Theme : Simca – Going the Distance

The transverse-engined, hatchback 1100 is undeservedly overshadowed by other trailblazers. But not only did it get there very early, its influence travelled surprisingly far.

Simca 1100
Simca 1100

Introduced in 1967 and available as 3 and 5 door hatchbacks, a neat estate as well as van and pickup versions, the Simca 1100 had a sizeable niche of the French market available to itself for years. Renault didn’t fill the hatchback gap between the 4/5/6 and the 16 until the 14 of 1976, the same year that conservative Peugeot put a fifth door into the 104. Structurally zealous or just snobbish, Citroen previously allowed a hatchback only on the Dyane until the Visa of 1978 and the GSA of 1979. Despite this, and its 18 year life, it is another of those cars, like the Autobianchi Primula with which it shares conceptual roots, that seems to have been excluded from the condensed history of the evolution of the motor car.

The 1100 had a 5 year gestation so, although Simca was controlled by major shareholder Fiat when the project began, Chrysler bought controlling interest from Fiat in 1963. Nevertheless, Fiat still held a minority shareholding until 1971 and it’s apparent that the 1100 benefited from the work that Dante Giacosa was doing to the 1964 Primula. Whilst the Renault 16 of 1965 had its engine mounted longitudinally behind the gearbox and the Peugeot 204 of the same year had a transverse engine but with an in-sump gearbox in the Issigonis style, the Simca had the transverse engine, in-line gearbox and unequal length driveshafts that Fiat was to make the industry norm. But we can also see Chrysler’s influence in the use of torsion bars for the suspension.

The 1100 starts taking shape - Early Robert Opron Simca Model
The 1100 starts taking shape – Early Robert Opron Simca Model – Image : ‘Robert Opron L’Automobile Et L’Art’ by Peter Pijlman

An early proposal by Robert Opron, before he left Simca in 1960, already seems to have set the bustle-back style and it may be assumed that Renault’s success with the tailgated 4 suggested that a hatchback was the way to go.

Well, I think that's sold it to me.
Well, it makes a refreshing change from LV suitcases and golf bags.

The engine for the 1100 was the alloy head, OHV ‘Poissy’ unit, designed by Georges Martin who went on to design the much loved Matra V12 racing engine – loved by enthusiasts for its unearthly scream.  First seen on the Simca 1000 in 1961, Martin’s earlier effort was less loved for its valve clatter but, like the big fours of the Citroen DS and the later Douvrin four, it was in the spirit of businesslike French engines that just did the job, and it ended its thirty year life in the Peugeot 309. It was good for a TI version of the 1100, complete with black grille, sports wheels and driving lights, released before Volkswagen had even launched the Golf, let alone its GTI.

By the early 70s, Chrysler was in trouble as the US industry adjusted to the constrictions of emissions legislation and the fuel crisis and Chrysler’s offerings in particular suffered from poor planning and development. Over in Europe however, Chrysler’s engineers and designers were working similar wonders to those of British Leyland, creating pragmatic solutions in the face of modest budgets, always using as much of what was to hand as possible.

Simca 1100 Special Interior - Image : simcatalbotclub.proboards.com
Simca 1100 Special Interior – Image : simcatalbotclub.proboards.com

In 1975, the Simca 1307 or Chrysler Alpine appeared. Developed in just three years, engineered in France but styled by Roy Axe in Ryton, it was a clever rebodying of the Simca 1100 on a 374mm longer wheelbase. Suddenly Chrysler was able to replace the creaking Hillman Hunter and Simca 1501 with what, until you considered the engines, seemed to be a totally modern transverse-engined hatchback.

Simca 1307 or Chrysler Alpine - Image : picautos.com
Simca 1307 or Chrysler Alpine – Image : picautos.com

In 1977, Matra produced the Antonis Volanis designed Rancho. Though hardly doing justice to Matra’s aerospace and motorsport technology, the Rancho was a clever and prescient piece of packaging, essentially a faux 4WD lifestyle vehicle, but using the straightforward underpinnings of the 1100.

Matra-Simca Rancho having a rare genuine outdoor moment.
Matra-Simca Rancho having a rare genuine outdoor moment.

In 1978, having earlier considered a Hillman derived from the 1000, Chrysler based its Horizon directly on the 10 year old Simca, keeping its 2520mm wheelbase. But this car wasn’t just for the French and UK markets. Chrysler had big plans for it as a World Car, making and selling it in the US as the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon. Thus, in the manner of these things, the 1100’s modest underpinnings now grandly morphed into the ‘Chrysler L Platform’. Sharing the same 2520 mm wheelbase inherited from the 1100, European and US versions differed beneath the near identical skin, with coils at the front replacing torsion bars, now apparently out of favour at Chrysler in the USA. Also, a series of different and larger engines ended up taking the place of the notoriously clattery Poissy units. In 1979, the L Platform entertained a shortened 3 door fastback, the Dodge 024 or Plymouth TC3.

The Plymouth Horizon shows off its brightwork - Image : momentcar.com
The US Plymouth Horizon shows off its brightwork – Image : momentcar.com

Back in Europe, by 1980 Chrysler had divested itself of its European holdings to PSA and both Simcas and Chryslers were now known as Talbots, a name conveniently already owned by both English and French companies. Despite the Horizon, the 1100 still carried on in places, whilst the Alpine hatchback was supplemented by a booted saloon version, the Solara. These two lasted until 1986 in the UK badged, in a sorry nod at the history of already dead brands, as the Rapier (hatch) and Minx (boot).

Talbot Solara - Image : onlycarz.com
Talbot Solara – Image : onlycarz.com

Stateside, with no more commercial connection to its European cousins, in 1982 the rather inappropriately named Dodge Rampage appeared on the L Platform, a ‘coupe / utility’, in other words a poseur’s pickup in the style of the Ford Ranchero and Chevrolet El Camino, but smaller and with front-wheel drive. Unsurprisingly this wasn’t a big seller. In 1983, Dodge revamped the 024 as the Charger. Like many US cars of that difficult period, it was a sadly diminished thing compared with its rather glorious namesake of 15 years before. The Charger ran until 1987, a bit longer if you count the 1000 that Carroll Shelby bought to modify when Dodge ceased production, so we might see Shelby’s 175 hp intercooled special as the final direct descendant of the unassuming 1100, though in fact it only just outlived its grandmother as the last unadulterated 1100 (now 1200), a Spanish built van, was made in 1985.

And then we have the K Cars, introduced in 1981 and lasting for 14 years, these were The Cars That Saved Chrysler (for the first time). Without the successful ‘L Platform’ cars, the hugely successful K Platform cars would not have existed. For good or for bad, look hard beneath the skin and you can see the spirit of the Simca 1100.

Chrysler's K Platform Saviour
Chrysler’s K Platform Saviour

But it doesn’t exactly stop there. In Russia, Moskvitch’s engineers were planning a replacement for their old rear driven saloon. In an impenetrable bit of late Soviet bureaucracy, Moskvitch dumped its own design and commissioned a near exact copy of the Simca 1307. Introduced in 1986, the Aleko continued in modified form until the company’s bankruptcy in 2002. In practice hardly any parts are interchangeable, and the need to use Moskvitch’s existing OHC engine as well as other units, meant that it had to be mounted longitudinally, Audi-style, well ahead of the front axle line and pushed hard up against the radiator to try and retain a reasonably short bonnet line. But it’s still reasonable to imagine a little piece of the honest little Simca 1100 lurking there.

Moskvitch Aleko - Image : hooniverse.com
Moskvitch Aleko – Image : hooniverse.com

The 1100 was a pretty good car, unrefined engine and typically Sixties lack of rust protection notwithstanding. It sold well in its own right at nearly 2.2 million. You could, of course, suggest that it ended up spawning a plethora of mediocrity, but it still deserves far more credit than it gets.

As a Postscript a rather nice Heuliez van that never got beyond prototype stage.
As a Postscript, here’s a rather neat 1100 based Heuliez van that never got beyond prototype stage.

27 thoughts on “Theme : Simca – Going the Distance”

  1. Is is possible the Simca 1100 and Autobianchi Primula are more related beneath the surface given the lingering connection between Fiat and Simca? Similar to how the Simca 1000 was originally a Fiat proposal evaluated alongside what eventually became the Fiat 850.

    Seem to recall reading the Chrysler Alpine was to receive the larger 1.6-2.2 Chrysler Type 180 engines (with the latter engines originally intended to spawn Twin-Cam versions) or even a BL-sourced 1.75 E-Series at one point, it is also seems Lotus in 1982 developed a road-going Talbot Lotus Horizon Turbo Prototype with a version of the Lotus Slant-4 Turbo unit that went nowhere and differs from the mid-engined Lotus Horizon Group B rally project.

    Wonder though where the Simca 936 prototype fits into the Simca 1100 story aside from being conceived as a direct replacement for the rear-engined Simca 1000, particularly whether the 936 is essentially a downsized Simca 1100 akin to the later Chrysler Horizon-based C2-Short prototype?

    Can you elaborate more on Chrysler temporarily considering a Hillman derived from the 1100?

    1. It’s possible that the Primula and 1100 started out sharing more in common, but the final cars seem very different. The Simca is 220 mm longer in the wheelbase with completely different suspension. Obviously, though, Giacosa’s ideas on drivetrain layout were passed to Simca. Interestingly Chrysler had a minority share in Simca for 5 years before it bought out Fiat’s majority – how do these minority shareholdings work out?

      Information on the 936 is scant (please return to DTW later this month) but everything about it looks different. It seems far more Mini inspired, with small wheels, though using the Simca 1000 drivetrain at the other end.

      And, as you might have suspected, my previous mention above of an 1100 based Hillman was a typo. I meant 1000 based.

  2. It would have been funny seeing the Simca / Chrysler Europe story come full circle with the Fiat-Chrysler merger had it not been sold off to PSA, though would have preferred Chrysler in better circumstances fully exploiting PSA’s best years from the early-80s to late-90s via an alliance.

    Was under the impression the 1000-based Hillman proposal was a rejected replacement for the Imp prior to the Talbot Sunbeam, with the later itself being derived from an earlier Avenger-based SWB Imp replacement project.

    1. The 1000 based Hillman was certainly said to have been meant as an Imp alternative, but the chronology is interesting. The 1000 appeared in 1961. Chrysler took control of Simca in 1963. The Imp appeared in 1963. Chrysler took over Rootes in 1964. The Hillman badged prototype has a pre 1964 registration, but maybe they just used an old Simca they had running around as a base. Did Chrysler arrive at Rootes, decide the Imp was going to be trouble and plan its immediate replacement? That sounds unlikely. But if the replacement had been planned for a natural model run-out, say 1967, then they would be basing it on a rather old car. To me it seems more likely that the ‘Hillman 1000’ would have supplemented the Imp for those who wanted a 4 door.

    2. Yet there are other photos of the 1000 based Hillman badged ‘Imp’. Despite Chrysler’s reputation for poor product planning in the 60s, I really can’t see it being considered as a serious Imp replacement. But maybe they were thinking of an ‘Imp’ range in the style of Fiat’s ‘500’ range.

    3. Where did they get these headlights. Ami 6? Renault 16? Neither quite fit. I’m certain they precede by many years the Mille’s 1975 rectangular lights and dummy grille facelift, which was a textbook instance of “combing the hair of the corpse”*.

      The ‘APX’ registration plate is interesting “Apex” was the codename for the Imp. My guess is that it was just lying around, after previous use on an Imp styling buck. Perhaps the ‘Hillman Mille’ emerged from a ‘counsel of despair’ plan to pull the plug on Linwood, notorious for industrial unrest and poor product quality.

      *I’ve borrowed the phrase from James Ensor, the influential Belgian painter who moonlighted as the Financial Times’s motoring correspondent in his later years. If I recall correctly, he was referring to the Morris Marina Series 3.

    4. There was a more thoroughly updated 1975 or 1976 Simca 1005/1006 facelift design proposal, which looked surprisingly modern for an aging design compared to the final Simca 1000 facelift and appearing to feature more extensive changes in comparison to what BL did to convert the Marina into the Ital.

  3. Thanks for this illuminating and thorough history of the 1100 Sean. Here at the Pedants’ Society (formerly the Society of Pedants) :Talbot Division, I thought I would point out that the Rapier and Minx were trim
    levels of both the Alpine and Solara. The Rapier came with two-tone metallic paint, pepper pot alloy wheels and plush interior whilst the Minx was a more basic affair. By this time the Alpine/Solara was almost OK to drive, having been fitted with an improved rack and power assisted steering along with a 5 speed Peugeot gearbox and moderately supportive front seats.

    1. Mark. Yes, I probably should have written ‘sub-badged’ to be more precise, but I remember at the time thinking how odd to bring back names that had been chucked in the bin so recently.

  4. Fascinating. Mongrels are often longer lived than the purest breeds, and so it is here. I had long suspected that the ubiquitous clattering engines of 1980s Talbots suggested a degree of engineering recycling, but I would never have known how widespread that platform became. Great stuff.

  5. Also, the image of the car full of crates is terrific. The hatchback must have been one of those forehead slapping moments for other manufacturers. It is one of those ideas that astounds with its obviousness.

  6. DTW are reasonably fascinated by the Degrees of Separation idea, though in the motor industry it is often far less than the maximum six. These ‘connections’ often demonstrate that the motor industry is not as big a world as it sometime seems. Often they’re mentioned at the time, then forgotten. Usually manufacturers are happy if this is the case. What do proud Mercedes owners think about the Mercedes hardware lurking beneath those aesthetically challenged SsangYongs they snigger at? Certainly Chrysler weren’t going to present the L Platform cars as “these are based on something we did a few years ago with some guys in France who were working on some ideas they got from some guys in Italy”

    On a more contemporary connection to the 1100, the Rancho was a partly rebodied 1100 designed by Matra Automotive. When Renault decided to dump the Avantime, Matra sold its auto engineering arm to Pininfarina. In 2009, Pininfarina sold it on to Segula Technologies. At the forthcoming Geneva Show, Segula will showcase a concept car with their ‘worldwide first’, Hagora Pulse. Watch this space … but don’t be sure you’ll read anything about it.

  7. So far as the Omni and Horizon were concerned, the story is available in quite some detail at allpar.com:

    http://www.allpar.com/omni/horizon-c2.html

    The change from Simca’s torsion bars to Mac struts is given – it gave more internal space due to a lower floor. When these cars were introduced in North America, Sean, they certainly DID mention its French roots. The first 200,000 also had special 1700cc Golf engines because the SOHC 2.2 wasn’t ready. But it’s a bit of a flight of fancy to think the K car was much to do with a 1964 Simca. I don’t think many of you understand the sheer SCALE of the Big 3, including Chrysler, compared to the small car companies in Europe in the 1970s.

    Rather than comment further on the the rather Eurocentric story told here, I urge you to read the referenced link above. There are also many many pages on various Chryco developments at the site. Leo Kuzmicki, the famed Norton engine man who then joined Rootes and designed the Imp engine (it was not a Coventry Climax at all and the Imp site in the UK presents an SAE paper on it by Kuzmicki) had a reasonably highly-placed job at Chrysler by the time of the Omni project.

    Comment by Marc Honore: “The relative heaviness and cost of the torsion bar setup was to penalize the European C2 throughout its life. I always felt that this was a bad decision.”

    And anyway, wot abaht the Vedette?

    1. Bill. I’ve already come across that page and agree that’s it’s by far the most comprehensive piece on the Horizon (I’ll use the Eurocentric appellation) that I’ve seen. It’s my pretty reasonable understanding of the difference in scale between the US and European industries that causes me to find the 1100’s ‘influence’ both fascinating and a bit ironic. I already acknowledged Chrysler’s (and Fiat’s) own input to the genesis of the 1100, so there was no reason why they shouldn’t draw on this. As for the K Car, it’s not fanciful to conclude that, without the 1100, it wouldn’t have been quite the way it was, which is all I was implying.

      As for the Vedette, maybe someone else here has the stomach for writing about that sad, tarted up remnant of Yankee imperialism, but certainly not me old boy!

  8. It’s hard to locate pictures of the really interesting bits of the 1100, but I managed to find these in my archive:

    The Poissy engine, upright in the Mille, has become a slant four. Mounting the carburettor in a front facing position is a brave move. Spark plug access is good, below the high-mounted inlet manifold. There’s a sub-frame, but not quite the way BMC did it. The slanted engine keeps the powertrain very low, the gain seems to have been in centre of gravity rather than a low waistline.

    The torsion bar suspension follows Renault practice, itself heavily influenced by the Citroën Traction Avant. At the time the 1100 was being developed, nobody had done FWD with MacPherson struts (which, I need not remind the reader, were a Simca world first); by 1965 Peugeot had the combination up, running, and on sale. The torsion bars address the issue of making space for a driveshaft between double wishbones – note the unusual forward mounting of the telescopic shock absorbers.

    The rear suspension – sorry, no pictures – is similarly Renault-like. There seems to have been an unwritten rule that French and British front wheel drive cars had to have complicated rear suspension. The Italians and Germans were more divided on the matter. Goliaths Lancias and the first FWD Autobianchis had dead tube axles on longitudinal leaf springs, Lloyd, DKW and Fiat went for more sophisticated configurations.

    Finally, that Poissy engine. Dante Giacosa states that the 122 project had an engine derived from the 600’s ‘100’ unit, but with increased cylinder centres and larger cylinder bores to allow an increase the capacity to 850cc. By the time Simca had finished the job, the engine had five main bearings and enough room to increase capacity from its native 944cc (68×65) to 1592cc (80.6×78) by resorting to desaxe bores.

    1. Some say the Poissy engine was derived from the 600’s 100 Series engine, while others claim it was derived from the Fiat 1100 engine. One wonders whether the Poissy engine was capable of being further developed in better circumstances.

      Also read elsewhere via the CAAPY Museum that mentions Simca at one point investigated a pair of all-alloy water-cooled 55 hp (SAE) / 59 ft-lbs 950cc (Bore: 71mm / Stroke: 60mm) Flat-4 engines of about 45kg, one with OHV and the other with SOHC.

    1. Dante Giacosa says in his biography that the 1100 engine was used in the alternative ‘119’ project – it seems that both 119 and 122 were driven by Simca’s requirements, but were not originally intended to be exclusive to the French.

      The 119’s engine was derived from the 1100’s long-stroke unit but had the stroke and deck height reduced to bring the capacity down to 1000cc.

      It looks as if the Poissy engine had the ‘100’ as its basis, but the opportunities arising from the new tooling meant that it grew into something bigger and more useful for Simca’s product plans.

      There are several pictures in Giacosa’s book of Centro Stile mock-ups for the Mille. The one eventually chosen by Mario Revelli de Beaumont looks rather more soigné than what was realised in production; it’s rather like a smaller Fiat 1300/1500 with the same strong waistline and wrap-around rear screen.

  9. “which, I need not remind the reader, were a Simca world first”. They’re still arguing the toss over that one on Talk: MacPherson Strut Wikipedia. We know the Ford Consul had them in 1950 for certain, and that Ford put them in the first Vedettes in 1948/9. Or do we?

    So in your rather amazing files, Robert, do you have the definitive answer to this highly important question? If so you can settle the minds of the Wikipedia boys. Oh, and me too. I don’t think Simca used struts themselves but inherited them after they took over Ford SAF. Could well be wrong about that though. What say you?

    Note that AteUpWithMotor doesn’t think the 1949 Vedette was first:

    http://ateupwithmotor.com/terms-technology-definitions/macpherson-strut-history/

    This author is extremely thorough as well, and says those early Vedettes were free of Macpherson struts. Who’s correct?

    Nice to see that the Simca engine has a crossflow head, even with the carb and distributor front-mounted for vitally good wet weather performance. The Brits and Swedes held on to same side induction and exhaust for ages as did the US on their straight sixes (barring the Pontiac Sprint OHC), although Ford went crossflow with that massive Heron head piston and quite destroyed the gentler and nicer characteristics of previous 1498 cc engine in the vibratory sense.

    1. As a (then) young petrolhead, I graduated from Minis to various BMC 1100/1300’s, standard and modified, and then had some drive time in Simca 1100’s and an 1100Ti . A distinct revelation, compared to my beloved ADO 16’s – Poissy’s contender was much more refined to drive, with its smooth drivetrain, absorbent well controlled ride, tidy handling, admittedly low geared steering, and the buzzy engine noise fairly well suppressed. The 1294cc Ti was a lively performer, and twirled neatly around the cones in a slalom event.

      So, it was to see why millions of French families bombed happily along those chaussees deformees, in their Simcas. And probably fair to say that the Chrysler manager, who considered the suspension over engineered, wasn’t applying the same standards? With the radiator in the right place, ahead of the engine, these cars had no problems AFAIK with wet ignition, or carb icing.

    2. Bill. That’s a very good and comprehensive article on the Vedette, a car I’ve always found slightly exotic, just because especially in befinned Simca form they seemed rather out of place in 50s Europe. As you say their published illustration proves otherwise, but CC muddies its own water by stating earlier in the piece that the Ford Vedette had Macpherson struts. Either way I trust everyone your side of the Atlantic is appreciative of the sterling work of that fine member of the Scots nobility and engineering dilettante, the Earl Macpherson,

  10. Does anyone know what Rudolf Hruska’s involvement was with the Simca 1000 project?

    When thinking about his role in developing the Alfasud it is possible (though unverified) that the 950cc Simca Flat-4 project was a Hruska design, with elements later recycled into the Alfa Romeo Boxer unit.

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