The cars : SIMCA 1100 development story

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

The Simca 1100 might be all-but forgotten today, but this revolutionary hatch caused quite the storm when it was launched in 1967. With front-wheel drive, torsion bar suspension and a wide-opening tailgate, it had everything a modern family man needed in their car.

It lasted 15 years of production, too, and ended up being a double-million seller. Do you remember them being sold in Chrysler dealerships alongside Imps, Avengers and Hunters?

Template of a family hatchback

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 Theodore 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.

Chrysler approves the new 1100

The new car would end up fighting only front-wheel drive cars by BMC and Autobianchi… and that was about it. In other words, it would have a fairly clear run at the market. 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 the 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 was 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.

Model timeline

SIMCA 1100 evolution
May 1967 Model launched, 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 models carry Chrysler badging from launch.
1969 944cc 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 Special launched in three-door form, featuring 1204cc 75bhp engine and servo-assisted brakes.
1972 Special 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.
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.

Huge sales – and the first hot hatchback

In 1971, ’72 and ’73, more than 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- and five-door version (below) 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 less than 12 seconds.

Distinguishing 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 with the facelift (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 power plant, 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-based designers in Coventry, the resulting car (the Chrysler Horizon) was very much SIMCA through and through.

Replaced not by a Simca, but by a Chrysler

However, 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.

And to the end…

Simca 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.

A rare image of the Talbot-badged 1100.
A rare image of the Talbot-badged 1100

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.

What’s the 1100’s legacy?

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
Opel Kadett 1979
Ford Escort Mk3 1980

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 Volkswagen Golf class, or perhaps the rattly Talbot Horizon…


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Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

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.
Keith Adams

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13 Comments

  1. 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. 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. 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. 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.

  6. They were a familiar sight locally in the late seventies as the local Chrysler dealer also sold Simcas, but they seemed to vanish in the mid eighties as the Simca badge was worthless by then and the rust protection was never good. However, being in southern France in 1983, they were a very common sight, along with the Mille( 1000), as rust wasn’t an issue there. Also you’d see some ancient Citroens on the road that had become extinct in Britain.

  7. I once owned an 1100 GLS until it was about five years old. It was fun to drive and very practical, but it became a victim of premature corrosion.
    When driving in rain it was very funny to see the water spray from the tyres come out of the rust holes at the top of the front wings.
    One evening I gave someone a lift and when he left the car he slammed the passenger door quite heavily. Next thing I knew was that I was wondering about the loud road noise and the cold air coming into the car. Then I saw that the complete sill had fallen out on a length of about fifty centimetres. The next person entering the car pushed the passenger’s side floor panel down to the road with his feet.
    When I took the car to the breakers yard they wanted to pick it up with a fork lifter. The lifter bumped into the (t)rusty old Simca which then simply fell apart, throwing parts around at considerable distance. It looked like an aircraft had crashed.

    • In 1983 in the south of France, you’d see plenty of Simcas, along with the funny looking corrugated Citroen vans, elderly looking Peugeots and Renaults that were almost extinct in England like the 8 model. It seems, like Italian cars, whose reputation for rusting was even worse, the Meditteranean climate is quite kind to these cars, which were often quite strong mechanically.

  8. My parents had two of these, a K-reg red GLS and later a P-reg special in white. These cars were a mixture of new and old technology in an appallingly rot-prone body. When Dad went to chop the 6-year old Special in for a Renault 14TS he was invited under the dealer’s ramp to seem the frilly remains of the Simca’s sills for himself! Many years later the missus and I inherited her Dad’s 1988 Peugeot 309 with the Simca 1294cc pushrod lump. Mechanically is was almost pure Simca 1100, except with a 5th gear – not much to look at but an honest and dependable little car!

  9. I remember my uncle has a Simca 1301 special – he lived in wallasey, cheshire at the time but worked in liverpool so probably bought it there. I ran UNF 21S, a white simca 1100 special which I bought off Forshaws bakers in tarleton near preston in 1981; swapped it for a one year old ex management mini metro (correct) from oldfields, southport in 1983 just before I got married. In retrospect, sorry to get rid of it – bigger and faster then the m-metro but not as reliable in cold weather when I had to get a hairdryer under the bonnet to warm it up for a one mile commute to the Ormskirk Advertiser offices… On holiday in Belgium in 1980 was stopped in my tracks after spotting a used Ti in a Mons dealership. And also remember a memorable scout holiday in the lakes when I saw my one and only Rallye 2 in bright orange. Happy days!

  10. My mother had a 1973 Simca 1100 (1294cc) special 3 door purchased as a demonstrator from the main Chrysler dealer, Davenport Vernon High Wycombe in early 1975. I was 19 and able to drive it. I remember it being quite noisy and peaky. Its funny the obscure details that are coming back to me. It had the strip speedometer with a pod rev counter on top of the dash on the drivers side and the tailgate had the larger facelifted rear window. I think it was the Simca 1100 (rather than the Fiat 128) that was the first front drive transverse engined car with the gearbox not under the engine a la the Mini but as an “end on” unit which is the template used on most transverse front drive cars today.

    Certainly a ground breaking car.

    • I think it was the Primula which pioneered the end on gearbox layout, impressive for 1964!

      The Simca 1100 was a very advanced car for its day, perhaps it was this which led to Chrysler basing its mid/late 70s cars too heavily on it

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