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.