The cars : SIMCA 1100

Template of a supermini

FOLLOWING the launch of the conventional 1300/1500 range at the Geneva Motor show in 1963, to replace the long-lived Aronde model, SIMCA turned its attention to developing a gap-bridging model to slot in between this and the baby Simca 1000. Therefore, it was a logical step for SIMCA to begin work on the new project in the Spring of 1964.

With the arrival on the marketplace of BMC’s front wheel drive baby cars (the Mini and 1100), the decision was made to design the new car around a front wheel drive engine/transmission package in order to maximize interior space. Immediately, this put significant demands on the SIMCA design team, as it would not be able to call upon any model in the existing range; in other words, SIMCA would experience a steep learning curve when developing the new car.

Projet 928: a new direction

Once the decision to go with front wheel drive had been taken, Projet 928 or VLBB (Voiture Legre Berline Break, or small car/small truck/estate car) rapidly developed at Poissy. Sadly, according to accounts of the 1100’s development, SIMCA became so pre-occupied with Projet 928’s development that the accord between the french company and the Italian tuners Abarth fell through. As discussed, that hampered the 1000’s sporting progress considerably…

During the VLBB’s development, SIMCA fell fully into the clutches of Chrysler, and the American management made much noise about how SIMCA’s autonomy would not be affected by the takeover. However, a raft of management changes followed, leaving SIMCA founder Henri ThŽodore Pigozzi replaced by George Hereil. Following his appointment, Hereil quickly re-iterated Chrysler’s initial statement that SIMCA would remain largely unchanged by the change in ownership, and in the case of Projet 928, this certainly held true. The reasoning behind Chrysler’s willingness to leave SIMCA to its own devices over its new 6CV car was simple: the Americans recognised that the forthcoming car would hit the market in a favourable position, fighting only front wheel drive cars by BMC and Autobianchi… and that was about it. SIMCA’s last car (or Chrysler France’s first, depending on your perspective) would steal a march on all domestic opposition, and that was good for Chrysler…

Naming the new car proved straightforward enough: its 1118cc engine allowed for the company to use the SIMCA 1100 tag; thus fitting nicely between the SIMCA 1000 and 1500.

1100 steals a march…

Thanks in no small part to the success of the SIMCA 1000, by the time of the launch of the 1100 in May 1967, SIMCA had become a serious player in the French motor industry. With the backing of Chrysler behind it, the 1100 became set to make a huge impact on the market, playing on its strengths of its advanced specification. And advanced it certainly was, sporting front wheel drive, a hatchback, disc brakes, rack and pinion steering and a wide range of body styles.

To gauge how important the 1100 was to SIMCA, one only needs to look at the range offered at launch. Unlike the 1000 and many of its opponents, SIMCA ensured that all customers’ requirements were met, so along with the four body permutations, the 1118cc could be purchased with a semi-automatic gearbox, two states of engine tune (53 or 56bhp), and – later – the 944cc engine, from its smaller brother. Chrysler were rightly proud of the SIMCA 1100, and ensured that it wore the marque’s badges from day one.

So, history repeated itself: the French loved the 1100 from launch and bought it in huge numbers. In its first year of production (1968), 138,242 1100s rolled out of Poissy: an impressive achievement.

The SIMCA 1100’s evolution:
May 1967 SIMCA 1100, after a three year gestation. The 1100 was SIMCA’s first front wheel drive car, and like its smaller brother, the 1000, it sparked massive consumer interest. As was the case in 1961, SIMCA built up a large pre-launch stock, to meet demand. All bodels carry Chrysler badging from launch.
1969 944cc’s 5CV engine boosted to 44bhp, and range expanded to include further model and trim variations
Commerciale variation launched; essentially a three-door break with panelled-in rear side windows.
1970 Three-door Break model dropped.
1100 SpŽcial launched in three-door form, featuring 1204cc 75bhp engine and servo-assisted brakes.
1972 SpŽcial engine enlarged to 1294cc, power remains the same at 75bhp.
1973 The VF (Voiture Fourgonette, car-based van)
series introduced, initially in VF2 form
1974 The VF1 launched.
1100TI launched; was this Europe’s first hot hatchback?
944cc 1100LE and GLE introduced
1118cc 1100ES (Economique SpŽcial) introduced – both
this and the LE/GLE are fuel economy specials
1975 Pick-up version introduced (SIMCA’s first pick-up since 1963).
Revised dashboard introduced, featuring improved ergonomics.
1976 Matra offshoot, the Rancho launched.
1977 VF3 launched, featuring an eight-inch raised roof
1978 VF3 launched, featuring an eight-inch raised roof
1980 All SIMCA 1100s become Talbot-SIMCA 1100s
1981 Production of the saloon ceases – in time for the 1982 model year. Its Poissy production line made way for the Talbot Samba
1985 The last Commerciale leaves the line…

If the first three years of the 1100’s production run could be considered a success, then the 1970s marked the introduction of the best-selling SIMCA. Production levels at Poissy bloomed considerably, and in 1971, the 1100’s achievements were topped, when it became France’s best selling car. In 1971, ’72 and ’73, over 200,000 1100s per annum were produced, but most impressively, 1973 saw a peak of 296,984 leave Poissy. SIMCA continued to feed demand by introducing new model variations at a startling rate, and like the SIMCA 1000, each new top-of-the-range model seemed to be accompanied by a hike in power.

This raising of specifications led to the 1100TI – a three door version of the 1100 powered by the 82bhp 1294cc power unit, lifted from the 1000 Rallye 2. Performance was drastically improved; maximum speed was 105mph and the 0-60 dash could be despatched in under 12 seconds. Distinuishing features of this boy racer special were its six-headlamp arrangement, front and rear spoilers, matte black grille, and single colour paint scheme (red). As this was considered to be very much part of the range, it could be argued that by producing this model, it was SIMCA that introduced the concept of the hot hatchback in Europe. Bear in mind, that the 1100TI was launched in 1974 (as opposed to 1976 for the Volkswagen Golf GTi), and one can see this accolade belongs to the French and not the Germans.

SIMCA 1100TI: launched in 1974, this hot hatchback boasted a top speed of 105mph and the kudos of competition heritage, in the shape of its powerplant, which was shared with the 1000 Rallye 2. Extra headlamps, alloy wheels and a sports interior resulted in a very smart car indeed.

SIMCA 1100TI: launched in 1974, this hot hatchback boasted a top speed of 105mph and the kudos of competition heritage, in the shape of its powerplant, which was shared with the 1000 Rallye 2. Extra headlamps, alloy wheels and a sports interior resulted in a very smart car indeed.

By 1975, and at the point in time that the 1100 range was in full flower, development on Chrysler’s next small family car had begun in earnest. Knowing a winning formula, Chrysler based the new car (the C2 project) on SIMCA’s hardware, as opposed to Rootes. The best parts of the 1100 were employed in the new car; its capable engines and gearboxes – and although the styling was the work of the Ryton-beased designers in Coventry, the resulting car (the Chrysler Horizon) was very much SIMCA through and through.

But despite there being serious work being undertaken on the car’s replacement, the 1100’s success only gradually subsided. 1976 saw the launch of the Chrysler Alpine/SIMCA 1308, and that car (as well as the newly launched Renault 14) began to dent sales. The real fall in sales took place in 1978, following the Chrysler Horizon’s launch; although the 1100 would remain in production, as the Break and Commerciale versions were not offered in the Horizon plan.

From that point onwards, sales fell sharply, and the most successful car SIMCA ever built faded away into obscurity. The last flourish was the innovative Matra-SIMCA Rancho, which made an appearance during the summer of 1977. Yes, despite all the plastic that adorned the exterior of the Rancho belying its origins, it was actually based on the humble 1100. Matra identified a market niche and under the codename P12, produced the Rancho. Structural differences from the 1100 were surprisingly few, and it went on to sell in usefully large volumes.

1100s continued to roll off the Poissy line, and in the end, this long-lived car outlasted Chrysler in France. 1978 saw Chrysler pull-out, and Peugeot take over, re-naming the marque Talbot. 1100s were therefore, re-branded Talbot-SIMCA 1100s from 1980, and it was in this form that the car saw out its final years. Saloon car production ended in 1982, and commercials soldiered on until 1985 – not bad for a car that saw the light of day in 1967.

The 1100 was, without doubt, a huge success for SIMCA on the French market. With over two million built and a 15-year production run, it should be remembered as one of France’s more significant cars. In technical terms, it was also at the cutting edge when it was launched, offering front wheel drive allied with hatchback versatility in a class that had yet to be fully converted to the benefits of that extra door. To put that into perspective, here is a list of other important family hatchbacks and when they were launched:

How the 1100 stacks up
Car Year
Autobianchi Primula 1964
Renault 16 1965
Austin Maxi 1968
Volkswagen Golf 1974
Renault 14 1976
Fiat Strada/Ritmo 1978

As can be seen, SIMCA really did get the jump on its immediate opposition. The Renault 16 and Maxi really belonged in the class up from the 1100, and the only comparable car to see the light of day around the same time as the SIMCA 1100 was the Autobianchi Primula…

The SIMCA’s challenge was never really met convincingly until the Volkswagen Golf was launched some seven years later. Even as late as 1973, major European manufacturers were launching small saloons without hatchbacks: one only has to look at the three-box Fiat 128 (1970), Citroen GS (1970), Alfa Romeo Alfasud (1971) and Austin Allegro (1973) to see just how many companies missed the boat.

Although the 1100 was a huge success, it seemed that Chrysler could not capitalise upon it when it came to producing a replacement. The Horizon was essentially a re-skinned 1100, and as most of the opposition had caught up by the time, it failed to make anything like the same impact.

So what was the 1100’s legacy? Take your pick: first GTi, the true creator of the Golf class, or the Horizon

A rare image of the Talbot-badged 1100.

A rare image of the Talbot-badged 1100.

Posted in: 1100, The Rivals

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5 Comments on "The cars : SIMCA 1100"

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  1. tryphon Tryphons says:

    There are a few mistakes about the launch dates. The Primula first came out in 1964 and the 5-door version was launched in 1966. The Renault 14 (whose commercial career was badly compromised by a silly commercial comparing it to a pear) was launched in 1976.

    Anyway, thanks for this very interesting article which underlines just how truly intelligent and historically important the SIMCA 1100 was.

  2. Hilton D says:

    I had forgotten these SIMCA’s existed till reading this article! I do recall the Simca 1301 saloon in the 1970’s though. A colleague had one as his company car. Thanks for this interesting read…

  3. Autostrada says:

    The 1100Ti was the first ‘hot hatch’ – with all the correct features of the template in place, (no matter what VW’s marketing tries to claim these days.)

    After all, the Simca 1100 was Europe’s best-seller car at the time and VAG’s key target model when developing the ‘iconic’ original Golf…

  4. Whooo, I had bought a brand new 3 door Simca 1100 in 1970. My first car in Red colour and came out with synthetic spray. Very good car for those days. Front wheel drive, nice beige soft seats, four independent suspension, plenty of luggage room, and space for a knock !!!

  5. Nate says:

    I am surprized the Simca 1100 never received the 1592cc Simca Type 315 engine, let alone a modified version of that engine (or the 1442cc) in order to properly take the fight to the original Golf GTi.

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