Rootes Group companies, known for performance or quality when they were absorbed, were among the earliest makers of motor vehicles, from the days when “mass production” meant hundreds of cars per year.
When Rootes was near bankruptcy, Chrysler injected capital and updated carlines. When Chrysler itself failed, it sold Rootes and SIMCA to Peugeot, which temporarily renamed them Talbot.
The Horizon was the last “Chrysler Europe” car to be produced, surviving in the US into 1990. (The last true Rootes car was the Arrow/Hunter series).
The Rootes Group tale is not one of inspired leadership, though there was a good amount of inspired engineering... an all too familiar tale for Chrysler.
Singer started out with bicycles, moving to cars in the late 1800s; technologically advanced before World War II, they later gained a reputation for being good, solid, reliable transportation.
William Rootes (later, Lord Rootes) bought fifty Singer Tens at their launch and sold them at a profit. In 1955, Rootes bought Singer.
Sunbeam was the project of a tin-plate maker; the first cars were sold in 1901, with success coming with 1906 cars based loosely on a Peugeot design. Sunbeam was successful in racing before and after merging with Darracq in 1920. In financial troubles due largely to unpaid government work in World War I, Sunbeam was purchased by Rootes, which dropped Sunbeam's factory and cars, turning the brand into Rootes’ luxury carmaker before, later, dropping the Sunbeam brand entirely.
Hillman, Humber, and Rover all started in Coventry, a center of the cycle trade. Bicycles made engineer William Hillman a millionaire; his first car was in 1907, but his company ran to success with a 9 horsepower model introduced in 1913. A new luxury straight-eight (2.6 liters) was introduced just as the Depression began, leaving Hillman’s company cash-poor; it merged with Humber, which was already under Rootes control.
Henri Pigozzi founded Simca (Societe Industrielle de Mecanique et Carrosserie Automobile - “car mechanicals and bodywork company”) in 1934, to build Fiat (“Italian car company of Turin”) cars under license. The Aronde (1951-60) marked the end of Fiat control, though the Fiat influence carried through to the 1000 series (1960-79), of which over 1.6 million were built.
In the 1950s Simca bought Unic, Talbot, and Ford of France; 15% of SIMCA shares were optioned to Ford, but they were sold to Chrysler instead. Chrysler became the majority holder in 1963 and in 1969, and merged SIMCA with Matra’s automotive division. In 1970, Chrysler took most of the stock, and dropped the SIMCA name in favor of their own.
Chrysler produced the succesful (2 million made) 1100 series, which formed the basis of the Chrysler Europe Alpine and Horizon (and Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon too), and was briefly sold in the States as the Simca 1204. In 1978, Chrysler sold SIMCA to Peugeot, along with Rootes; SIMCA’s success was balanced by Rootes’ losses. Peugeot renamed Chrysler Europe to Talbot Groupe, after Sunbeam-Talbot in the UK and the French concern Talbot owned by SIMCA. The Simca name survived until 1981.
Matra is a small company, but they have been responsible for some influential and well remembered vehicles.
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Rootes Group cars including Singer, Sunbeam, Hillman, Humber, SIMCA, Chrysler Europe, and more!