One car illustrates why Simca weren’t quite like the other three.
Unlike the other French manufacturers, the Italian born Henri Pigozzi of Simca wasn’t scared of a bit of Transatlantic-style showmanship. His big Simcas, derived from the Ford Vedettes, didn’t shy away from chrome, wings and two-tone. Already, Aliens had helped present the 1954 Simca Ghia Coupe, now they were going to give those Aliens the car they’d want to buy.
A decade before he oversaw the arguable zenith, yet final flourish, of independent Citroen design, Robert Opron, then in his mid 20s, was hired by Simca between 1958 and 1960. Coming from a short spell in the aeronautics industry, Simca was where Opron found out about designing cars, starting with a typical designer’s apprenticeship – hubcaps.
Apparently it was a response to a request in a Tin-Tin comic for a car for 1980. By now Opron had established himself enough to be able to persuade Simca to let him proceed, though using the year 2000 as a target. In reality, it was probably a reasonably cost-effective project for some good publicity. First seen in 1959 and touted around for a couple of years after, it was a typical Car Of The Future in the Detroit style, but scaled down for Europe.
It was equipped with a suitable armoury of notional technology. Elsewhere I’ve seen nuclear power touted as its source though, since it’s a concept, it might just as well have run on custard. However, Peter Pijlman’s Opron book says that hydrogen batteries fed electric motors at the rear wheels and gave a 5,000 km range. Electromagnetically guided on autoroutes, above 150 kph the front wheels retracted, two gyroscopes balanced the car and it was steered by the rear wings. Obstacles would be detected by radar and the car braked automatically to a halt. Headlamps adjusted brightness with speed. Electromagnetic suspension gave an excellent ride whilst air conditioning and a soundproof, sun-filtering canopy ensured comfortable habitation.
Some of these notions remain fanciful, some we see now but, in its way it highlights the ever sluggish evolution of the motor car. Look at what the industry was suggesting it might produce 40 years hence, then look at the 2001 Peugeot 307, possibly the nearest thing we can find to a Simca descendant. Though I’d rather be in the back of the Peugeot for a long journey.
Although I was unaware of the Fulgur when I was a kid, I still knew it. Gerry Anderson of Thunderbirds TV puppetry fame had a highly inventive streak, but wasn’t shy of taking inspiration elsewhere. His first science fiction show was Supercar, which I watched avidly every Saturday. At the controls was the literally chisel-jawed, cool Yank pilot Mike Mercury and his car-cum-plane-cum-submarine was the eponymous Supercar, a useful four/five seater, powered by jet motors and travelling along the road on a cushion of air. It’s speculated that Supercar was inspired by the Ford FX-Atmos show car, which is a reasonable suggestion. But it seems to me that, in terms of scale and proportion, it is much closer t0 Opron’s Fulgur, though that possibly also drew some inspiration from the 1954 Ford.
The Fulgur underlines the difference between Simca and the other members of the French (then) Big Four. For their various reasons, none of the others would have produced this sort of silly, yet rather endearing, show car. In both this and in its everyday products, Simca alone offered its home customer base a bit of glitzy foreign frivolity. Even Citroen, so forward looking in many ways, would have tutted at such a public flight of fancy.
Never a major shareholder, but having a good relationship with Gianni Agnelli that stretched back to the early 1920s, Pigozzi was forced to cede control of Simca when Chrysler took over Fiat’s shares in 1963. Perversely enough, rather than upping the transatlantic glitz, Chrysler’s stewardship seemed to bring a rather disappointing French restraint to Simca’s products.