Until more recent times, French automakers tended to fall into two camps: “progressive” and “conservatives”. Citroën represented the left wing, with its avant garde FWD, aerodynamics and suspensions. Peugeot was the stolid conservative, developing a continuous evolution of its basic RWD architecture for many decades. Renault leaned left, but not as far as Citroën. In the 60s, Simca straddled the fence with three distinct platforms: Progressive FWD hatch ( Simca 1100), rear-engine (1000), and conventional RWD. We’ve covered the first two, so today we’ll take a look at the last of the three, a very conventional but attractive French sedan that likely will not be familiar to most of our American readers. But you’re hear to learn something new, Oui?
Simca (Société Industrielle de Mécanique et de Carrosserie Automobile) has a convoluted history, tracing its origins to SAFAF, Fiat’s agent in France, before moving into the local assembly of Fiats in 1928. In 1935 Simca was officially founded, jointly by Fiat and SAFAF to produce licensed versions of Fiats.
In 1954, Simca, though still majority owned by FIAT, purchased Ford of France’s operations at Poissy in Paris and by the end of the 1950s was ahead of Peugeot and Citroen in volume terms. In 1958 Chrysler bought into Simca, taking 15% (initially from Ford) rising to 77% by 1970, with FIAT taking a very passive role. Somewhere, someone on business school course will have submitted a thesis about a successful challenger brand gaining market share and new investment.
Much of Simca’s volume in the 1950s came from the Aronde (Swallow in old French, as echoed on the traditional SIMCA logo), which was the first Simca not be based directly on a Fiat. It was a strictly conventional saloon with typical styling for its times, showing some north American influences. Visually, nothing remarkable; indeed the whole car was much like a dozen other European saloons of the time. But it was very successful, targeting a niche that was not being exploited by the the other French makers: a conventional but stylish saloon, and one a bit cheaper than the Peugeot. The Aronde was also quite popular in the US during the 50s import boom.
The 1300 and 1500 of 1963, which replaced the Aronde, were sharp looking but technically conservative cars, with a rather Italian look, unlike the more US-inspired Aronde. In its general appearance and mechanical specifications, this could easily be an alternate-universe Fiat 1500. And quite a nice looking one, at that.
Except perhaps the tail, which is rather weak with those generic round tail-lights. Style wise, this represented a distinct difference to both the American influenced styles of similar cars from Britain or Germany (the Hillman Minx, Ford Cortina, Vauxhall Victor or Opel Rekord) and the surprisingly numerous Pininfarina designs, such as the BMC’s Austin Cambridge/Morris Oxford twins and Peugeot 404.
Simca offered a choice of 1.3 or 1.5 litre 4 cylinder engines with overhead valves, 4 speed gearbox (with a column change on LHD cars), live rear axle and, on the estate (known as a Break in France), a removable load area floor that doubled as a picnic table. The 1.3 litre was the old Aronde Rush unit but the 1.5 was a new engine. One interesting feature of the right hand drive cars was that although the gearchange was floor mounted, the layout was a reverse of the familiar format, with first gear right and forward, and fourth back and left.
In 1966, Simca updated the 1300 and 1500 to create the 1301 and 1501, in a manner very reminiscent to the change Triumph made to the 2000/2500 range 2 years later – a longer front and tail, but with the glasshouse, wheelbase and mechanical elements unchanged. The result in both cases was a more elegant car, with an emphasis on length. Cleverly, Simca achieved this using the same front wings (fenders) as before, lengthening only the bonnet. The rear was new, including another six inches of boot space and much more modern rear panel arrangement, and inside a new, more upmarket interior. Overall, a pretty good looking car had become a very good looking one, although the estate only gained the front end changes.
Changes thereafter were slight. Both versions got a typical weird 70s grille with additional driving lamps (so French – I love them!) in 1972 and the 1301 got the 1475cc engine as seen in the 1501. The last link with the Aronde was therefore gone.
Once the Chrysler takeover of Simca was complete in 1970, and the company named Chrysler France even if the cars were still sold as Simca, the future looked bright. An ambitious new owner, a UK partner, the Rootes group, whose product was mostly lagging behind Simca’s, and the country’s best seller and a plan for Simca’s products formed the basis of most of Chrysler Europe’s new cars.
Unfortunately for Simca, the ambitious new owner was unable to afford to fulfill its ambitions, as Chrysler soon ran into difficulties in its home market and didn’t have the capital or other resources to make its European venture truly competitive for the long haul. The first new product, the Chrysler-Simca 160/180 (Chrysler 180 in many parts of Europe) was not a success and by 1975, the UK side of the partnership was seeking government help, even as the new Simca 1307/1308 (known as the Chrysler Alpine in the UK) was winning European Car of the Year, and replacing the 1301/1501. It and the Horizon of 1978 were closely based on the Simca 1100 and were commercially successful, but even that was not enough to stop the company being sold to Peugeot-Citroen in 1978. Chrysler’s 1970s brush with bankruptcy saw to that, as well as the great weaknesses of Chrysler in the UK.
The remaining cars were re-branded as Talbot and within 10 years all evidence of the Simca name and models had gone. Some of the engines survived in some Peugeot models, such as the 309, and to this day the Poissy plant is a major Peugeot production facility.
I saw the featured car, an early 1301, on a recent trip to south west France, and it was the only Simca I saw in four days, apart from a Simca 1000 Coupe, which is coming to CC, soon. It has clearly been where it is for some time, but one does have the sense that a new battery and can of petrol would soon have it moving. Simca’s spirit and history suggest it deserves to.
Related reading: 1956 Simca Aronde: Training Wheels Simca 1000: The Franco-Italian Baby Corvair Simca 1100/1204
Spot-on, Roger. That grey saloon in particular is a very handsome example. As you mention, the only disappointment is the tail. The wagon in profile bears much similarity to the Fiat 124 wagon. It’s a shame they couldn’t use those rear lights on the saloon. Another oblique vehicle exhumed on the CC pages. Woohoo!
Not a bad-looking car by any measure. In looking at all these recent European and Russian cars, I wonder about reliability – I know the American market is very different as are driving conditions, and British cars did not do especially well here, but what did one have to do to keep these things on the road, as opposed to the Big 3, maintenance and care-wise?
Hey, at least they had full-width grilles, and the second photo is very cute – reminds me of an old Volvo, or a mid-50s Ford, just my style!
On bread and butter sedans such as Peugeots, Simcas, Opels and such, I guess it’s pretty much the same, except for the maintenance schedule.
It seems to me that maintenance must be done more often on an european car than on an american one.
Moreover, in the 70’s, many european engines started to use timing belt instead of a chain (which is not the case on Simcas). And timing belts need to be replaced after a certain mileage.
However, you still have to lubricate suspension rods on most american cars from the 70’s whereas you don’t have to for many european cars of the same era.
And, like every carmaker, some models might have their known troubles. As an example, IIRC, 1301 and 1501’s gearbox synchros are a little feeble and tend to wear out prematurely.
1301 and 1501 are probably the best looking european sedans from the 60’s.
These should have been a competitor against BMW’s Neue Klass (https://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-european/curbside-classic-1964-bmw-1800-neue-klasse-the-car-that-saved-and-made-bmw/)
From times to times, I hang around classified ads to see and dream about buying one.
Because these cars are cheap (http://www.leboncoin.fr/voitures/offres/ile_de_france/occasions/?f=a&th=1&pe=22&rs=1965&re=1996&q=1301) and, as Roger said, their engines were used in Peugeot’s 309. So I guess you can still find mechanical parts for these.
Moreover, they can run on unleaded gas.
These Simcas and the Neue Klasse BMW were similar in size and conservative in styling. The Neue Klasse however was handling much better with the independent rear suspension and won the hearts and wallets of driving enthusiasts. The Simca 1300/1500 were all about family transportation, competition to Opel, Ford, Peugeot and Fiat.
Hey, isn’t that the featured grey car? On the page you linked to, fourth from the top? And it’s only 1100 Euros!
“à restaurer, non roulante, à prendre sur plateau” – I guess a battery and a can of gas wouldn’t quite be enough…
Yes ! It’s actually the same one !
And yes, a battery and gas won’t be enough to get it running.
“à restaurer, non roulante, à prendre sur plateau” means “to be restored, not running, bring a trailer”.
Nice little car .
Parking anything over grass like this , forces rapid rust out sadly .
The etymology of “break“ (nice-looking profile of that Simca, BTW) here intrigues me, for both the British & French have used the term for a vehicle in which one goes a-hunting. It’s not clear to me which nation coined the term first. Sometimes the Brits spelled it “brake,” but now they prefer to call it an estate car.
It’s a mystery to us, french guys, too.
Before the 60’s, station wagons were called “commerciales” or “familiales”.
The usual assumption is that “break” came from mispelling “shooting brake”.
It was “shooting brake” in Britain and “break de chasse” in France. The word “break” originated in the 18th century and designated a 4-wheeled wagon, used for breaking in a horse. This vehicle was later employed in hunting expeditions but the name changed into “brake” for the Brits. The French inherited the wagon but kept the older spelling. AGB
What a clean, elegant design, especially with the 1966 revision. In my admittedly limited experience with Simcas, they were underrated cars, stylish and comfortable.
It seems like there are more plausible “what ifs” about European automakers than North American ones. On this side of the Atlantic, the Big Three had effectively marginalized other competitors well before WWII. But in Europe it’s pretty easy to construct alternate histories where the British Army didn’t keep the VW plant open or Leyland wasn’t forced to merge with BMC or Simca didn’t fall so far so fast.
A nice looking car I’d forgotten all about Simca til the feature here a few weeks ago.Thanks again for another interesting read
Hard to forget in my suburb there is still a vast herd in running order.
That article takes me back in time and place. The time was my Gymnasium (=High School) years and West France must be Alsace Lorraine, just across the river Rhine. I swear, I picked some grapes from those vines, Riesling, no doubt.
A teacher at our Gymnasium bought a Simca 1501 automatique. Automatics were not common place back then.
It seemed to run rather nicely even though it required a new drive shaft because of a vibration. The teacher’s son was my class mate too.
and now I recall, Cousin Otto had one too. It needed both a clutch master and slave cylinder. Obviously I am using my memory for some real important stuff!
For the Chrysler 180, there was some alternative designs proposed but dropped for the one we know today.
I never understood the Chrysler 180,an engine not much bigger than the Arrow 1725 cars in a car which looked a lot like the Chrysler 2 litre.
Maybe a French tax class special?
Roger, you are correct – I have come here to learn.
This car is so rich with history but what always intrigues me is the amount of crossing of paths by all the manufacturers, an element you highlight quite well.
I like cars that look conservative, and not flashy.
Nice overview of Simca and it’s position within the weird world of French cars! As much as I love the ‘from another world’ persona of a nice Citroen CX or DS, I think the moderating effects of more traditional design from Simca was a good thing, even if things didn’t work out in the end.
I’m a longtime collector of 1:43 scale cars and have more than a few Simcas, they do tell an interesting story on display 🙂
Another one that seems quite foreign to someone who has never seen a Simca “in the metal”, but I do see the Fiat resemblance. Quite an elegant car, if conventional.
I did spot an Aronde a few years ago in an old photo of downtown Durham, NC taken in the 1960’s. Took me quite a lot of guessing and googling to figure out what that unfamiliar little black car was!
(The 1960’s must have been an interesting time for imports. In another photo from the same set, a Ford Thames van can be seen. And Durham was not a big city, though it probably leaned more progressive than some due to the university influence…)
This article got me thinking- why is there no CC on another interesting, and forgotten, european car- the Borgward P100?
Same reason as to why lots of cars have yet to make our pages: no one has found one! Or if they have, they haven’t written it up yet. I can assure you that if I came across a P100, I would write it up very quickly and enthusiastically.
They guy who owns the 1000 you wrote up is selling a 1501 sedan his collection of 13 Simcas is overflowing his parking he has all sorts photos shouldnt be a problem he knows about CC,
The dealer who lived behind our place had a 1501 wagon it was their family car his wife drove a 1000, rare? not really.
A very nice and clean design. Looks to be a very airy cabin like an older Mercedes.
Actually, the first model Arondes of the fifities are still much around in French barns.
And cost next to nothing, all have bad chrome on the bumpers but the body must be made of very high quality steel.
I Always wanted dad to buy a Simca 1300 or 1500 Break.
A wind down rear window !
Thought it was the coolest thing.
That is probably why I still hang on to the 1/43 Dinky version from Dinky France.
My dad had a 1501 estate. I well remember the picnic table in the boot and also that the tailgate had a wind-down window and was extremely heavy. I also remember my dad complaining about the complexity of the carb, which was not made in the same spirit as the British cars he was used to
My late great-Uncle, who was my car mentor, had a 1962ish Simca Vedette, it was gone before I was born, but it’s existence in many family photos meant I knew of Simca from a young age. Chrysler Australia built the Vedette in RHD for the Australian and New Zealand market from 1959-62, so I imagine my Uncle’s was one of them. His was the Ford-flathead-V8-powered version, so I find it amusing that Chrysler was building a Ford-powered car!
We got the 1300/01 and 1500/01 new here too, and a jolly handsome car they are. Pictured below is the 1501 sedan that Bryce makes mention of above – it’s owned by a near-neighbour of his who collects Simcas. I first saw this specific 1501 back in 1992 (and turned around to catch up to it in my Mk I Ford Escort to see what the hang it was!) so it’s a delight that it’s still on the road.
Yes that guy has a V8 Vedette too and an Arianne(the only one in NZ).
These sleeky Simca 1301 and 1501 sedans are as stylish as the BMW 1600 of the same years’ production .