Theme: Simca – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

The Simca 1300/1500 stepped elegantly into the Aronde’s shoes yet, despite good looks and strong sales, it never really escaped the rather ‘grey’ reputation bestowed by its casting as the universal anonymous saloon in Jacques Tati’s 1967 film “Playtime”.


The casual seeker after knowledge might too easily conclude that the mid-size Simca’s sole contribution to the advancement of the automotive art was the availability, in the estate cars only, of a Formica-faced boot floor which could double as a picnic table.

The reality is that it was a well-balanced product, both in engineering and style, for which Simca adopted ‘best’ practice, rather than joining the technological revolution which was sweeping through the car industry in the late fifties and early sixties, which saw even conservative businesses like BMC, GM, and Rootes trying to rewrite the engineering rule-book.

Image: Simca

The Simca 1300 arrived in May 1963, a replacement for the big-selling Aronde series, which had been its manufacturer’s prime crop through the previous decade. In the same year, Chrysler took control of Simca, buying Fiat shares to increase their holding to 65%. The 1300/1500 and 1301/1501 are therefore Fiat-era designs which lasted almost to the end of Chrysler’s period in control.

Image : Simca

Some Fiat big-hitters were behind the design of the 1300/1500. Oscar Montabone was director of Simca Engineering centre in Argenteuil during the car’s development period, and Rudolf Hruska, the father of the Alfasud was at Simca, then Fiat from 1960 to 1967 and is credited with involvement on the design of the 1300/1500.

Unlike the Mille, which had been on sale for a year and a half, the 1300/1500 was not a completely “clean-sheet” design. The slightly undersquare (74×75) 1.3 litre ‘Rush’ engine was carried over from the Aronde, but the 1475cc engine, which arrived in December 1963 was sufficiently different to merit its own ‘Type 342’ designation.

Henri Théodore Pigozzi launches the 1300. Image: Simca

The 1300/1500’s styling is characterised by a lightness and rightness of proportion which could have come from the studios of Frua or Michelotti, but is widely credited to Piedmontese aristocrat Mario Revelli de Beaumont. The style both inside and out, is more Italian-international than French, resembling a Glas or BMW more than its wilfully idiosyncratic domestic contemporaries.

The engine story began with the 1290cc pushrod ‘Rush’ engine from the 1960 Aronde. Based on a pre-WW2 Fiat ohv unit, it had gone through several upgrades. The Rush took over from the “Flash”, the main distinction being a five main bearing crankshaft. Despite its ancient origins, the engine was more advanced in its specification than rivals from Opel, Ford UK and BMC, with an alloy head and sump, and an electromagnetically controlled thermostatic cooling fan.

Image: Chrysler Imports Ltd.

The bigger 342 engine has a longer stroke (75.2×83) but does not vary significantly in design from the ‘Rush’ also known as Type 312.  In 1969 the smaller engine was quietly laid to rest, replaced by “Type 345” a reduced capacity 342 with a 70.3mm bore and 83mm stroke giving 1290cc.

The chassis design was distinguished by a coil sprung live axle at the rear, with four trailing links and a Panhard rod. The front suspension was by double wishbones attached to a transverse subframe with an anti-roll bar, and spring/shock absorber units acting on the upper wishbones. The early 1300s had drum brakes and cross ply tyres, front discs arrived with the 1500, and were fitted across the range to the -01 cars. Radial tyres were not a standard fitment until the late sixties.

The estate car arrived in 1964, initially as a 1500. As well as the Formica picnic table, it featured a horizontally split tailgate. A seven seat Familiale version was available with a huge roof-rack to accommodate the luggage displaced by the necessarily small occupants of the rearward facing third row of seats.

The 1300/1500 had a relatively short three and a half year  production life, replaced for the 1967 model year by the 1301/1501, a nose-and-tail facelift, which extended the nose by 70mm and the boot by 135mm. The effect was to elongate the saloon to the extent that it occupied the same road space as the Peugeot 404. The wagon retained the rear bodywork of its predecessor, a missed opportunity as these rearward-facing children would have grown a bit in the preceding three years, and many customers would have appreciated a really big picnic table.

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A 1300L with the shorter body was offered for a few months, as a low priced loss leader. The 712,239 production figure is impressive, but it was helped by having no domestic competitors in the 7CV / 8CV sector other than a 1290cc tax-break special version of the fine but ageing Peugeot 403. Until the Renault 16 arrived in mid-1965, there was an ‘open goal’ between the 6CV Renault 8 and the 9CV Peugeot 404.

630,650 of the 1301/1510 were produced.  It never matched its predecessor’s success, but had something of a charmed life. The Project 929 (Chrysler 160/180) cars were intended to replace the 1501 and the 1475cc Type 342 engine was dropped from production in 1970, then revived in 1973 in the face of a customer revolt against the bloated and mediocre 160-180.

Like its British Arrow series stablemate, the 1301/1501 remained in production too long, owing to the parlous state of the parent company.  Both were replaced in July 1975 by the Simca 1307/ Chrysler Alpine, a worthy successor ingeniously contrived from the Simca 1100 component set, in the most difficult of circumstances.

The Fiat-era relic did not give up without a fight, just making it into its teenage years. The last 1501 left the assembly line in September 1975. 1301 Wagon production ended in January 1976, and the last of the series, a 1301 saloon was built in June of that year.

The 1963-1976 “big Simcas” were once a ubiquitous part of the automotive landscape of northern Europe. In Britain they sold well, helped by the ex-Rootes dealer network and sporadic supply of domestic products from the strike-prone British Chrysler factories. Now they are all but forgotten, and near-extinct, a sorry fate for such an elegant car. Motorsport success and a high performance edition – Simca-Abarth? – might have made the series more memorable, as would a glamorous convertible or coupe.

The last nearly happened. This hatchback 1501 coupe was displayed by coachbuilder Heuliez at the 1968 Paris Motor Show.

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Simca’s management were not tempted, preferring to update the Bertone designed and built Mille coupe, and build on their relationship with Matra.  Above all, the idea came too late. In the planned order of things, the 1501 would be gone in two years.

Never underestimate the stamina of a grey man…

12 thoughts on “Theme: Simca – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie”

  1. Lovely. I wish cars today would come equipped with a Formica table in the boot.

    And look how easily moderne family man can slide his luggage onto the roof rack. For those with genuinely active lifestyles, an estate car is still unbeatable. Anyone who has witnessed someone trying to manhandle a canoe or a bike onto the roof of an SUV will know this.

    1. It’s a charming image that could also have doubled as a road safety advert. There’s no way he’ll ever secure that random collection of suitcases, soft bags and picnic baskets. And, once he gets en-route, as you can see, the car is so overloaded that not only is it sagging, but so is the entire photograph. And I’m sure that younger parents of a sensitive nature will be traumatised at seeing small children featuring as loose cargo.

  2. Jacques Tati did for this car what Steve Coogan did for the Ford Probe.
    The images of 60s France have me thinking about that unopened bottle of Lillet I have at home.
    (I discovered that it has to be kept in the fridge and lasts less than a month once opened. I don´t want to race through it like that so I have left it unopened and just gaze at it, imagining a nice aperatif instead).

  3. The contrast between the 1100 and the Chrysler no-name is marked. The No-Name is almost devoid of charm (were there ever “Ghia” style posh variants?) The little 1100 has a deftness and correctness about it. It would be most illustrating to compare their driving character. The 1100 suggests it´s a lightweight suit, well cut. The No-Name is a car that really looks like it gets in the way of itself. I see Roy Axe is credited with the No-Name which is not something I fault him for. It´s a sign the design came from Rootes´ side not Simca. Isn´t that charming? Evidently Chrysler believed more in Rootes´ design and engineering talent than Simca’s.

  4. So the Simca engine originates from the pre-WW2 Fiat 1100 that was later used by Fiat on the post-war 103 Fiat 1100 along with enlarged versions possibly used in the Fiat 1300/1500 (which included potent 96-108 hp SAE 1500 OST variants)?

    Did Simca ever look at developing a larger 1600cc+ engine family preceding the later 1600-2000cc Type 180 engines to replace the 1.3/1.5 engines used in the Simca 1300/1500 and 1301/1501 or did the 1.3 Type 345/2L2 and 1.5 Type 342/2N2 units likely have unexploited development potential given it was said to be an all-new engine design unrelated to the Fiat-derived Flash/Rush engines?

    1. It very much looks like Simca never got to consider developing their own larger engines. The Chrysler Rootes disaster overtook them. If they had remained independent they would probably have followed the industry trend for larger engines and larger vehicles. I´d guess that without Chrysler they´d have gone front drive for the 1000 replacement. The 1300 and 1500 would have been a front drive hatchback but not the non-entity that came out of Whitley. There is the question of whether there could have been a fourth marque in France. Well, we now have room for Kia, Hyundai and Skoda and other brands that were unknown in the 1960s. Why not Simca?

    2. Its hard to find much on the evolution of the 342, but my guess was that it was built on Rush tooling, using a new block casting with an increased deck height. The bore difference is only 1.2mm, suggesting there wasn’t any room to move outwards.

      But then there’s the puzzle of the Abarth Simca 2000GT from 1963, which has a bore and stroke of 88mm x 80mm giving 1946cc. In several accounts it’s said to be based on the 1500 block, whose dimensions are 75.2mm x 83.0mm. That’s a hell of a stretch, suggesting either there was a lot of overbore space, or – more likely – that Carlo used every trick in the book to find that extra 12.8mm.

      Stretching the 342 probably didn’t make much sense on France, as it would have pushed the car into the 9CV tax bracket. In the home market 1300/1301 sales were around twice those of the 8CV 1500/1501. However, a bit more capacity could have been useful in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands where the 1501 sold well.

    3. Using the 1500 engine and the Simca-Abarth 2000GT as a rough guide, a detuned road-going version of the 1947cc engine would potentially be putting out around 90-108+ hp though it is likely there would initially be a 1600-1750/1800cc upper/mid-range unit in between the 1500cc and 2000cc engines.

      Another thing to consider is that Abarth did tune the 108 hp Fiat 1500S Abarth, which presumably featured a fairly similar engine to the one found in the Simca 1500/1501 giving a rough indication to what a Simca-Abarth 1500/1501 would be like.

  5. Thinking further on the notion of the Simca 1300/1500 being under-engined, could Simca have developed a smaller roughly Fiat 124-sized 1300-engined version of the Simca 1500 slotting below the former yet above the FWD Simca 1100?

    1. Meant in terms of the Simca 1500’s dimensions as it was roughly the same size to the Fiat 125 if not larger yet in essence powered by engines from a class below, which would have been more suited to a Fiat 124-sized car.

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