(first posted 6/16/2015) 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.
Related reading: Tatra87’s History of the Ford V8-60:
First part of the Ford V8-60 history (the pre-war years) here.
Second part of the V8-60 history (the post-war European Fords) here.
Third part of the Ford V8-60 history (the Simca years) here.
Sweet looking car. I’ve seen pictures of the car, but I’ve never seen a whole article about it. 🙂
Simca Chambord this one lives in a collection about 100 metres from my house from memory its had a Holden motor transplanted into it, The owner knows about CC so may be along at some point to correct me, along with this and the v8 Vedette there was also the Arianne same body but with a 4 banger under the hood.
hi kiwibryce how you yes my simca vedette has a holden v8 in and she be out of it asoon i rebuild the vedette flatie cheers ivan
Wow, just WOW
Great piece of writing about a forgotten cult-car
Still cherish my original Dinky Toys copy of this car.
Across the channel from the Simca works in France the V8 60 was also used in this marvel of modern engineering the hopelessly out dated when released Ford Pilot
It was a favourite getaway car for robbers til the Ford Zephyr and Zodiac came out.John McVicar told how it was his favourite 50s getaway car in UK robberies.
Bonnie & Clyde drove a Ford V8, too.
I’d like to correspond on Aquillon engine – listen to your opinions & swap stories.
See my post below Steve
American propagandists in the ’50s focused on spreading US culture through jazz, which was cool among city folks. They missed the best culture and the best spreader, because hot rods were UNcool and Ford was especially UNcool.
Jazz was fashionable in Europe earlier than that, influencing for example Maurice Ravel (who refused to tutor George Gershwin, fearing it would damage his style), and used as a sort of cultural weapon during WW2.
These are cool cars. I love those hood scoops at the very front of the hood of the Rallye. I assume to cool the hot engine but they look like they should have guns in them, at least in the James Bond version. The later Esplannada took on a little of the look of the Rover P6, though perhaps not as rakish on the taller scale.
These small displacement flatheads, by the time they got the hemi head, must have been tuned to within an inch of it’s life. Chrysler engineers must have taken ironic pleasure in being charged with making them work.
Thanks for the writeup, I love the creativity shown when older models are given a second/ third /forth life in an exotic locale.
GREat write up! Thanks for this informative history lesson.
This is great! An automotive history lesson. You can really see the American influence in the design of some of these cars. The white Marly wagon looks like a downsized 1955 New Yorker. I’m a big fan of wagons. If I could have any of the cars pictured here, it would be that green Jangada wagon. It’s gorgeous! I think that if Chrysler had used that body for it’s first Valiant, it would have taken a chunk out of small Ford wagon sales. Of course, they would have modernized the grille before putting it on the market.
agree – the wagons are gorgeous
Very nice ! .
I too think the wagon would have been my favorite .
Your Pops sounds like a fun car guy .
Chrysler seemed to have a penchant for inheriting alien Ford engines in it’s acquisitions.
It happened again a few years later when they bought Rootes and were forced to market Sunbeam Tigers with Ford engines. To add insult to injury, they were obligated to provide their vaunted 5/50 protection on it!
Another great CC article.How much American influence can you see in these cars? The Jangada wagon kinda looks like a Packardbaker from the rear, but that ain`t a bad thing.
The late PackardBaker wagon was the first thing I saw in the Jangada as well! It’s too bad that Studebaker-Packard could not have taken advantage of the modern thin pillars in the greenhouse area that are found on the Simca.
This could have been the following year’s Studebaker Broadmoor, or maybe even Lark.
Same for me as well!
They are like “junior” American cars. Almost like a “what could have been” scenario for compacts in the US during the 1950s.
If there was a ’56 Volare Premier, this would have it.
I always joked that If there was a ’64 Cordoba, the Turbine Car would have been it.
Wow, what a fun read. I had only heard tidbits of these cars, and never really knew anything at all about them. I had forgotten that the Ford flathead had such a long life. The cars are quite nicely proportioned. The early ones have a 55 Chrysler-like shape to them, and the later ones look like what Studebaker was going for in 1956-58, but I think the French pulled the look off a bit better.
This is what I love about this site,finding new cars I’d never heard of.Thanks for a great read.
Hopefully your stories will continue.
I want to hear about the Brazilian Galaxie from your local perspective, and the Chrysler Dart story is interesting, too. For example, tell somebody that VW built Dodge Darts, and see how they react to that!
I’m working on a writing about it… will come soon!!!!
Very nicely styled cars; I wonder what would have happened if Ford decided to bring the second-series Vedette to the US market in the mid 50’s to compete with the funny little cars from Rambler? The Simca certainly would have killed it in the looks department.
There also is a certain irony in Chrysler inheriting the flathead 14 years after it went out of US production. And that Esplanada does have a bit of P6 style to it, but wearing an AMC nose treatment. To see those GTX badges on it seems a bit alien!
I thought that too: 65-66 Ambassador stacked lights and grille
If it wasn’t quite clear from the article, it’s significant to remember that this car, under the skin was designed and engineered largely in the US, for what was to become the aborted smaller Ford for 1949. So Chrysler was not only building the Ford V8, but a Ford under the skin too.
The Simca Vedette was really a 2nd generation Ford Vedette and sold under that brand for a few months in 1954. But Dearborn considered the French operation unprofitable while Simca was stranded for factory space. So everybody got their deal. One should remember that the V8-60 (or Aquilon) dwelt on the wrong side of the French tax system, with an over 2 liter engine .
Handsome cars. The hot running Ford engines in a tropical climate do sound worrisome though.
Of course I recognize these Simcas from the various (more or less) 1/43 scale French die cast toys in my collection: Versailles & Chambord from Dinky/F; Chambord from Norev and Marly wagon from Quiralu. Good looking cars.
As I remember the story the “shoebox” Ford (’49-’51) design was a late change from what became the Vedette. There was a very close styling relationship with what was to have originally been the ’49 Ford (the Vedette) and the same year (and larger) Mercury. The Vedette and the Mercury were designs of the famous Bob Gregorie (Edsel’s personal designer) and were the final Ford designs Gregorie did. George Walker was brought in from the outside to design a Ford that was not the Vedette and he came up with what we know as the “shoebox”.
If there was a ’49 Granada, that would have been it ‘)
Funny: saw one of these yesterday in a movie called “Double Man”, an international mash-up with Yul Brynner, Britt Ekland and Lloyd Nolan. 1967. Loved the looks of it and today this feature appears. Thanks.
Thank you so much, Rubens, for a fascinating article. I remember seeing Vedettes in Australia as a child. They were never a common sight but always interesting to me. It’s fascinating to see what came of them in Brazil.
Thanks for a very interesting article. The Vedette was such a cute car. When you look outside NA (Canada & the US) you find all sorts of neat cars and auto stories.
Thanks for the interesting article, Rubens, on a car largely unknown here.
The 136ci V8-60 was designed as an alternative for the frugal customer, developed because a four cylinder wasn’t competitive in the low-price segment anymore and to satisfy Old Henry’s crazy aversion to six cylinder engines.
Unfortunately, fitted into the full-sized Ford chassis, it proved to be extremely unpowered in the Ford Standard through 1940. For those used to the high-revving 221 ci V8-85, the 60 hp was a major performance disappointment. It worked out just fine in the smaller, lighter European Fords. When the 1941 Ford was finally offered with the 226 ci flathead six, the V8-60 became a foreign exclusive. Ostensibly, the six cylinder as a truck engine and not a problem for the old man. Legend has it Old Henry refused to ride any six cylinder Ford, never did so to the end of his life.
That early Vedette (’49? ’50?) is truly a handsome small car. Good proportions, just the right amount of chrome & stainless. My only complaint would involve that giant exposed hinge for the rear suicide doors, but that can be overlooked.
Thanks for the article, it was really informative!
Great article and good history. Flathead Fords were the stuff of the pre and post war hot rodders till 1949 when Olds and a few others began to change that. Ardun heads gave them a new lease on life and I got a kick out of them being done again in Brazil.
Keep up the good work.
Here is a brazilian Hot Rod equipped with a Emi – Sul…
Thanks for the article, Rubens. Once again I’ve learnt something.
Please keep them coming.
Fascinating article Rubens! My late Uncle bought a Vedette new here in New Zealand – I think it was a 1958 model as it had the fins and the contrasting-paint scallop on the body-side. I hadn’t heard of the Esplanada; an interesting car by the looks, but the proportions seem off.
The Esplanada looks like a Nissan same size stacked lights the whole 9 yards.
The connection between the Emi-Sul engine and Duntov is really entertaining. After his US operation floundered, Zora joined Sidney Allard in the UK. The British modified the hemi head V8s for road racing and for truck application. However the Cadillac OHV proved to be a better option and Allard sold the inventory to Pierre Ferry in France; apparently this one intended to provide the French army which made extensive use of flathead equipped lorries. Things didn’ t work out as planned and the parts were left stored away for years. Somehow Jack Pasteur found the lot and had it moved to Brazil, where it lived its final adventure.
There is indeed this (real) urban legend about a stock pile of brand new Flathead stuff in the french military. My boss got a new engine block from this stock and the french government provided a document saying tha part is never used and was sold because it is a military surplus.
The Ford flathead V8 was produced for French military vehicles up until the 80’s. When they became surplus the flathead fanatics were overjoyed. They could buy brand new engines in the crate and other parts such as blocks. The French had made some modifications to them to alleviate some of the original’s problem areas.
Hi Rubens. Loved the article – Thank you for sharing it. I am researching the history of the Vedette especially the engines with the intention of writing a book on their development and how to restore and modify them. There is very little I can find about the improvements made after 1957 and particularly the developments in Brazil – apart from the EmiSul heads. It’s hard to find out info as I don’t speak Portuguese. Any info, leads, articles or people to talk to would be much appreciated.
I really would like to know if/how Chrysler strengthened the con-rods, big ends & crankshaft and why they detuned them in 1969 down from 150hp to 140. regards Steve
PS Attached a photo of my engine
Wow. I would LOVE to have one of those Jangadas!
Awesome article, thanks for posting.
I see what you did there! 🤓