A transatlantic crossing, and a return trip.
Conceived and designed in the United States, introduced in France by Ford but rebadged Simca soon afterwards before eventually ending its days in South America, the second-generation Ford/Simca Vedette had a meandering career trajectory.
In the summer of 1954, Simca took over SAF(1) Ford France and thereby gained ownership of its large Poissy manufacturing plant as well as the complete Ford France dealership network. The Blue Oval’s French operation had not achieved the success originally envisioned, causing Ford instead to concentrate its future attention on its German and English subsidiaries.
With the purchase of Ford France, Simca also came into possession of a brand-new range of large sedans designed by Ford to replace the first Vedette, which dated back to 1948. Initially, the only engine available was the ex-Ford 2,351cc side-valve V8 ‘Aquilon’ unit, developing 80bhp. Body construction was of the monocoque type and, while there was still a live rear axle, the front suspension employed McPherson struts. The basic equipment level was named Trianon, followed by Versailles, with Régence being the most lavishly equipped variant. A wagon version, the Marly, followed in 1956.
In the autumn of 1957 the Vedette range received a mid-life refresh(2) under the direction of stylist Luigi Rapi. The most readily visible alterations were the addition of modest fins at the rear and a semi-panoramic windshield. Power was still provided by the old Aquilon V8, which now pushed out 84bhp. A ‘Rush-Matic’ automatic transmission operated by pushbuttons became available as an option in 1959. There were once again three equipment levels, but with new names: Beaulieu, Chambord and Présidence in ascending order of plushness.
Delivered only in black (although a few special-order white cars were delivered to African nations) the Présidence was the luxurious top-of-the-line model complete with a continental kit spare wheel housing mounted on top of the rear bumper. The Présidence was also the first European car to offer a car phone as an option and formed the basis of the unique Simca Présidentielle used by Charles de Gaulle at official ceremonies before he switched to the Citroën DS.
The shock appearance of the DS in late 1955 combined with the fallout of the Suez crisis soon afterwards spelled the beginning of the end for the large Simca’s career in Europe: fewer than 16,000 cars were sold in 1959 compared to almost three times as many three years earlier. Other, more modern rivals such as the Peugeot 404 and Fiat 2100 soon entered the arena and siphoned off their share of the Vedette’s market.
In an effort to extend the appeal of the Vedette downwards in the market, Simca introduced the Ariane in 1957. This utilized the original Vedette bodystyle and was fitted with a 1,290cc four-cylinder ‘Flash’ engine from the smaller Aronde sedan. Shortly afterwards, the Ariane 8 was added to the line-up, fitted with the Aquilon V8 but still clothed in the first-generation body. Unfortunately for the French firm, the Ariane, despite some popularity with the taxi trade, proved insufficient to stem falling sales. Still, Simca was doing well enough off the sales of the succesful Aronde model at the time and was putting the finishing touches on the soon to be introduced compact rear-engined 1000.
The last Vedette rolled off Poissy’s lines in mid-1961(3) but the car would enjoy a second career in South America: Simca do Brasil had been established in 1958 with a production facility in Sao Bernardo near Sao Paulo which would commence production of the big Simca during 1959, initially from CKD kits sent from France then, after French production was halted, using the tooling and presses shipped from Poissy.
Until 1966, the Brazilian-made Simcas stylistically remained mostly identical to their French counterparts but they received different model names; Jangada, Alvorada and Presidente. In 1966, the heavily facelifted Esplanada, which would remain in production until 1969, replaced the old model. The Esplanada was also fitted with a more modern overhead-valve V8 with hemispherical combustion chambers christened ‘Hemisul’. All Brazilian Simcas were from that point on branded ‘a Chrysler product’, signalling the increasing influence of the American firm and the impending demise of the Simca name, which would be phased out by 1970. In all, approximately 50,000 Brazilian Simcas were manufactured between 1959 and 1969.
The brochures seen in the accompanying photos are from 1959 and 1960 (the two square-format ones) respectively. Since Simca has become somewhat of a forgotten marque, its brochures are usually in the friendly price range, even if they are around sixty years old now.
(1) Société Anonyme Française.
(2) The brochures shown above feature this facelifted line.
(3) The Ariane would survive until 1963 when it was replaced by the all-new 1300 and 1500.
25 thoughts on “Parlez-vous Franglais?”
Good morning, Bruno. What an interesting (and largely forgotten) car you brought us today. I can’t remember having seen one and the same is true of the brochures. It’s definitely ‘een wagen met karakter’ or a ‘car with character’ in English.
Good morning Bruno. What an interesting back-story for a largely forgotten (if ever known) car.
I’m intrigued by the Vedette’s engine, a V8 with a capacity of just 2.35 litres. At the risk of revealing my ignorance on such technical matters, I would assume that the inertial losses in such a configuration would have been hugely detrimental to the torque produced. Was Ford US so wedded to the V8 format that it couldn’t conceive of using a six or four-cylinder unit of similar capacity, which would presumably have been much more efficient? The Ariane, with its 1.29-litre four in the same body, must have been a slow old lump.
I was interested to see how the Brazilian outpost facelifted the Vedette to produce the Esplanada. Here it is:
I note the increasing Chrysler influence mentioned by Bruno in the semi-vinyl roof on the yellow example, which reminded me of this (in reverse):
Daniel, I’m intrigued by the idea of small capacity V8’s. I think there’s an upper point in cylinder capacity in petrol engines after which you get efficiency losses related to combustion. I get the impression that it is just north of 2 litres for a four cylinder, as there are relatively few +2litre fours in history: the Bentley 3 litres, Pontiac Iron Duke, red block Volvo engine for example.
Increasing capacity through adding cylinders rather than enlarging cylinders is a way round this but then you get mechanical losses, so there is obviously a sweet spot somewhere in the middle.
I recall reading that valve springs sap power as the obviously resist compression, a figure of up to 2hp was quoted which surprised me and I repeat it here with slight hesitation. So a small V8 is going to sap more power than a four (Unless the four had 16 valves), just based of valves alone. An alternative would be eliminating strong valve springs by using an additional cam lobe and follower to close valves. This “Desmodromic” arrangement is used on Ducati motorbikes and MB used it on competition engines many years ago. It’s alleged virtue was eliminating valve bounce, an affliction unlikely to bother the Vedette but I can’t help thinking it could have a modern day use in reducing the engine’s burden in stop-start running and in engines with individual cylinder switch off.
By the way I suspect this is going to appear before your comment, so apologies for being out of sequence.
Interesting stuff, thank you Richard. I’ll leave our technical experts to comment further, as I’m already well outside my sphere of competence on this subject!
Hi Richard, You’ve reminded me to issue a requisite shout out to a beloved beast: the Porsche 944, whose inline fours started growling at 2.5L and howled all the way to 3.0L in S2 guise. Yes, they had balance shafts.
A 2.2 litre version of that flat-head V8 was briefly offered in the UK in the 1946 Ford V8 Pilot, before being replaced by an “anglicised” 3.6 version.
Could Simca have continued producing the Brazilian Vedette / Esplanada in Europe during the 1960s including the Hemi-OHV (or non-Hemi OHV) development of the Ford Flathead V8 or would they have been better off developing a Six from either the Rush or Type 342 4-cylinder engines, being in terms of engines to the Simca 1300/1500 what the Fiat 1800/2100 later 2300 was to the Fiat 1300/1500 (even if a case could have also been made for replacing the Vedette with an upscaled 6-cylinder powered 1300/1500 as could have potentially been the case on page 229-230 in Dante Giacosa’s book).
The grille treatment of the Brazilian car is similar to the contemporary Plymouth Belvedere.
Simca is a fascinating shooting star that came out of nothing, grew to France’s largest car manufacturer and sank without trace.
I remember seeing one or other Ariane and the later Aronde had a certain popularity but I don’t remember seeing a Vedette on the road at that time.
I wouldn’t say ‘without trace’ given the importance of Poissy and Villaverde in Groupe Peugeot’s manufacturing infrastructure.
Simca appear to have produced the Ford V8 engine until 1973, when the last of the Simca-Unic Marmon military trucks was built. Introduced in 1964; the flathead engine’s capacity was increased to 4.2 litres for this application.
By the way, the small flathead is not the only engine to have been substantially redesigned in South America. The Ford Y block V8 was treated to a new Windsor style head in Argentina in the early 70’s and the Kaiser-Jeep SOHC ‘tornado’ six was also substantially revised, gaining 7 main bearings and a new head with individual intake and exhaust cam lobes in the process.
For as much as it is an interesting piece of history and how a Ford flathead engine ended its life as a Chrysler, the Emi-Sul engine is often regarded as a fiasco in Brazil, as it was very unreliable, suffering from severe overheating.
The first Brazilian Simcas were constantly outpaced by the Willys Aero and the FNM JK, a rebadged Alfa Romeo 2000 produced locally, already covered by DTW. The Simca was infamously nicknamed “Belo Antonio”, after a character from an Italian movie that, although handsome and married to Claudia Cardinale in the film, suffered from erectile dysfunction – so, another lack of power.
Simca constantly tried to improve the V8, first by enlarging it (no Belo Antonio pun intended), then by adopting hemisferical combustion chambers and increasing compression ratio. While results were good on paper, the upgraded engine was not a blast in real life, and the overheating issues sealed its fate.
Talking about Ford SAF/Simca, I regard the 1953 Ford Comète coupé (which was never produced in Brazil, sadly) as their best effort, and one of the most beautiful grand tourers ever made.
Hi Eduardo. Gosh, the Comete is really rather lovely:
That might just be the prettiest Ford I’ve ever seen!
The Comète really is very lovely, though definitively more looks than go.
It also is the proto Facèl-Vega, as it was not only the brainchild of a certain Jean Daninos bzz also produced outwards at Daninos’ company: Facèl-Metallon.
Bruno, thanks for bringing to our attention this distinctive car with a long and complicated life.
Here are a couple of photographs of my first, and so far only encounter with an Ariane:
A Belgian classic car club was on tour, and set up an impromptu show in town.
A couple more pictures.
The interior is very basic, and also very ’50s Ford:
It strikes me that this is a car with two unsuitable engines, and no option of something to split the difference between Rush an Aquilon. The Aquilon V8 is an appealing notion, just wrong for mid-fifties France. The unhappy little 1290cc Rush engine must have struggled, with 48bhp to haul 1085 kg. Simca were usually good at getting as much power as reliably possible from small-capacity engines, but not this one.
If the Vedette had remained within Ford’s orbit, Dagenham and Cologne had 1500-1700c four cylinders which would have done the job. But a foreign engine – that just wasn’t done in those days!
I tried to establish whether there was any commonality between the Vedette (1954), Consul Mk.2, and Taunus P2 (1957). My guess is that Poissy, Dagenham, and Köln – to apply DTW standard metonymy – went their own ways referring to patterns from Detroit.
Let’s remind ourselves how close the three sites are:
And yet they functioned as self-contained entities, sourcing everything they could from within their national borders, producing similar sized, and similar looking cars with not a part in common.
The second-series Vedette and Taunus P2 were the first of their division’s cars to use MacPherson struts for their front suspension, Ford of Britain led the field, using them for the 1950 Consul. The Taunus was shorter and narrower than the Vedette and Consul, which are far closer in size – 1346mm and 1321mm front and rear tracks are identical – that probably came from a Detriot edict to have 53″ and 52″ tracks. The Vedette also has a 106″ wheelbase, the Consul Mk.2’s is 104½”, the contemporary Zephyr’s is 107″.
In our globalised world this would beggar belief, but this autarky was really only broken down in the 1970s, and then by external factors such as ‘industrial relations’ problems in the UK and the opportunities presented by Spain as a fast-growing low-wage economy which could only be accessed through local production.
Did the people in Detroit understand Europe? Ambrose Bierce (maybe) said that ‘War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” I’m not convinced that the course modules of the first half of the 20th century even sunk in.
Interesting story and car. There’s something very ‘un-French’ about the Vedette – it looks like a baroque version of the mk2 Ford Consul, in some ways.
The Vedette really got around; it was the basis of China’s first ‘official’ car, the Dongfeng CA71. The story includes a suspect reference to de Gaulle, I’m pleased to say.
In addition to crossing the Atlantic twice, the Vedette (in Ariane form at least) made it across the sea to Ireland Between 1954 and 1968, both the Ariane and Aronde/Étoile were assembled by McCairns Motors in Dublin. McCairns was better known as the assembler and distributor of Vauxhall cars in the Republic of Ireland.
I’m indebted to DTW’s esteemed editor for this little nugget of information!
My thanks to the DTW readers and fellow authors for their additional information, comments, analysis and photographs- not only on this particular piece but in general. I believe it is what makes DTW stand out from the vast majority of other car-related websites where predictability and tunnel-vision fanboy comments offer no additional value to the communications.
Daniel: I have to agree that the Comète is likely the most beautiful Ford ever made, even because the two other contenders I thought of – the 1950 Mercury Eight and the OSI 20M TS are not badged as Fords. So it has to be the Comète, and I bet Luigi Segre had a closer look at it before designing the original Karmann-Ghia.
CX.GTi: you’re right, the Comète definitively more looks than goes. I know that not much were made (some say 750 cars), but would it be a crime to fit a Ford V8 289 engine from an early Mustang into a Comète?
Despite the somewhat misleading name, the Rush-Matic wasn’t an automatic as such – it was an overdrive that operated on second and third in the case of a three speed gearbox, the idea being that overdrive second conveniently filled the hole between normal second and third while OD third did duty as an actual overdrive. If you wanted to actually change gear differently, Ford France went native in that they offered the Cotal semi automatic as an expensive option. This was a four speed epicyclic gearbox, somewhat similar mechanically to an actual automatic, which used electromagnets where you would normally find hydraulically operated clutches and brake bands. In order to choose a gear the driver needed only lift the accelerator and delicately stir what was called the “moutardier” as in the little spoon used in a mustard jar. Only to go forward mind, as Cotal saw fit not to include any means of going astern within their epicyclics. Heading backwards was accomplished by means of a separate and mechanical reversing unit. As this was separate one could in principle have four forward and four reverse gears. In practice one could not as the nature of the reverser meant that all of the reverse gears were much lower than their forward equivalents and the use of first or even second reverse would produce so much more torque that transmission elements downstream of the reverser were in danger of being twisted expensively. Third was instead recommended for manoeuvring .
These were also sold in Australia; I remember seeing a few Beaulieus around as a kid. Simca was doing well here in those years with the Aronde, but disappeared from the local scene about the time of the Chrysler takeover. Curbside Classic has some great features on these.
There is a beautifully-restored Vedette in historic touring car racing, which can be seen circulating serenely at the rear of the field.
It is worth mentioning that the Vedette originated as a proposed small Ford for the US market, but in the aftermath of WW2 was dropped as it would be more profitable to build just one car.