marque was here to stay.
The RWD 1301/1501 range was getting mighty long in the tooth, but kept a loyal fan-base – especially in Benelux and Germany, for some reason. The 1501 saloon disappeared from the French range in 1970 to make room for the Chrysler 160, but returned in 1974 when it became clear the big Chrysler was a failure.
On the more bread-and-butter saloon front, the Simca range in the first half of the ‘70s was ageing gracefully, but still ageing. The little 1000, like its adopted cousin the Hillman Imp, was on the production line for eons. By the end, with its square headlamps and plastic faux-grille, it had changed beyond recognition…
The FWD 1100 was Simca’s strongest seller by a mile, impervious to the Oil Shock and still fresh thanks to its hatchback, as well as its successful utility versions. The 1100 was in the ‘70s what the Aronde had been in the ‘50s: the ubiquitous Simca, with that distinctive tappetty engine note. Other models were rather second-fiddle.
The integration of Chrysler Europe’s disparate British, French and Spanish components was starting to work better, though. The proof of that was the Chrysler-Simca 1307/1308, which debuted in late 1975 and was elected European Car of the Year for 1976 – finally killing off the venerable 1301/1501. The 1307/1308 featured an airy British-designed hatchback body, FWD and polymer bumpers. The car was an immediate hit, but in fact Simca were only barely keeping up with the Joneses. Ever since Peugeot and Citroën started broadening their range in the ‘60s, Simca was permanently the smallest of the four main French automakers; their market share continued to slip.
In the UK, the 1307/1308 was marketed as the Chrysler Alpine. I am indebted to CC contributor Yohdai71 for his recommendation of a series of ‘70s British automobile reports, made by Thames TV. It’s just five minutes – well worth your while. And it hints at the fact that, by in 1976, things were looking rotten in the kingdom of Mopar. Chrysler had a big enough headache with the remains of Rootes, but now that Simca’s health was ailing also, the game was more or less up. In fact, given the state of Chrysler overall, it would take major miracle (or some sort of merger) for Mopar to continue existing at all.
Nevertheless, the Horizon was introduced in November 1977 and got rave reviews. It was a new kind of Chrysler – their first true worldwide compact, to be built and sold on both sides of the Atlantic and across most of the corporation’s marques: a Simca in France and Spain, the Horizon was a Chrysler in Britain and a Dodge or Plymouth in the States. Another one with an identity crisis…
Model Year 1978 was the rear-engined Simca 1000’s last. The 1100, now over ten years old, took over as the cheapest car of the range, but it was clearly on its last legs. So few 180/2-litre Chrysler saloons were being sold (about 11,000 made that year) that the whole line had been moved to Barreiros, as the car had a small following there. On the British side, the Imp was already dead, soon to be followed by the Hunter, the Avenger barely hanging on and the new Sunbeam was already flaming out. Despite the British government’s generosity, Chrysler’s bean-counters were seeing red everywhere.
The small circle of decision-makers on the European automotive scene knew that Chrysler’s life was in jeopardy. Talks with Peugeot had started since 1976, but the recent merger with Citroën had slowed things down. And both sides were trying to finagle the best deal possible, naturally. When the deal was announced in August 1978, no money changed hands.
Well, Peugeot officially paid Chrysler US$1 for Simca, Rootes and everything else, which included US$400m in debts. In actuality, Peugeot also paid US$230m in cash and gave Chrysler a 15% stake in PSA, as the Peugeot-Citroën-Talbot conglomerate became known. Chrysler even borrowed US$100m from PSA against that in 1980.
Peugeot found themselves without cash and with a highly indebted collection of factories across three countries, whose fast ageing output was pretty similar PSA’s own. Simca still had a relatively good image on the Continent, but it was deemed impossible to rebadge the Chrysler UK cars as Simcas. The marque simply did not have enough chops for the Great British market. Somebody at PSA realized that Simca and Rootes both owned the Talbot name, so the decision was made to lose both Chrysler and Simca in favour of Talbot, starting from Model Year 1980.
And so Simca passed away in the summer of 1979. At least in theory – in practice, some 1980-81 cars still had Simca badges on the rear and Talbot on the front. Whatever the actual date of its demise, the Simca name was unceremoniously dumped on the ash-heap of automotive history. However, none of the Simca-branded cars really qualify as a Deadly Sin – some were more successful than others, but they were all competent enough. Unlike, say, the Rootes side of the equation. On the Dodge side, PSA found a way to recoup some of their losses by selling off the truck line to Renault.
This meant the immediate disappearance of the Karrier and Commer nameplates, but Chrysler UK also sold trucks under the Dodge, DeSoto and Fargo brands. Renault thought about this for a bit and actually elected to keep the Dodge name on the grille, but badge it as a Renault. This lunacy went on for several years.
But back to the car side. The Chrysler 180/2-litres sold rather poorly, but critically, it was badged and marketed as a Chrysler (until that name was ditched for 1979-80). And it was just one of a wide range of Chrysler-France cars – the other ones, Matra included, still sold ok. Simca lost ground mostly due to the gradual growth of imports. France became one of the biggest Fiat importers in the world in the ‘70s, which didn’t help…
Simca’s eroding market share was cause for concern, but not execution. The main problem was Simca’s profitability, which wasn’t very high at the best of times. Having a range composed of FWD, RWD, mid-engined and rear-engined cars was not necessarily a problem for Fiat, but for a much smaller operation like Simca, that was perhaps a fatal flaw. Chrysler were stuck with this inheritance (and a similar one across the Channel called the Hillman Imp) but took years to act. Simca had a small FWD 4-door ready to replace the 1000 just about ready by 1968, but it remained a prototype. It could have taken on the Renault 5. But no, the rear-engined cars went on, and slipped ever lower in the rankings.
And there were plainly a lot of political and national pride issues at play. While Simca had managed to climb these dizzying heights, they did so with Fiat’s technical and financial backing. Pigozzi, seen by his peers, his staff and his partners as a mercurial and manipulative man, kept Simca in relative isolation within the French automotive landscape. Pigozzi was famously mistrusted by De Gaulle, who knew Simca’s size made it a key industrial asset, but its ownership was a source of permanent tension.
Fiat was replaced by Chrysler and the isolation only increased: Simca became an American Trojan horse, an even worse threat to deal with than the Italians. Simca, for Peugeot-Citroën’s top brass, was all that and more, it was the acronym of a relentless, brilliant, dynamic and at times daring competitor that had plagued them since the ‘30s.
And in the final analysis, Simca was just an avatar of Fiat that went rogue. Fiat created many – Autobianchi, FSO, Neckar, Zastava and, in a roundabout way, Steyr-Puch and Premier. Notice how they’re all dead now? Simca was a creature of Fiat, and they died like a creature of Fiat: without much regret, but also without Deadly Sin.
That will not be the case for tomorrow’s post, though. See you then.
Curbside Classic: 1956 Simca Aronde (90A) – French Training Wheels, by PN
Automotive History: The Small Ford Flathead V8 (V8-60), Part Three – The Simca Years, by T87
Curbside Classic: Simca 1000 – The Franco-Italian Baby Corvair, by PN
Curbside Classic – 1966 Simca 1301: The Conventional But Good Looking Simca, by Roger Carr
Un-Curbside Classic: Simca 1204 (1100) – 1971 Small Car Comparison No. 2, by PN
Carshow Classic: 1973 Chrysler 180 – British, French, American…Or Just Forgotten?, by Roger Carr
Cohort Sighting: 1979 Chrysler 150 GT (C6) – A Rare Survivor From Spain, by PN
Automotive History: The Rise, Decline and Fall Of The Rootes Group – “I Am The Engine, Reggie Is The Steering And Brakes”, by Roger Carr
* * *
European Deadly Sins series
French DS 1 (Hotchkiss, Panhard, Citroën) — French DS 2 (Bugatti, Facel-Vega, Monica)
French DS 3 (Berliet, Salmson, Delahaye)
British DS 1 (Jowett, Armstrong Siddeley, Daimler) — British DS 2 (Alvis, Lagonda, Gordon-Keeble)
British DS 3 (Invicta, Standard, Reliant)
German DS 1 (BMW, Borgward, Glas) — German DS 2 (Neckar, DKW, NSU)
Italian DS 1 (Autobianchi, Iso, Lancia) — Italian DS 2 (Isotta Fraschini, ASA, De Tomaso)
Other DS 1 (Minerva-Impéria, Monteverdi, DAF)
What an absolutely fantastic article. So glad I found this site!
Wow – talk about a convoluted history! I kept up with things until the mid-sixties, but I think I’m going to have to read the parts after that again. And again. And maybe even again…
That Heuliez Simca 1500 coupe looks an awful like the Datsun 1000 coupe, even to the pinstripe along the side.
Sir? Sir? I have a headache, sir.
Quite brilliant stuff, Teacher87, matched by the heading – you really do start thinking “Wha? How did we end up here?” Bien joue, Msr, in fact extraordinaire, really.
I wonder, would I be right in forming the impression that our Mr Pigozzi was one of those genius operators whose ethics were….shall we say, adjustable?
Yes, sir, ofcourse I took notes, but I really do have a headache. Don’t believe I’ll pass the exam, sir.
I would say Mr. P was simply realistic and (slightly) opportunistic
Glad you liked it, Justy!
Re: Pigozzi’s adjustable ethics — yes, that would be a fair assumption. But it’s not just that. The “Eastern Bloc Aronde” episode also shows him being a micro-manager of the worst kind.
And it’s the pettiness of the man that really made him persona non grata in some circles. For instance, when Simca delivered their presidential parade cars to De Gaulle in 1960, the cars left Simca’s special workshop to go to Chapron’s for the carrossier for the interior. Chapron did his customary excellent job and put his logo on the car’s side.
When Pigozzi saw Chapron’s plaque, he went berserk. He yelled and screamed that the car’s entire body was 100% Simca-made, so Henri Chapron had no right to put his mark anywhere on the body to make it seem like he did the bodywork. He only did the upholstery!
The Chapron insignia were taken off. This caused a small delay in delivering the car — and the president’s carrossier, who was most displeased by the entire episode, most probably contributed to Pigozzi’s dark legend by telling this story (and many others) to his illustrious client…
Screwing Ford and Chrysler or buying out Unic and Talbot was one thing. But being so ruthless and petty-minded with artisans and underlings was seen as very inappropriate.
Tatra, I don’t know what’s better: when you write about an automaker I didn’t think I wanted to know more about (or didn’t know existed) or when you write about one I wanted to learn more about.
Thanks for another brilliant article. Although now you’ve got me wanting to learn more about each individual Simca line so if you’re ever at a loss for what else to write about…
In the meantime, I’m going to revisit the other Simca content on here!
By the way, my favourite line:
“Renault thought about this for a bit and actually elected to keep the Dodge name on the grille, but badge it as a Renault. This lunacy went on for several years.”
Merci, monsieur Stopford!
But it’s unclear whether this post falls into the “automaker I didn’t think I wanted to know more about (or didn’t know existed)” or the “one I wanted to learn more about” category.
I encourage you (and everyone else) to also read the V8-60 series I wrote up a while back. The story behind the creation of the French Ford branch by teaming up with (and destroying) Mathis, some cool British and a American Fords in supporting roles, the post-war Vedette, the Simca takeover and the long-lived Brazilian derivatives — it’s just as crazy as the Simca story, but even wider in scope, in many ways.
Lol sorry, I didn’t specify. The second category.
And yup, I’ve already started re-reading!
Fascinating and its not an unknown brand for me, the local Simca dealer lived over our back fence and I walked past his showroom on my way to school in the 60s so Ive seen some of these cars but by no means all of them, I owned a 57 Aronde a rusted out heap I paid $40 for and put the plates and rego label from my MK2 Zephyr on and drove it till it died which didnt take long, I also owned a Chrysler Centura a 78 model with 245 cube hemi six and four speed it was a very fast car great open road tourer comfy quiet and nice to ride in, I fitted nolothane bushings in the front end which improved the handling some and wound it off the end of the speedo down conrod straight on a quiet Sunday morning just for fun, Theres a fairly comprehensive Simca collection a couple of streets from me and the owners know about curbside classic, I hope Colin and Ivan see this post.
Is it known whether a 4-door version of the Fiat Topolino / Simca 6 was investigated?
Read Simca looked at an all-alloy water-cooled OHC 950cc Flat-4 (putting out 55 hp SAE) for the Simca 1000, which is apparently at CAAPY (Simca musuem in Poissy).
The small FWD 4-door Simca had to replace the 1000 would be Project 936, there was also later on the Horizon-based C2-Short prototype. – https://driventowrite.com/2017/03/19/simca-936-prototype/ and https://drive-my.com/en/retro-carss/item/2687-project-936-simca-s-mini-venture.html
Worth mentioning the European version of the Horizon was derived from the 1100 and Alpine, while the North American version featured a unique platform that was allegedly a reversed-engineered mk1 Volkswagen Golf platform (forming the basis of the L platform / K platform).
Also read the Type 180 engine was inspired by the BMW M10 engine (which lets not forget formed the basis of the M30 6-cylinder as well as the experimental M10-based V8 and M30-based V12 engines*), with Matra looking at a OHC (or DOHC) version of the Poissy engine.
As for the Simca 1300/1500 engines, it is interesting to note the engines similarity to the Fiat 1300/1500 as well as the fact the likes of Abarth** and OSCA (via the Fiat Pininfarina Cabriolet) managed to get more power out of the engines along with enlarging it to around 1600cc.
Such upgrades would have made the 1300/1500 more competitive though am surprising Simca never looked at a downscaled version of the 1300/1500 of similar dimensions to the BMW 02, a case could have been made for a Simca 1100-based saloon or earlier Alpine / Solara.
From Fiat’s end, no development appears to have taken place for a four-door Topolino, nor for its stillborn slightly larger sibling the 700. The 1948-onward Topolino Belvedere ‘wagon’ was the first time it received four seats and actually outsold the ‘standard’ Topolino in the last years of its life.
Fiat was careful about its cars cannibalising in-house, the Nuova 500 was very deliberately shaped to make the rear seats practical only for smaller bodies, so as not to intrude upon the 600’s base-model four seater status.
It seems Dante Giacosa did envision the 700 to be a 4-door 4-seater on page 66 on the following link below, perhaps Simca would have benefited from such a model as an alternate Simca 6?
On page 71, it also seems he was working on a 400 project to replace the 500 Topolino, which was to appear the same time as the 700 had both reached production. Being another potentially successful immediate post-war car for Simca as well as for Fiat.
That pdf is the gift that keeps on giving. I rushed through that chapter of my hard copy; it seems the only prototype/pre-production bodies of the 700 were two-doors.
Indeed, props to whoever uploaded the PDF on the net.
Have been interested in getting a physical copy now and again.
Btw given Simca still had links to Fiat, was it down to the disinterest from the former or reluctance by the latter as to why Simca never produced its own versions of the Fiat 600 and Fiat 500 (or as least its own variations of the latter two)?
FWD versions were investigated by Dante Giacosa along with a V2 engine for what became the Fiat 600, would have been interesting seeing a Simca version of the 500 with a V2 and a version of the 600 with 777-844cc (and under) Poissy engines though one can dream.
Also interested to know whether any links or similarities exist between the 100 Series engine used in the Fiat 600 and the Poissy engine used in the Simca 1000.
AFAIK, the Simca 5 / 6 was never given extra doors. There’s no real back seat, so why bother? Lengthening the chassis would have taxed the engine too much.
Re: the Horizon — the US and EU versions are very different, that is quite true. They look the same, but the body panels do not actually match. Engines were all different and the EU car’s torsion bar front suspension was replaced by a McPherson set-up in the US.
The Horizon was assembled in four European countries: Britain (1980-85), France (1977-86) and Spain (1980-87) of course, but about 18,000 were also made in Finland by Saab-Valmet from 1979 to 1985.
These Uusikaupunki Horizons seem like the coolest of the breed. They came with Saab electrics, a much better heater, better upholstery, better rustproofing, an optional engine that ran on a turpentine/kerosene mix (over 2500 sold!), and probably the best Finnish (ha ha) of the whole Horizon crowd. Around 15,000 Talbot 1510 / Solara saloons were also made in Finland. But Valmet can lay a claim to having made the only “production” 7-door Horizon, as we can see below.
Awesome article, too much to take in in one go, so I’ll be coming back to it.
My dad had a dark green 1501 estate when I was about 8, and I thought it was a particularly handsome car. I particularly remember the tail gate with the wind-down window, and the luggage compartment floor that transformed into a picnic table.
The Talbot Horizon lives large in my memory for having the tinniest sounding engine of any car I’ve ever heard. Always very cheap on the secondhand market.
By the whiskers of Kurvi-Tasch; there’s something familiar about the face on some of those Arondes. You’ve presaged the complicated character of Pigozzi, and this article pays off. In spades. Yet again, T87…
I never knew Phil Lynott drove a Rancho.
Par les Moustaches de Plekszy-Gladz, Dr Andreina, that’s what I thought of too! The rear is just as Tintinny as the front.
This car is used in the new Maigret series, starring Rowan aka Mr Bean Atkinson as commisioner Maigret.
I always wondered what that odd looking Aronde was !
This looks like a Pizza Supreme: it’s got everything on it.
A neighbor had a Simca 1000 Rallye II. When it was cold it only started after the 4th or 5th attempt. It then needed a warm up period that was like a chain smoker’s morning cough.
A teacher at the Gymnasium traded his old Opel Rekord in for a 1301 or 1501. It had an automatic transmission. I like the straight forward rectilinear design with that airy greenhouse a lot. This car seemed to do all right even though it had the drive shaft replaced for a vibration issue.
A frat brother had an 1100 and replaced it with another one. I drove it once on the autobahn and it was a good experience.
While hitch hiking I was picked up buy a guy with a brand new 160. It felt really strange with the dashboard canted towards the feet. And the brother of my friend Willi had 160/180.
They were bargains both new and used. In fact the low purchase price and immediate availability were the two most important marketing points at that time when other makes like Opel and Ford had lengthy waiting periods for their buyers.
There is so much to enjoy here.
I do like the marketing department’s suggestion that a little 1100cc panel van makes an ideal brewer’s dray (with different brands on front and rear). You may like to know that Harveys brewery is still in the centre of the coastal town of Lewes, still brewing in the same handsome old buildings, and filling the air with sweet malty aromas.
Brilliant post!! I always knew the Simca story was convoluted, but wow! Absolutely fascinating how these corporations and brands intertwined.
And now FIAT has Chrysler and is wanting to sell or merge. Expect more intertwining to come!
Even GM wanted no part of this deal back in 2016
There’s also this possibility:
The issue of automobile corporations merging is a bit different now than it was when Simca was slowly absorbed by Chrysler, but the mindset is not.
Any modern merger of current OEMs will be based on consolidation, not synergies. Contraction, not expansion. We are totally in a new era of platform sharing, third party components and systems rather than in-house designed items, and more emphasis on design over engineering by the OEMs. The idea of FCA merging with Hyundai or the Renault/Nissan/Mitsubishi alliance (or any of the three if the alliance falls apart) is more likely than not.
Simca should be a warning, a history lesson lest it get repeated, but I doubt that the lessons learned then will be applied now.
Great point about the drive for consolidation in the industry. There’s no doubt FCA will be combined with another entity. Sergio Marchionne was very focused on that reality, he just didn’t find the right dance partner at the right time, but I’d bet Mike Manley is pursuing a similar strategic direction.
One thing FCA understands is the power of brands, and they have been very effective at unlocking the potential of Jeep globally and Ram domestically. Other FCA brands haven’t fared as well overall, though at least there are interesting relatively small niches covered by Maserati, Alfa Romeo (seductive Italians) and Dodge (Americana for North American buyers). So while Fiat and Chrysler were both fraught with issues, by focusing on the intrinsic value of key portfolio brands and deploying relatively lean operations, the combination came together surprisingly well.
To your point, great brands can be easily botched and corporate cultures can be crushed (Chrysler has already had a few rounds of that), so any potential new mash-ups still may not deliver the expected results over the long-term. I think a potential Renault/Nissan/Mitsubishi linkage would be quite challenging, since the company is already a hot mess and hasn’t demonstrated cohesive product/brand management or a unified vision. Hyundai is more interesting in many ways, since they have focused aggressively on styling (quite successfully at Kia in my opinion), and could slot the FCA products pretty neatly into their group. Hyundai also seem to be an effective “fast follower” from an engineering and technology standpoint, which fits with the FCA development ethos. Culture clashes between the Italians, Americans and Koreans would likely be the biggest obstacle to a successful integration.
However the chips may fall, I’d hope that at least Jeep will continue to thrive, as it would be the crown jewel of most any deal.
I swear, I should get some wheel-time behind a Simca of any sort just so that I can experience this automotive portmanteau myself. Anyone have one that I can use in Florida? Probably not, so I’ll see myself out.
What a sublime wreck of a car manufacturer! Is there any company that has not had some kind of tie-in with Fiat through the decades?
From a US perspective, this is really interesting. From what I can tell the Simca was a pretty good car. But I can tell you that it got virtually no promotion in the US that I can recall. There was a magazine ad every now and then but I could not begin to tell you where someone could have bought one in my hometown, which was a decent sized-city.
It seems to me that the 1100 should have been a great product for the US, if only Chrysler had built it as a 2 door hatch. It could have been a much more advanced Plymouth Cricket than the Rootes version we got. Of course, it may have had difficulty competing with the Mitsubishi product over at the Dodge dealers.
Once Chrysler got its hooks into Simca, I am afraid it was all over. Chrysler demonstrated that it was unable to consistently build and sell good cars at a profit here in its home market. Trying to do the same thing but in French was doomed.
A few months ago I was looking through old newspapers, and was surprised to see an ad for a Simca dealer just about 3 miles from where I now live. And to think… I only missed it by about 5 decades!
I remember seeing print ads ca. 1960 with the slogan “Simca, with the engine in front, where it belongs.”
It seems to me that the 1100 should have been a great product for the US, if only Chrysler had built it as a 2 door hatch.
Oh but they did. The 1100 came as 2- and 4-door hatchbacks and wagons, plus a range of vans. The 2-door was also available in the US, but flopped even worse than the 4-door, IIRC.
The Simca 1100 (or 1204 as it was known stateside, due to it’s larger 1.2L engine) was sold as a two door hatchback. There’s actually one for sale on craigslist in the Detroit area right now.
JP, I’ve been going through old Life Magazines via Google Books & I’ve seen major ads for Simca in the issues from 1959. In fact, I have also seen ads for English Fords which were major one page color ads like the Simca ones.
Like a great meal with leftovers to enjoy for lunch the next day – a wonderful read.
Who in the heck approved the front fins on the Figoni Simca? Must have been commissioned on Opposite Day.
Yes, not Figoni’s most inspired creation… But then, it was 1954. Fins were in. Just not usually pointed forwards, that’s all. Simple mistake, could have happened to anyone.
No wonder these old coachbuilders nearly all went belly-up in the ’50s… Here it is again — a few years later probably, having got rid of some of its bling.
I attempted to rebuild a ’63 Bertone Coupe in the mid-70s, but ran out of time before I was able to get it on the road. IIRC there were something on the order of 150 Coupes exported to the US. I was told by a mechanic that Fiat used Simca as a development test-bed. For example, the engine had a 5-main bearing crank, overkill for 50-ish HP and 963cc. When Fiat did the 850 line, they used a 3-main design to cut cost.
Oh, this takes me back, you are correct that Simca 1100’s were quite popular in Germany when I was a kid, and the rest of the range was interesting as well, if not quite as interesting as the whole history that you’ve laid out so well to fill in a lot of blank pages in my brain, so thank you for that!
The Rancho was a vehicle that I was quite fond of as a boy too, it just looked cool. Not until many years later did I discover that it wasn’t even 4WD even though often (mostly?) pictured in scenes that one would think would require it, could it be the first poser SUV?
It was possibly the world’s first CUV.
What a tangled web – and what an interesting and insightful post about said web.
I wasn’t yet born, but it seems like when Volkswagen became the dominant low-priced import in the early- to mid 1950s, everyone else was looking for “the next Volkswagen” success story. For a period, you could buy a Vauxhall via Pontiac dealers or an Opel via Buick dealers. Ford imported cars from its European operations, and quite a few other European makes were imported independently by American-based importers.
I think that mostly fell apart by 1968, when the list of changes needed to meet American standards grew longer. To “Americanize” a car became prohibitively expensive, and that killed a lot of the smaller players. By the 70s, the devaluation of the dollar vs. European currencies killed off most of what was left of low-priced European imports (except VW) and the bigger players (SAAB/Volvo/Peugeot and others) were forced to move upscale in order to survive.
Can anyone show phonetically, or with an audio clip, how Chrysler is pronounced in France? It feels like almost every syllable would be tough.
Hmm… let me have a go.
Pronounce “R” the French way (guttural) and say:
KRISS (as in “kiss”), or even KRIZZ
LAIR (as in “Bel-Air”)
The name is said in one go, like a sneeze: “KRISLAIR!” (Gesundheit!)
No syllable is stressed, unlike in the English “KRAIZ-lurr “…
Thanks, that helps a lot. Most Americans pronounce French cars name incorrectly (I suppose I should use the past tense, most Americans don’t pronounce French car names at all now). As someone who took French in school every year from age 7 to 16, I struggled not to correct people when I heard “REN-ALT” and “CIT-RONE” though the typically American pronunciation of Peugeot was better than the British. By comparison, Simca was easy.
Visiting a Chrysler-Plymouth showroom in the summer of 1970, I saw a Simca 1100 hatchback sharing floor space with a Barracuda 440 six-pack. Talk about cognitive dissonance…
Thanks for this excellent condensed history of Simca. It’s a story I followed in real time, but undoubtedly a rather challenging one for many Americans or younger readers to wrap their heads around.
I had forgotten that 1501 returned to the French market in 1974. The poor Chrysler 160/180 was such a dud.
And yes, the 1301/1501 was quite popular in Germany, whereas the 160/180 was spurned. There’s something about it that really turned folks off. Its American styling was not that different than what Ford and Opel were doing, but apparently the market that still saw these as Simcas wanted no part of a Chrysler.
My cousin had a Simca 1100 when we visited in 1980, and took several trips in it. A very sweet car, and such a seminal one. But once VW decided to go down that same basic route, Simca was soon pushed to the margins. That’s really the the primary reason for Simca’s failure: Whereas the 1100 had been a pioneer, and stood out against all the RWD cars because of its intrinsic superiority, once VW jumped on the FWD bandwagon, Simca had no more unique qualities. The 1307 looked just like a Passat, and the Horizon like a Golf. It was the almost inevitable beginning of the end.
Thank you Paul
The Chrysler 160/180/2-litre was a new car with dated technology. But compared to the Ford/Opel/Vauxhall competition, they were an unknown quantity. Compared to the Renault 16 or the Peugeot 504, they were dinosaurs. People expected more in that class of cars than what Chrysler were prepared to sell. The boring Detroitesque styling and the lack of a real identity did the rest.
I agree with your point about VW, but don’t underestimate the importance of Fiat in Simca’s demise. Fiat didn’t target only the 1100, but matched the whole range. Perhaps not coincidentally, Fiat’s French sales increased dramatically just as Simca’s market share wavered and fell — which happened while the 1100 was selling very well.
Not to mention the root cause of Simca’s decline in the ’70s: Chrysler, who were in over their heads with this whole European operation and did not have the resources and capacity to either fund or run it properly. Letting the rear-engine cars rot on the vine for a decade too long and without any real successor was entirely Chrysler’s fault. As were the botched 160/180, its equally botched C9 follow-up and the merciless killing of all Rootes brands.
Simca should be a chapter in Chrysler’s Deadly Sins.
What an outstanding piece to read. Simca has always resided in obscurity for me — partly because of the brand’s minuscule US presence, and then due to its association with Chrysler. Now I know the full story… thanks!
Simca’s pre-Chrysler lineup seemed like it had a fairly decent shot at success in North America, but it seems that there were too many hurdles to overcome. I do like this US ad from the late 1950s:
Simca also got a shot in Australia as well. https://www.curbsideclassic.com/blog/cc-capsule/cc-capsule-simca-in-australia-miscellany/
Thanks, Tatra87, for the Cliff’s Note version of Simca. I have known about this brand for a long time but not much of its convoluted history.
Wonderful article ! Back in the day, I didn’t realise that even the 1300/1500 models ( which I rather liked) were engineered by Fiat.
I still remember the shock when the Chrysler 160/180 was launched – the feeling of “why did they bother?”. A relative bought one, when his Rootes dealer was unable to sell him a new Super Snipe – pretty soon he owned his first Mercedes.
It should be remembered that the Hillman Avenger was a hit when it appeared, although it was eventually face-lifted to death, and then cut down and fitted with an Imp motor to become the Talbot Sunbeam. Because the Sunbeam was eventually made into a Lotus engined hot-rod, a few survive as rally-cars.
And yes, I still remember the tappet-noise from my Chrysler Alpine…..
Is a writeup of the Talbot Tagora in the offing?
Tomorrow, same time, same place.
What a terrific piece on a story that has more twists ans turns then we’d expect, and more impact as well. Thanks Tatra87! Your knowledge and research effort show through very clearly. Looking forward to the follow up features.
I remember the demise and break up of Chrysler UK, and struggled even then to understand why Chrysler tried to run 2 model ranges in parallel, a model Ford had long abandoned and GM were quickly moving away from. After all, the Alpine and Horizon got good plaudits and early sales were good, even if their rattling tappets could be heard a mile away.
I’m sure part of that was the average British fleet manager’s wariness of Front Wheel Drive. At the time both Ford and Vauxhall consolidated round front engine, rear wheel drive models (Escort, Cortina/Taunus, Granada and Chevette, Cavalier/Ascona, Carlton/Rekord). Both would later follow the FWD path with the smaller cars in the 1980s. Even BL produced the Marina for the fleet market (and despite how dire it seems in retrospect, it was the third best selling car on the British market overall in the 1970s). The Avenger and Hunter must have seemed a cheap insurance policy.
Fascinating read on a little-known for me but very convoluted automaker, brilliant! Thank you. When I see the Tatra87 byline, I know this will be great article! The thin dealer representation and only occasional appearance of their cars was a cause for puzzlement: Who sold these cars? Why would someone buy one? When the Chrysler name became associated, it was even more confusing.
Mr. Pigozzi may have been a man of ‘flexible’ ethics but also must have been quite pragmatic to have begun automaking in the 1920’s and lasted to his death in the 1960’s when so many other fell by the wayside. I did find it ironic that in the 1970’s, among other competitors squeezing the Simca to demise were increasing numbers of Fiats being imported into France. Considering how Simca started by a collaboration with Fiat, it also came to its end at Fiat’s hand, after a fashion.
That Figoni Simca with the bizarre wings made me laugh out loud. Figoni was losing whatever design sense he had by then…
Yes, I hope I didn’t paint too dark a picture of HT Pigozzi. He had incredible qualities as a captain of industry, building up an important firm from nothing. Well, Fiat wasn’t nothing, but still. Buying out competitors’ brand new factories was also very shrewd on his part.
The 1200 Coupe was assembled in Rotterdam, on an old almost holy industrial street called Sluisjesdijk. It was built in the old Kaiser Frazer works where the Kaiser Rotterdam was assembled but the factory was mainly used to assemble the NEKAF Jeep for the Dutch army.
NEderlandseKAiserFrazer is what NEKAF stands for.
They also assembled other Simca models there for a short while.
I still recall the freight trains full of brand new Sinca’s sitting there.
Nothing was ever stolen although those trains stood on the open road.
Sluisjesdijk is still there and it is the birthplace of the first SHELL refinery ever.
The Dutch loved Simca, value for money and marketing wise the 1100 series were simply brilliant.
Not just the design but the fact you could immediately see if someone drove a low grade 1100 or a Special with its ‘Borrani’ style rims and foglamps, or a Ti, the Turbo Gti hot hatch, with its non standard colors, its Dunlop alloy wheels and its six!!! headlights.
Then the ultra bland ‘beige’ Horizon was launched as its successor. We laughed at it and knew it would not be able to match the success of the 1100 series.
This model had hardly any Turbo-GTI-Boy racer differences, it was one piece of dull beige sadness.
So of course it was not a great success in Europe, VW understood this much better with the red pinstripe and fog lamps in the GTI grille!
I mean I had a bright orange Rally 1, with a black bonnet, go-faster stripes a bucket seat and those Dunlop alloys I bought in a scrapyard from a crashed 1100 Ti.
The Rally 1 was technically 100% similar to the luxurious Simca 1000 Special.
But of course my Rally 1 was faster, it was bright orange and if had go faster stripes, no 1000 Special could ever win !
And just in case all that wasn’t complicated enough, an adapted Simca 1307 was built in Russia as a Moskvitch model.
I think the term you’re looking for is “reverse-engineered”, not “adapted.”
Your articles are so amazing, Tatra, great job! The Simca history is of course another delightful mess. But as you point out, it wasn’t death by deathly sins. Maybe if PSA has not rebranded Simca into Talbot, Simca would still be around. And since it was most successful with compact, practical cars, it would be a perfect choice for a Dacia competitor, if Peugeot felt that was necessary (I cant see a reason).
As a badge engineering enthusiast, I love of the fooling around with brands and badges that was done with Simca. Just the other day I was looking at Chrysler 160 sold in France, I understood they were originally just Chrysler, but after some years they gained Simca badges on the rear. In addition to the Pentastar logos elsewhere, of course.
I do think it kind of surprising of Fiat to sell such a successful organisation when they did. Wasn’t it around the same time they partnered with Citroën? I feel it strange for Fiat to sell, since they’ve always been more into buying other carmakers!
The Simca 1100 seems like a wasted opportunity. Just like the BMC 1100/1300 (if reskined with a hatchback), they had the Golf formula before the Golf. And it would have worked without the need for mechanical changes, I believe.
The Simca 1000 was very popular as taxi in Chile in the 60s, and even before that they were assembled locally. But I don’t know what happened afterwards. Maybe, probably, Chrysler couldn’t be bothered. And was on its own crisis, anyway.
It seems Dante Giacosa thought it would have been a good idea at least on economic grounds to standardize the chassis of the Fiat 1300/1500 and the Simca 1300/1500, differentiating the two models only through their engines and coachwork.
However despite the potential savings in investments, servicing organisation and the distribution of spare parts in such a idea, It was opposed by Fiat’s General Management with the former and the President being a constant obstacle to standardization with Simca.
Such an idea would have also potentially allowed for a Simca version of the related Fiat 1800/2100 and Fiat 2300 to indirectly replace the Simca Vedette, powered by either an inline-6 development of the Simca 1300/1500 engines (that were themselves distantly related to the Fiat 1300/1500 units) or even somehow an earlier inline-6 version of the Poissy engines.
Though understanding Pigozzi wanted to move away from Fiat in the post-war period, perhaps it would have benefited Simca to have the Aronde’s (or at least the 2nd generation Aronde) chassis standardized with the Fiat 1100 Type 103 along similar lines to what was later proposed for the Fiat 1300/1500 and Simca 1300/1500?