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The Simca 180 and Centura

Webmaster note: The Simca 180 was the predecessor of the Chrysler Centura sent to Australia in the 1970s.  Also see: history of SIMCA, 160/180/2 Litre, 1100/1204, 1308, Horizon, and Matra Rancho

Simca 180 - an orphan of the road - and Chrysler Centura

Simca 180
The Simca 180 (courtesy afyanez)

The Simca 180 was an automotive orphan. It was to be built in Britain to replace the big Humbers of the 1960s, but Rootes UK was having too many problems; the Imp was proving unreliable, although the new Avenger was a reasonable sales success and the Hunter/Minx and other "Arrow" cars of 1966 to 1979 sold steadily.

The Simca 1100 had been introduced to American in June, 1969 as the Simca 1204, reflecting its 1204cc engine. In American trim, it produced (in 1971) 62 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 65 lb-ft of torque at 3,400 rpm, and weighed 2,025 pounds (similar to the contemporary Saabs, much lighter than the Toyota Crown, and much heavier than the Subarus). Length was 515 inches, width was 62.5 inches, and the transmission was a four-speed manual. The 1100 became the best-selling Simca of all time. Production levels at Poissy bloomed considerably, and in 1971, it became France's best selling car. However, it failed to make a name for itself in the United States. The little front wheel drive car eked out a mere 6,035 sales for all of 1970, despite having a full range -- two and four door sedans, and two and four door wagons.

While it didn't make any particular splash, the SIMCA 1204 also debuted in 1971. SIMCA was now owned almost entirely Chrysler; the successful French automaker specialized in small cars, and would be instrumental in the creation of the Omni. They invented the front wheel drive, transverse engine hatchback segment that was later popularized outside of France by the Volkswagen Rabbit/Golf (some claim that the famed Golf GTI was named after the Simca 1100 Ti - as in, "Golf Ti.")

The 1204 was a bigger-engined version of the Simca 1100, the most popular car in France. Launched in 1967, the SIMCA 1100, with a 118 cc engine, was advanced for its time; it used disc brakes, rack and pinion steering, and a torsion bar suspension in both front and rear; fully reclining bucket seats were standard, as were radials. The 1204 had been brought to the United States in June 1969; with a 1.2 liter engine, it cost under $2,000, and had an optional three-speed automatic and air conditioning. It was praised but unsuccessful, with a 62 horsepower engine driving 2,025 pounds.

By the mid-1970s Chrysler UK was in financial crisis and received government cash (as British Leyland did some months previously). This enabled them to release the subcompact Sunbeam (spun off the Avenger chassis) and build the Horizon (which the Omni/Horizon is based on) and Alpine.

In 1977, Chrysler France added the Simca Horizon, a natural progression from the Simca 1100. The Horizon would sweep America by storm, after substantial changes for the market, and took France by storm at first, as well. In Spain, the Chrysler 150 (a Simca 130x derivative) was name Car of the Year, and Chrysler Australia launched a group of Mitsubishis under the Sigma name.

In 1978 Peugeot bought the European arm of Chrysler (Chrysler UK and Simca) and by 1981 had stopped building Avengers and Sunbeams (from 1976 built at the old Imp plant in Scotland). The Alpine (and sedan Solara) and Horizon lasted until 1985, along with the Samba (a rebadged Peugeot 104) before the name died.

As the British didn't want it, the 180 was passed to France which also didn't want it, so it ended up in Spain (if you ever visit Spain you will see lots of them, whereas I haven't seen one in the UK for a couple years).

The car was released in 1970 and was technically advanced for the time - 1.6, 1.8 and 2-litre overhead-cam engines (the UK never saw the 1.6, and the 2-litre was always with 3-speed auto), disc brakes all round, and swoopy styling that aped Chrysler's US designs with a lack of glass. The Australian Centura had two rectangular headlights as opposed to four round ones but was otherwise identical.

The car was produced for a full 10 years until 1980, although demand was never high. It's interesting to note the comments about bodies sitting in compounds in Oz for years and rusting; all Chrysler UK cars of the time were notorious for this, especially the Avenger (because it used electrolyzed paint on the chassis instead of underseal to save weight), Horizon, and Alpine.

The 180 (1.8) was released first in the UK, with the 2-Litre (that is how it was badged) released two years later. Nice, comfortable cars with soft seats in the French tradition, most with the 3-speed auto, vinyl roof. But the UK masses bought cars like the Rover 2000 and Ford Granada instead. Oh well. We also had for a short time (early-to-mid 1970s) the Australian Charger and Valiant.

Ken Westmoreland pointed out that Carrocerias PV did station wagon conversions on the Chrysler 180 in Spain - click here for details (not at allpar).

The Simca N9TE engine

Andrew Minney wrote:

The 91.7 x 81.6 mm, 2156 cc engine found in the Peugeot 505 Turbo dates back to the 160/180 2 litre designed by Simca in 1967.

The Citroen BX P, M, Rally, 4TC Serie 200 and 4TC Evo cars used this engine (prepared by ROC in the case of the BX P). This was used also in the Matra Le Mans sportscars, Matra Murena, and also some of the Matra F2 cars. Because of its strengths, it was used until 1986. In the Matra Murena, with a turbocharger, it would in its original form produce 155bhp @ 5200rpm.

Click here for links to Simca clubs and organizations.

Click here for an overview of Chrysler Europe and related links. 

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