The cars : Simca 1000 development story

The heart of the Simca 1000 lay in Italy, but it was the French who built it.

The Mille proved that a small, rear-engined car didn’t necessarily need to have a Renault badge on its nose to sell in its millions.

France’s Million-selling Imp rival

Simca 1000

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 stories, 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. The company 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 approached 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.

Simca 1000

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, thus leaving Projet 950 (above) a clear run to production. Now that the small car plan was focused 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.

Choosing a rear-engined layout

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 clear 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

Simca 1000
The cute little Simca 1000 proved an immediate hit with France’s small car buyers…

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 18 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’.

Production ramps up hugely

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 6 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.

Simca 1000 production history

Simca 1000

The Simca 1000 proved an immediate success for the company, building on the strengths of the existing range, while 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 pair 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 the company to the attention of Chrysler in the USA, which was looking to expand into Europe…

Chrysler steps in

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…

France's Mini-Cooper. The Simca 1000 Rallye enyoyed a long and successful run, and at the end of its life, it could outrun the recently launched Volkswagen Golf GTi and Opel Kadett GT/E.
France’s Mini-Cooper. The Simca 1000 Rallye enyoyed a long and successful run and, at the end of its life, it could outrun the recently launched Volkswagen Golf GTi and Opel Kadett GT/E


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.

Fighting the front-wheel-drive opposition

Simca 1000

To counter the rise of front-wheel-drive opposition, which 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 Abarth connection

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 – plans were therefore made to replace the Rootes and Simca lines with a single, rationalized Chrysler-badged product range.

Where would this leave the Simca 1000? Well, 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 in the marketplace (putting 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-Citroën) 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.

Simca 1000
In 1976, and in an attempt to prove that there was life in the old dog, Simca looked at revising the 1000. This proposal would have introduced a more grown up front- and rear-end design treatment, with the centre section being left as it is. As it was, the proposal was shelved…

Simca 1000

Keith Adams


  1. A neighbour in our street owned a Simca 1000 in the late 60s. It was either a silver or light grey going from memory. Didn’t realise they were produced until the late 70s.

  2. Simca must be one of the few makers to be building F/F, F/R & R/R cars at the same time.

    Fiat managed it for quite a few years, Renault only just missed out.

  3. Late 70s, Chrysler sold UK-French operations to Peugeot

    Late 80s, Renault sold AMC to Chrysler

    Late 90s, Chrysler merged with DaimlerBenz/Mercedes

    Late 2000s, Chrysler bought by Fiat

  4. great wee car ,drove one for 3 years 1973 on,won 2 fuel economy runs and class positions in some small rallys even beat a shellsport mexico on a rally on a closed road from a standing start,girl friend wrote it of wish I still had it

    • Well learn how to speak EEnglish proper (like wot I do) and perhaps Santa may bring you one in a cracker – for free

  5. Why was the Flat-4 prototype engine dropped when based on the specs (All-Alloy, OHC, more power / torque as well as 30kg lighter then 944cc Poissy unit) it appears to be a much superior engine compared to the Simca Poissy unit?

    Was it simply down to cost, little time to develop it properly during the rush to production or due to a restricted-ability to increase (or reduce) Flat-4’s engine beyond (or below) its 950cc capacity?

    • Possibly space/size concerns – since a flat engine is quite wide and hard to package (Ferrari found that out the hard way with their flat v12 F1 engine if I remember).

  6. I’d never considered this before, but the Chrysler Europe range of the late 70s had their smallest car RWD (when even Ford had a FWD rival) and as a medium sized car a FWD hatchback (when in most markets RWD saloons were the main rivals), completely back to front!

  7. The Simca Mille belonged to an era when you could tell a car was French by its eccentric, unique styling, idisoyncratic interior and engines sometimes in the wrong place. It was part of a tradition of cars that only the French could make that has sadly gone.

  8. Now largely forgotten, even in France, Simca was once France’s second biggest car manufacturer and cars like the 1000 and 1100 were everywhere in the country. Also exports of Simcas were healthy as buyers appreciated the low running costs, low prices and eccentric styling of cars like the 1000 that looked rather different to something like a Ford Escort. It was a shame Chrysler got their hands on the company, but the same fate befell Rootes over here around the same time.

    • It’s interesting why Simca agreed to Chrysler buying a controlling interest, unlike Rootes they were performing well in terms of sales.

      I guess with Fiat loosening their links, & Simca probably needing some investment in their infrastructure to help keep up with the amount of orders, it seemed like a good idea.

      • Simca interestligly bought out Chrysler’s big rival, Ford of France, in the 1950s and stopped building French Fords. Maybe Chrysler buying Simca was Detroit’s revenge. Also it gave Chrysler a foothold in continental Europe, where it was virtually unknown.
        I think the main reason for Rootes gradually being taken over by Chrysler was the cost of building Linwood and developing the Imp had hurt them and they needed money to replace the Minx and to launch a rival to the Ford Escort.

  9. Top picture – the number of times numbskulls have pulled out or walked out exactly like that in front of the Wolseley while I’m doing 30mph towards their kneecaps..

    Does anyone else see a hatchling Peugeot 604 in the face lift model? Makes me want to put it in a stroller and feed it “follow-on” petrol. Top & tailing done properly (for how to do it badly see “those doors” or ADO17:TNG).

  10. It is curious that no mention is made of the fact that the 1000 nearly brought Simca to its knees and may have been the reason for the Chrysler takeover . By the mid-sixties the 1000 had acquired a formidable reputation for being involved in catastrophic accidents as a result of drivers losing control because of lift-off oversteer, and a class action was brought , akin to that which destroyed the Corvair . I presume that the rear suspension was altered to deal with this, thus allowing it to continue

    • Never knew that about the 1000, but it did continue in production almost to the end of Simca, so the problem must have been fixed in 1965. Also Chrysler gaining France’s second biggest car company and Britain’s third biggest was a massive opportunity for Chrysler in Europe.

    • What is surprising is Chrysler never looked at establishing a European divisions like Ford or GM did up to that point until the post-war era, perhaps they could have taken over another company in the pre-war era like GM did with Vauxhall or even saved Jowett?

      Also surprised about that aspect of the Simca 1000 given its Fiat roots and the fact Fiat themselves appear to been able to resolve the suspension issues of their rear-engined cars. Would it be correct to assume the Simca 1000’s issues had a negative impact on the FWD Simca 936 prototype?

  11. Chrysler.s problem in Britain was its cars had little appeal outside of Britain. The lack of development of the Imp meant it had become old fashioned by the seventies, and the Avenger and Hunter were conservative rwd designs aimed at taking on Ford of Britain rather than the more advanced cars made in other European countries. The Alpine, which was made in both Britain and France, could have remedied this by being a fwd hatchback, but it was hamstrung by using elderly Simca drivetrains. Also the financial woes of Chrysler America diidn’t help as the seventies went on as the corporation found itself short of money.

    • There was still plenty of demand in Europe for conventional RWD cars in the 70s though, Opel and Ford of Germany (reverting back from the FWD Taunus) had RWD ranges other than the Fiesta while Fiat replaced the 124 with the RWD 131

  12. Simca like SAAB is another classic example of an American multi-national buying a successful European carmaker and completely trashing it – They also had a good go at Jaguar, Landrover and Volvo of course. All ended up on life-support and all recovered once free of the Neanderthal corporate culture of the US.

  13. The Simca 1000 did rather well and can imagine its 4-door bodystyle played a fairly largle rike given its small size with the only closest rival being the 4-door SEAT 850. Other similarly sized rivals such as the NSU Prinz 4/1000 and the Hillman Imp could have both benefited from a 4-door bodystyle, as it would have especially provided the latter with an additional USP over its FWD Mini rival.

    In spite of the Horizon-based C2-Short proposal not reaching production as a Chrysler Europe entry in the 1-litre supermini sector, would be interested to know whether the entry-level engine would have likely carried over a revived 944cc unit in practice or be slightly uprated closer to around 972-988cc via some adjustments in bore and stroke.

  14. Loved the little thing to bits – but then I was a rear engine fan and still am. Imps, Dauphine, Renault 8 and 10’s…..
    Jemma – you own a Wolseley?

  15. If you think the styling is a bit “three boxy” check out the Bertone Simca 1200S Coupe based on the 1000 and which is drop dead gorgeous.

  16. This was another car I encountered as a kid via the family/friends car pool to school and back. This included:

    Herald 1200 est
    Sumac 1000
    Mini 1000 est
    Austin Cambridge est
    Granada mk1 3000 gxl
    Bristol 406
    Lagonda M45

    I loved them all and they make up the most vivid of childhood memories. Can you do an extended read in the Simca 1501 Special. My mother had two estates the last one I think P reg. lovely shiny thing if obviously ancient by then.

  17. Considering how the Simca 1000 and Fiat 850 share similar roots, it is noteworthy how the Simca 1000 achieved 4-doors with a 87.4-inch wheelbase and the SEAT 850 by comparison only needed a wheelbase of 85.7-inches (about 6 or so more from 850 2-door) to enable 4-doors.

  18. The 1977 facelift with those MASSIVE headlights seems oddly timed, seeing that the car went out of production just 1 year later. Surely not long enough to recoup the investment?

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