Over the last few years, I have described several European companies that combined or had a touch point with Chrysler and this article describes the foundation for Chrysler in Europe. It is Simca or the Societe Industrielle de Mecanique et de Carroserie Automobile.
Founded in 1934 as a new entity, it was the evolution of a 10 year business venture between two Italians, Henri Theodore Pigozzi and Giovanni Agnelli of FIAT. Pigozzi was born in Turin and met Agnelli in the early 1920s. He started by selling old car bodies to FIAT so that they could be recycled and then he became the distributor for FIAT in France forming the company SAFAF – Societe Anonyme Francais des Automobiles FIAT.
Two years later, Pigozzi started to build FIATs under licence in France and in 1935 he founded Simca to build cars with his own badge on it. To do this he bought the old Donnet factory. Donnet had manufactured cars for about 20 years before production ended in 1934. Pigozzi used the experienced Donnet workers and funds from FIAT to start his new company. The first cars were badged as Simca-FIAT and were the baby FIAT models like the Ardita and Ballila but named 6CV and 11CV – the CV is short for “Chevaux” or horse, meaning horsepower. Very soon the FIAT badge was dropped altogether even though the cars were FIATs through and through.
After World War 2, Simca resumed the production of the pre-war cars and the launch of the last FIAT based car the Simca 6 with a 600cc engine. Work had also started on a new car that was a local design. In 1951, Simca expanded by acquiring the truck maker Unic to break into that market segment and they launched their local design the 9 Aronde with a 1200cc motor and a unibody structure. It came in a variety of styles: 4 door, 3 door wagon and a 2 door coupe. The coupe was built by Facel Vega. The 9 Aronde model was in production until 1955 when it was replaced by a new version.
The next stage of expansion occurred in 1954 when Simca did a deal to run the assets of the French division of Ford including building their V8 model, the Vedette. The factory was much bigger than the older Simca building so the company could now manufacture several models in one place. Ford also took a financial interest in the company. The following year came the 90A Aronde, which was the restyled 9 with a 1300cc motor. In 1956, Simca continued their expansion into the commercial market with the acquisition of another truck maker called Saurer. Two new models, the Oceane and the Plein Ciel joined the 90A in 1957 by which time the 500,000th unit had rolled off the production lines.
The 90A was replaced in 1958 by the P60 that had more modern styling and came with either a 1 litre or the older 1.3 motor. The same year, Simca bought the French version of Talbot, the Talbot-Lago business that Anthony Lago had run since Talbot had fractured with the British arm when they merged with Sunbeam and Darracq. Later that year, Chrysler came on the scene because they wanted to break into the European market and did a deal to buy Ford’s stake in the company. Chrysler took Simca designs and built them in other countries. The Vedette model was built in Brazil and the P60 was built in Australia for that market as a wagon.
By 1964, Chrysler had taken control by buying most of the FIAT stake and were now manufacturing the small Simca 1000 and Simca Abarth as well. Three years later the Simca logo was replaced by the Chrysler PentaStar although the brand continued under Chrysler ownership.
I have fond memories of the 1000 – I wasn’t born when it first came to the market but in the early 1980s I spun an 850cc version into a wall one night. They were described as nimble but with a rear engine they were quite easy to get sideways until a greasy road meant sideways soon turned into a pirouette! Funnily enough, the corner was known locally as “dead man’s curve” because there was only an old stone wall to stop cars heading down into the valley where the rail line went.
Simca used the 1000 as the basis for a coupe designed by Bertone that strangely rivalled the Abarth version. In 1967, they launched the 1100 hatchback saloon that became another best-seller competing directly with models from Renault and Citroen. They even built wagons and panel vans based on this model. For my first paid job, I drove a panel van version that like the 850 ended in some body re-arrangement, spookily on the same road but only a few miles further on from the first incident. This time I opened the side panel using a hinge on the back of a dump truck as a can opener. Boy was I popular at work!
Next in the Simca line up during the mid 1970s came the 1307, a Ford Cortina sized saloon with a 1 litre motor and also the Simca Horizon, a replacement for the 1100. Chrysler were now struggling to try and keep Simca and the Rootes Group in the UK working together and were posting losses (what’s new with Chrysler). To keep things going all brands were dropped firstly in favour of the Chrysler badge and then finally as they keeled over, as Talbot.
Peugeot acquired the dung heap that was Chrysler Europe in 1977, preferring to resurrect the Talbot name with the Simca brand finally dying in 1981. During the final years, the cars used badges from Simca, Talbot, Chrysler, Dodge and Plymouth and the final Simca design became the Peugeot 309. Sadly the models also suffered by being renamed several times, for example, the 1307 became the Chrysler Alpine and then the Talbot Solara.
There are quite a few similarities with Chrysler today and from the 1960s and 1970s. They bought the stake in Simca from FIAT to get into the European market and gain access to smaller cars, today FIAT has merged with Chrysler and again the American side gets access to better smaller cars whilst FIAT gets access to a bigger market. In the late 1970s and then the 1990s it was other European manufacturers raising Chrysler from the dead, firstly Peugeot and then Daimler.
In the 1970s, Simca was a major player in France and is the only one of the four main French manufacturers not to survive.