“Vive La Difference!” Archie Vicar compares two new products battling it out in the family sector – France’s Simca 1307, and Britain’s Chrysler Alpine.
From The Motoring Weekly Gazette, October 1976. Photography by Terry Loftholdingswood. Owing to a processing error, stock photos have been used.
All of a sudden there are two entirely new cars fresh on the market to rival the Ford Cortina, the Vauxhall Cavalier and the ancient Renault 16. From Coventry, by way of America comes the Chrysler Alpine nee 150: good day, sir!, or should that read howdy? From France, we say bonjour to the Simca 1307. There would appear to be something for everyone’s taste here, I say.
What is the modern family motorist looking for in today’s new contemporary modern car? These three cars are all trying to answer that very question and they prove that, if you want a reliable, sturdy and comfortable car, you don’t automatically have to go to your Ford, BL or Vauxhall dealership.
We took the two cars to the country roads around Great Malvern to see how they coped in real world conditions, far from the glamourous locations that car makers use to show off their new machines.
Comfort and refinement
The drive from the Motoring Weekly Gazette’s offices in the Barbican to Great Malvern was easy enough. Both cars, apart from the Simca, were comfortable and quiet. One only had to raise one’s voice a little to be heard inside the refined and hushed Alpine. Rumbling from the tyres was less than acceptable in the Simca. Engine noise was especially intrusive in the French car.
Back inside the cars we find modern trimmings and fittings decorating both but the car from across the channel is a little lacking in comfort in comparison with the local machine. The workers in Ryton, Coventry can be proud of their car. The Alpine is a practical hatchback. We can expect all family cars to follow this format in future.
Stopping for refreshment at the Crofter & Dray at Potter’s Bar, we had time to sip a few beers and to compare the cars’ visual appearance. To my eyes, the Alpine is by far the most striking car and looks distinctively better than the Simca. It also looks much more modern than either Volkswagen’s rather dull Passat and Renault’s wilfully quirky 20.
The chap behind the Alpine’s clean lines is veteran pen-wielder Mr Roy Axe. He has done a fine job and deserves much praise for this bold, original and memorable design. Simca’s designers really ought to take a leaf or two from Mr Axe’s sketchbook if they want to get ahead.
Facts, figures and handling
The Chrysler has a 13 gallon fuel tank while the Simca only offers 60 liters (their own figures). This means that in the fuel-tank competition, the British car comes out victorious. Technically, the Alpine is as modern as one can hope to find. It has front-wheel drive and the understeer is more than acceptable. It is safe and predictable. The Simca copies this format but does so less than excellently. We found the 1307 dangerously prone to understeer – well off the pace in handling-minded Europe.
Now the all important question of ashtray placement. Both do quite well but with subtle differences. The Simca is clearly a car for non-smokers. The cigar lighter was only available at extra cost, while in the Alpine everything is just so. Another win for Britain here.
Braking? Well, both cars stop when told to do so. The Chrysler has a good set-up of discs fore and drums aft. We drove the Alpine ten times down the hill from Great Malvern and while in the end the car needed very extreme pressure to slow down, the less said about the Simca’s indifference to stopping the better. That’s a very French trait, I think as the onions and garlic people do like to hammer along their rural roads at frightening pace. Seat belts are fitted for the front passengers, of course but as the French won’t use them this is a wasted investment.
We retired to the Foley Arms in Great Malvern to compare notes and enjoy a slap-up meal of roast beef, roast potatoes, chips, croquette potatoes, mashed potatoes and lashings of Great British gravy. The local brew, Malvern Bishop is potent stuff and helped us relax after three tiring days at the wheel.
Our conclusion is that if one car has to win the European Car of The Year, it must be the Alpine. It is has style, comfort and the good looks of a sure-fire classic. In these increasingly competitive times, these are vital assets. In comparison, the Simca has too much French eccentricity to thrive in the present market. And the boys at Ford and Vauxhall are going to have to think again! Bravo, Ryton!