France’s Million-selling Imp…
It is fair to say that when Egypt’s leader Colonel Nassar nationalised the Suez Canal and started what became known as the Suez crisis, it is quite unlikely that the fate of Europe’s carmakers was foremost in his thoughts. And yet, the Suez crisis did have a huge impact on the buying habits of car buyers, and therefore, manufacturers rushed to meet buyers’ needs.
As is explained in more detail in the Mini and Hillman Imp development story, the crisis led to a fuel shortage, and Europe’s carmakers rushed to produce more economical cars. SIMCA’s needs were as great as anyone’s simply because its smallest car, the hugely successful SIMCA Six Aronde was a medium sized car, displacing 1221cc and was, therefore, too large to cash in on the economy car boom.
Projet 950 takes shape at Poissy
SIMCA’s founder, Henri Théodore Pigozzi, devised a two-tier plan to develop a small car:
SIMCA would develop its own economy car, which would be considered a spiritual successor to the SIMCA Cinq of the 1930s and ‘40s, a car that paved the way to SIMCA’s later successes. Pigozzi also wanted to produce a rival to the Renault Dauphine, and envisaged that larger engined versions of it would bridge the gap to the Aronde. This car was called “Projet 950”; so-called because it was envisaged that the car would sport an engine capacity around this mark.
Given that SIMCA was closely tied to Fiat, and had been since Pigozzi set-up SIMCA to build its cars under licence in 1934, it was logical that he also approach the Italian company to submit its ideas on how a mini-SIMCA should look. Fiat, therefore, commenced work on its own car, the Project 122.
During the winter of 1959-1960, Fiat’s Project 122 was dropped from SIMCA’s plan after it became clear that the company’s own effort would be more suitable, this leaving Projet 950 a clear run to production. Now that the small car plan was focused around solely around Projet 950, the new car development moved forwards rapidly. By the spring of 1960, Projet 950 prototypes were in circulation, acting as mobile testbeds for varying mechanical configurations.
Like all of its immediate opposition of the time, SIMCA went for a rear-engined design, but in terms of the engine itself, Pigozzi ensured that the mini-SIMCA would sport a more advanced specification than the car he was hoping to topple: the Renault Dauphine. Initially, a flat-four motor had been investigated, but was soon dropped when it became apparent that it could not be designed to meet SIMCA’s goals for it.
In its place, came an ultra modern inline water cooled four-cylinder engine (denoted the Type 315), with a five main bearing crankshaft (instead of the usual three found in all its rivals). Despite this engineering luxury, the new powerplant proved so inexpensive for the company to build, that more money could be dedicated its gearbox.
Again, with one eye on Renault, SIMCA ensured that the new car’s gearbox would be a good one; a Porsche baulk ring synchromesh was specified (as per the 1961 Mini and the 1963 Hillman Imp), and the plan to equip it with a three-speed gearbox was rapidly revised when Pigozzi discovered that the upcoming ‘Super Dauphine’ (Renault 8 ) would be using a four-speed unit.
Launching the SIMCA 1000
M Pigozzi quite clearly stated that the mini-SIMCA would début at the 1961 Paris Auto Salon, to be held in October. Not only that, but he went on to insist upon the importance of having cars in stock ready to sell at the time of its launch. In other words, the prototype to production phase would be less than eighteen months! It was a tall order, especially when one considers that the styling was not complete at this stage in the proceedings: Stylist Mario Boano came aboard in order to apply last-minute modifications to the car’s styling in order to make it more saleable.
Originally, it was planned to name Projet 950, ‘Arielle’, as it tied in perfectly with the rest of SIMCA’s range. It was thought that Arielle would have the advantage of being instantly recognizable as a SIMCA, and the resulting range that consisted of Arielle, Aronde and Ariane would have had a nice alliterative quality. However, the Aronde had been around since 1951, and the Arielle, 1957, and both were now considered to be long in the tooth. Not only that, but the matter of these two cars’ replacements would soon be occupying SIMCA. Therefore, it was decided to start a fresh (if unoriginal) naming convention, by naming the car after the class it was to compete in: the ‘1000cc class’.
By February 1961, preparations for the production of the SIMCA 1000 were well underway at Poissy; the outgoing (ex-Ford) Vedette would make way for the new car. The SIMCA 1000’s assembly lines were going in, and they were certainly more automated than those that were coming out. The line consisted of 9000m of conveyor belts and and a total of 500 brand new machines were also installed; these statistics belied the fact that SIMCA were confident that the 1000 was going to do well in the marketplace, and it was a confidence borne out of being France’s largest privately-owned carmaker at the time. By the June 1961, the lines were in, and the following month, the first 1000s started rolling off the production line.
July 1961’s issue of l’Auto Journal featured the first press release from SIMCA to state that it would be launching a new 5CV car in time for the Paris Salon. At the time, SIMCA had started building up stocks of the 1000 in anticipation of its autumn launch, at the rate of 250 per day. Because the 1000 was still a secret, stocks of the car would be strategically parked where the public could not see them; mostly in Poissy compounds, nestled behind Arondes.
On the 6th October 1961, the press had its introduction to the SIMCA 1000 at the Montlhérey race track, and found the car much to its liking. Following on from this, the 1000 was officially launched at the Paris Salon on 10 October; following Pigozzi’s schedule to the day – a seriously impressive achievement.
The SIMCA 1000 proved an immediate success for the company, building on the strengths of the existing range, whilst proving to be a useful move into the ‘1000cc class’. By the end of 1962 (the first full year of 1000 production), SIMCA had sold over 160,000 examples, proving that the company could take the fight to Renault. Henri Théodore Pigozzi had been proved correct in his desire for SIMCA to move into this lucrative market.
The early success of the SIMCA seemed to remain undented following the launch of the Renault 8, in 1962. The two cars went head-to-head on the French marketplace, and the similarities between the two cars were hard to ignore, right down to styling details. It was the SIMCA policy of continued development and improvement that allowed the company’s baby to perform so well in the fact of such opposition. In fact, by 1963, and because of the continued success of the 1000 range SIMCA were firmly established as one of France’s ‘big four’, and undoubtedly, that brought it to the attention of Chrysler in the USA, which was looking to expand into Europe…
Although Chrysler’s purchase of 64 per cent of SIMCA’s equity had little effect on slowing the 1000’s sales, the takeover of the company and replacing of Henri Théodore Pigozzi would have lasting implications.
Although sales remained healthy, the 1000 was far from being perfect; and the French press were critical of its vague steering and unimpressive directional stability. So much so, that even though the upcoming 1100 had just commenced development, the Poissy engineers worked hard on taming the 1000’s dynamic foibles. Many detail changes were introduced during the first couple of years, and they seemed to alleviate the problems, even though such press criticism seemed to have little impact on the 1000’s sales momentum.
Sadly, the 1000’s sporting pretentions would take a dent during its early life, thanks to the Chrysler takeover. SIMCA’s links with Fiat were finally unravelled, and sadly, it was this distancing from the Italians (and the poor performance of SIMCA-Abarth at Le Mans in 1962) that led to the demise of the fruitful partnership with Abarth. The timing of this could not have been worse, as Renault and Gordini were growing closer all the time…
|The SIMCA 1000’s evolution|
|Oct 1961||SIMCA 1000 unveiled at the Paris Salon, after a rapid gestation. The first rear engined SIMCA sparked immediate interest, and thanks to a large pre-launch stock having been built up, the company were in a position to capitalise on the interest the car aroused.|
|Mar 1962||Coupé 1000 Bertone and the SIMCA-Abarth 1150 were shown at the Geneva Salon.|
|1963||944cc’s power increased from 34 to 39bhp, fuel tank enlarged|
|SIMCA 900 introduced; as a lower priced and equipped entry model in the range|
|SIMCA 1000GL introduced; to top the range|
|1964||SIMCA 1000 exported to the USA.|
|1966||SIMCA 900 dropped, 1000L becoming the new entry level model. The model range was re-aligned, with the introduction of a new LS model. GL and GLS remain as before.|
|Revised dashboard incorporating a strip speedometer is phased in.|
|SIMCA 1000GLA Ferodo semi-automatic model introduced.|
|1967||Chrysler badging makes an appearance.|
|1969||The range is completed facelifted, and the new model range looks like this: Sim’4, 1000 and 1000 Spécial. The existing 944cc engines replaced by the type 349 (related to that used in the SIMCA 1100), and the Sim’4 used a Type 359 motor, displacing 777cc. Exterior styling characterised by new frontal styling, which now sported large, rectangular headlamps.|
|1970||Sim’4’s power boosted from 31 to 33bhp.|
|The 1000 Rallye launched.|
|1972||1000 Rallye 1 launched, featuring the 1294cc engine from the 1100 Spécial.|
|1000 Spécial upgunned to 1294cc and the GLS model now features 1118cc engine.|
|1200S production stopped.|
|1973||82bhp Rallye 2 introduced.|
|1975||The 1000 range features a new dashboard.|
|1976||1000SR 1294 (featuring Type 371 engine) replaced 1000 Spécial.|
|1000SR 1118 replaced 1000GLS.|
|1977||Final facelift: cosmetically, larger headlamps and re-profiled bonnet introduced. New model nomenclature (to fit in with the rest of the range) and the range looks like this: 1005LS (944cc 40bhp), 1005 Deluxe, 1006GLS (1118cc 55bhp), Rallye 1 and Rallye 2.|
|Group 2 kit and the “Coupe SRT 77” offered (producing 110bhp) as an upgrade kit on the Rallye 2.|
|Rallye 3 introduced, featuring 103bhp 1294cc engine.|
|1978||Production ended in May.|
To counter the rise of front wheel drive opposition, that was beginning to make its presence felt on the market, SIMCA continued a policy similar to that of Volkswagen’s, of continuous development and improvement. As a result, sales remained strong, as customers felt the continued benefit of an ever improving specification sheet.
The launch of the BMC 1100 in 1962, and the Autobianchi Primula meant that it was only a matter of time before the writing was on the wall for rear-engined economy cars. SIMCA had an answer to that, and it came in motorsport. The superb 944cc Type 349 engine possessed great tuning potential, and it would play host to an amazing profusion of enlargements and power hikes (amazingly, it was closely related to the 1.6-litre Alpine/Solara engine of the 1980s), and would find a home in the cult SIMCA 1000 Rallye.
Strong home sales were further bolstered by the launch of the facelifted version of 1969, which finally saw the 1000 receive rack and pinion steering, as well as a whole raft of other improvements. Not only that, but the company showcased its, “SIMCA Challenge”, which played on the little car’s strengths as a drivers’ car by encouraging hotshoes to look closely at the range. The initiative was a success, and was soon followed up by the launch of the 1000 Rallye – a follow-up to the SIMCA-Abarth of 1961-62. The first Rallyes were not particularly quick (after all, it amounted to a Sim’4 base model, plus 1000 Spécial engine), but they looked sporty and above all, were inexpensive. The success of this model would soon lead to faster models…
…and this would be the story of the 1000 for its remaining days: stronger engines on an almost annual basis, and continuing equipment upgrades. By 1975, Chrysler in the USA were experiencing major financial difficulties, and that meant that it could no longer afford to run the UK and French operations as separate entities, and so, would draw up plans to replace the Rootes and SIMCA lines with a single, rationalized Chrysler-badged product range. Where would this leave the SIMCA 1000? Well, as by the mid-1970s, it was seen as a relic of a bygone age (except with competitive drivers, who saw the Rallye as an inexpensive way into motorsport) and it came as no surprise that it would be replaced by a new range of front wheel drive cars.
Well, that was the plan…
So, after a long and successful life, the SIMCA was laid to rest in May 1978 after a production of nearly one and a half million units. It had certainly performed well on the marketplace (and placed the Hillman Imp’s production run of 440,000 into perspective), and became something of a cult in its own lifetime. However, thanks to the anomalies between the Rootes and SIMCA ranges, the logical replacement for the 1000 should have been a 1118cc version of the Chrysler Horizon, but due to Chrysler UK’s desperate need to replace the Imp, the 1000 was actually replaced by the Chrysler Sunbeam! The UK designed hatchback was rear driven and powered by engines related to the Imp and Avenger, and therefore, owed nothing at all to the little SIMCA.
That is not to say that the SIMCA 1000 died in 1978: the Horizon used derivatives of this engine, and the Rallye name was successfully applied to later Talbot and other PSA (Peugeot-Citroen) cars. So, if nothing else, the SIMCA 1000 should be remembered for bringing us the stripped-out performance car; one that delivers more through adding less.
Black and white pictures courtesy of the Swedish SIMCA club.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
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