Simca (Societe Industrielle de Mecanique et Carrosserie Automobile)
Simca: Societe Industrielle de Mecanique et Carrosserie Automobile
In a short time, SIMCA gained quite a following in France, and was responsible for the production of a best seller and some technically avant-garde machinery.
In 1922, Henri Pigozzi met Giovanni Agnelli, and from this came a lucrative business in returning scrap cars to Turin for recycling. Following this, Pigozzi became responsible for a Fiat distribution chain in France called SAFAF (Société Anonyme Français des Automobiles FIAT), and this was followed by a medium-sized assembly operation based at a plant in Suresnes (on the edge of Paris) which used components imported or built under licence in Paris. From 1928 to 1934, approximately 30,000 of these French FIATs were assembled and sold by Pigozzi.
In 1934, Pigozzi spotted a poster on the Paris-Saint-Germain road proclaiming the sale of the old Donnet-Zédel factory. Pigozzi had the finances, made the offer, and picked up the factory. On the 2nd November 1934, car production at SIMCA (Societe Industrielle de Mecanique et Carrosserie Automobile - an industrial company that makes car mechanics and bodywork) started at 163 to 185 Avenue Georges Clemenceau, Nanterre.
SIMCA's first cars were based upon the Tipo 508 Balilla, but these were soon added to with variations of the 518 Ardita. The Fiat 500 Topolino soon became the SIMCA Cinq, and the Fiat 1100, the SIMCA Huit. Performance versions of these cars were prepared by Amédé Gordini, who successfully campaigned at Le Mans in a SIMCA Huit in 1939.
Following World War II, SIMCA took its first steps away from Fiat by launching the Aronde in 1951. The SIMCA Aronde was designed to go head to head with the Peugeot 203, and was SIMCA's first monocoque (unit-body) design. The Aronde soon became a big seller for SIMCA; in its first year, its production volumes outstripped those of its former mainstay, the Huit. By 1959, the Aronde had become a runaway success, enjoying production levels of around 200,000 per year.
In 1954, SIMCA made another significant step forwards, in buying Ford's unprofitable Poissy plant (and its products); the Vedette became the SIMCA Vedette (although it remained badged as a Ford for some time after). The ex-Ford factory soon became SIMCA's principal production outlet, and in 1961, its original factory in Nanterre was sold to Citroën. [See Vedette and its Aquilon, Super Typhoon, and Emi-Sul engines in Brazil]
In 1957, the company launched the Ariane model, which combined the body of the Vedette with the engine of the Aronde. It also proved to be a hit. In 1958, it sold the Oceane, an Aronde in convertible form.
At the start of the 1960s, Simca undertook careful market research to decide its strategy for the next 15 years. Simca noticed the growing success of front wheel drive cars such as the Mini and Austin/Morris 1100 and the Renault 4 – which were all showing new ways of bringing big car space, comfort, and handling to small car buyers. In the spring of 1962, Simca set a target of launching (by 1966/1967) a range of front wheel drive cars, incorporating saloons with folding rear seats, estate cars, and light commercial vehicles. It was to fit into the French 6CV taxation class, neatly filling the gap between the popular, well-designed 5CV Simca 1000 (Simca Mille) and the 7CV Simca 1300.
In the mid-1960s, Simca became so pre-occupied with Project 928 or VLBB (Voiture Legère Berline Break - small car/small truck/estate car - the 1100) that the accord between the French company and the Italian tuners Abarth fell through. This held back the 1000's sporting progress considerably, just when French tuner Gordini was working his magic on the Renault R8.
In the meantime, SIMCA took over Talbot and allowed that name to fade away. In a new development, though, Chrysler took up 15% of SIMCA’s stock, which had been set aside for Ford on the takeover of Ford’s Poissy plant. In the spirit of collaboration, the company announced that its Aronde automobiles would be built under licence by Chrysler in Adelaide, Australia, tailored for the Australian market. A year after the 1000 was launched (1963), Chrysler increased its shareholding in SIMCA to 63%.
SIMCA founder Henri-Théodore Pigozzi died in 1964, and was replaced by Georges Hereil. Hereil confirmed that although SIMCA was now under American control, it would remain French.
In 1967, Chrysler upped its stake in the company to 77%. Although the Americans were in financial control of SIMCA, as stated by Heriel, they would not exert too much influence on the company, beyond replacing the Simca Swallow with the newly created Chrysler Pentastar, which appeared on the lower, right front wing of every Simca, and at the front of the plant at Poissy.
By the time of the launch of the 1100 in 1967, Simca had become one of France's biggest firms, with well over ten million square feet of manufacturing space, over 24,000 employees and more than 6,500 dealers and service centres in 130 export countries.
The hugely popular SIMCA 1100 was launched in 1968; the French loved the 1100 from launch and bought it in huge numbers. In 1968, its first full year of production, 138,242 1100s rolled out of Poissy: an impressive achievement. The car was launched in Britain in late 1967 but the choice offered to British buyers was not as wide as that offered to French buyers.
A year later (1969), SIMCA took control of the automotive division of Matra.
In 1970, Chrysler's share of the company was increased to 99.3 per cent. The company's name was changed to Chrysler France, and gradually during the 1970s, the SIMCA name was supplanted by Chrysler’s. The 1100 series formed the basis of the Alpine and Horizon (and Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon), and was briefly fielded in the States in the early 1970s as the Simca 1204.
A contemporarily styled development of the SIMCA 1100, the 1307/1308/1510, launched in 1975 and lasting ten years, was a spacious five door hatchback to rival the long-in-the-tooth Maxi and Renault 16. In 1977, SIMCA built no fewer than 472,154 cars — more than Chrysler Canada’s full production, and around one third of Chrysler’s American production.
In the summer of 1978, Chrysler had to sell their European operations to pay for losses at home. Chrysler also sold off its highly profitable military and marine divisions, the Airtemp air conditioning business, its Australian operations, and everything else it could think of in order to raise cash and survive long enough to get its new, profitable K-cars out the door.
Chrysler sold all their European plants to Peugeot, which already controlled Citroen, for an estimated total (including debt assumption) of around $860 million. OnJuly 10th, 1979, Peugeot announced that Chrysler Europe was to become the Talbot Group and that all Chrysler-Simca models, which at that time had an 11% share of the French market, would become Talbot-Simcas. On January 1st, 1980, Chrysler France officially changed its name to Talbot. Six months later, for the 1981 model year, the name Simca was replaced by Talbot. The Talbot-Simca 1100 wore a Talbot badge at the front and a Simca badge at the back.
The 1979 range was unchanged for France, though the name of the company became Talbot Groupe and Chrysler-SIMCA models (controlling 11% of the market) became Talbot-SIMCAs. The base LE model came as a three or five door with the 50bhp engine, the GLS as a five door or estate with the 58bhp unit. There was also a 58bhp base LE estate. The vans and pick up all had the lower compression 50bhp engine. All models got a new black grille with two chrome strips, hitherto restricted to the LX and GLX. The range continued unchanged into 1980 although the GLS got quartz iodine driving lamps set into the front grille. The AS model continued to be trimmed to a level between the LE and the GLS. In Britain, the range was reduced to an 1100LE three and five door, a GLS Special and a GLS estate – all were dropped in February 1979. Commercials remained on sale in Britain until the early nineteen eighties.
In July 1980, the 1981 range was announced. The base LE was replaced by the identically equipped LS the only difference being that the LS had the 58 bhp engine. On all models except the AS and the pick up the semi-automatic box remained an option. The odometers changed from 5 to 6 digits. Production of saloons and estate ended in July 1981. The last SIMCA-badged vehicle was produced in this year.
After 1100 production ended, the Poissy production lines produced the Peugeot-based Talbot Samba. The commercial versions of the 1100 continued until the spring of 1985, with the VF1 and VF2 offering the option of LPG fuel conversion. In July 1983, a laminated windshield became standard, the wheels from the Horizon LS were used and the bumpers changed from chrome to matt black. Production finally ended in spring 1985.
Matra Cars: Heavily Modified Simcas
Chrysler Europe made a 3-seater sports car, before the McLaren F1... and "invented" the 2-wheel drive lifestyle/SUV and European MPV.
This is all to do with its involvement with Matra, which had a background in aerospace and weapons (much like Saab) but, in 1964, became a car maker (and F1 constructor) when it took over Rene Bonnet's sports car operation for which it made the glassfibre bodies. The car Bonnet had been building, the 1961 Djet, was the world's first mid-engined road car. This was replaced by the rather strange 530 in 1967.
In 1970, Chrysler-Simca took over, renaming the company Matra-Simca. The first fruit of this union was the 3-seats-abreast Bagheera, a wedge-shaped glassfibre sports car (looking like a fastback TR-7, but neater!) with the Simca 1100 engine. 47,802 were built from 1973 to 1980. In 1980 it was replaced by the smoother-styled Murena, which had a Cd factor of 0.32, excellent for the day. It used the Alpine 1.6 engine or the new Tagora 2.2. 10,613 were built until 1984.
In 1977 the Chrysler-Matra (later Talbot-Matra) Rancho was released. Using a glassfibre body over the Alpine chassis and engine/transmission, Matra created a 6-seater wagon that looked like a 4-wheel drive, but wasn't. Rugged styling (with built-in rooflights) helped. It survived until 1984; the second generation was transformed into the Renault Espace, Europe's first MPV, which Matra produced (true to Matra it had a glassfibre body). The MPV (minivan) was offered to Peugeot, but that company rejected it, along with the Bagheera/Murena and Matra itself. Until recently, Matra produced the Espace, but then Renault, with a surplus of capacity, took over.