Wednesday October 24, 2018
‘Chic’ is an incredibly overused term (especially when an estate agent is trying to sell you a property that managed to escape demolition circa 1987), but it really does apply to the Simca 1000.
It was one of the last rear-engine small cars to make an impact on European car buyers, and the Rally versions were so entertaining that they will feature in a separate blog next month. For now, we will concentrate on the standard saloons which always seem to appear in the background of 1960s French films.
La Société Industrielle de Méchanique et de Carrosserie Automobile – aka Simca was established in 1934 to build French-market Fiats, and Turin influenced their products until 1963. By 1954 the concern had acquired Ford of France’s operations, but sales of the V8-engine Vedette were severely affected by the fuel shortages in the aftermath of the 1956 Suez Crisis, and Simca needed a new small car that would rival the Renault Dauphine.
According to Ian Tisdale’s fascinating Grand Designs article, “Projet 950” began as a joint exercise with Fiat, the 1955 600 providing the foundation for the new model. However, ‘cultural differences soon led to a breakdown in cooperation, and the Simca project going its own way’.
The Fiat’s layout and suspension principles ‘were retained, but French customers expected four doors, even on their small cars’. The 1000 debuted at the 1961 Paris Salon where it managed to compete regarding visitor attention with the new Renault R4 and even the Jaguar E-Type; it was the first rear-engine car to bear the Simca name.
The 1000’s main domestic competitor for motorists in need of a smart but affordable transport was the new Citroën Ami 6 while the R8, Renault’s eventual heir to the Dauphine, was within months of launch. In the UK, the Simca laboured under a fairly steep price of £758, but for the motorist who wanted an upmarket small four-door, there were no British-built rivals.
The specification included a heater, windscreen washers but, quite incredibly, there was no ignition key; the 1000 was started simply by pressing a switch! By September 1962 there was the more luxurious 1000 Special which, according to Autocar at any rate, was ‘a chunky and willing little chap’. It also gained television fame when Patrick “Voice-Over King” Allen drove a 1000 in the Moroccan-set ITV thriller series Crane; alas, only two episodes are believed to have survived.
At the end of the year, Simca had already sold around 160,000 1000s, and it was on route to becoming France’s most exported car – significant achievements given that the company had no recent experience in marketing a car of this size. The 1000 had to win sales from Renault and Citroën with its smart coachwork and responsive “in-line four” engine.
1963 saw Chrysler acquire a majority share in Simca and they promoted the 1000 in the USA as both an alternative to a VW Beetle or as the ideal transport for ladies. To read the 1965 advertisement headed “What makes Simca 1000 a great woman’s car, too” is to realise the accuracy of Mad Men.
The 1000 was continually upgraded over the next 15 years including the option of a semi-automatic gearbox which made the 1000 a viable alternative to a DAF. 1968 saw the adoption of rack & pinion steering, modified suspension and, at last, the opportunity to fit your Simca with front disc brakes.
The Special was now powered by a 1,118cc engine and featured a tachometer and driving lamps to inform all other road users of its sporting nature while your local dealer would gladly inform you that it was faster than a Mini Cooper.
The 1970s was a challenging decade for Simca, as the brand was gradually subsumed in the disaster story that was Chrysler’s European operations. The 1000 received a facelift in 1976, including a very fake radiator grille, and by this time its former rivals had either long ceased production – the Renault 8/10, the NSU Prinz 4 or the Fiat 850 or, as with the Hillman Imp, approaching the end of their lifespan.
The final incarnation of the 1000 left the factory in 1978, the same year that Peugeot acquired Chrysler Europe and the true heir to the “Mille” was probably the 1981 FWD Talbot Samba. By then the rear-engine light saloon, except for the Skoda Estelle range, had largely passed into history but the Simca 1000 deserves to be remembered as a car that transformed the image of a marque – and once dominated the roads of France.
With Thanks To - Ian Tisdale