SIMCA started out building Fiats and Fords
before going it alone...

In a comparatively short career, SIMCA gained quite a following in France, and during its life was responsible for the production of a best seller, as well as some technically avant-garde machinery.

A potted history of SIMCA automobiles

The name SIMCA stands for Société industrielle de Méchanique et Carrosserie Automobile. Established by Henri-Théodore Pigozzi in November 1934, the company was formed with the intention of building Fiats for the French market. Production would take place at the former Donnet-Zédel factory at Nanterre. Pigozzi actually had a long association with Fiat; in 1922, he had met Giovanni Agnelli, and from this came a lucrative business in returning scrap cars to Turin for recycling. Following this, Pigozzi became responsible for a Fiat distribution chain in France called SAFAF (Société Anonyme Français des Automobiles FIAT), and this was followed by a medium-sized assembly operation based at a plant in Suresnes (on the edge of Paris) which used components imported or built under licence in Paris. From 1928 to 1934, approximately 30,000 of these French FIATs were assembled and sold by Pigozzi.

At the end of 1934, Pigozzi spotted a poster on the Paris-Saint-Germain road proclaiming the sale of the old Donnet-Zédel factory. Thinking that this could be the ideal base for his next venture, he made a bid for the facility. Although the French car industry was not in the best shape, he saw an opportunity to produce more of the Fiats that he was finding little difficulty in selling. Pigozzi had the finances, made the offer, and picked up the factory. On the 2nd November 1934, car production at SIMCA started at 163 to 185 Avenue Georges Clemenceau, Nanterre.

SIMCA's first cars were based upon the Tipo 508 Balilla, but these were soon added to with variations of the 518 Ardita. The Fiat 500 Topolino soon became the SIMCA Cinq, and the Fiat 1100, the SIMCA Huit. Performance versions of these cars were prepared by Amédé Gordini, who successfully campaigned at Le Mans in a SIMCA Huit in 1939.

SIMCA Aronde carsFollowing World War II, SIMCA took its first steps away from Fiat by launching the Aronde in 1951. The SIMCA Aronde was designed to go head to head with the Peugeot 203, and was SIMCA's first monocoque (unit-body) design. The Aronde soon became a big seller for SIMCA; in its first year, its production volumes outstripped those of its former mainstay, the Huit. By 1959, the Aronde had become a runaway success, enjoying production levels of around 200,000 per year.

In 1954, SIMCA made another significant step forwards, in buying the unprofitable Poissy plant (and its products) from Ford France; Poissy made the Vedette, which soon became the SIMCA Vedette (although it remained badged as a Ford for some time after). The ex-Ford factory soon became SIMCA's principal production outlet, and in 1961, its original factory in Nanterre was sold to Citroën.

In 1957, the company launched the Ariane model, which combined the body of the Vedette with the engine of the Aronde. It also proved to be a hit.

Such was the scale of SIMCA's success that it took over Talbot (and allowed that name to fade away), and attracted the attention of a much larger international player: Chrysler.

Chrysler buys SIMCA

When SIMCA bought Poissy, it set aside 15% of its shares for Ford, but Henry never took up the option; the shares were sold to Chrysler instead. In the spirit of collaboration, the company announced that its Aronde automobiles would be built under licence by Chrysler in Adelaide, Australia, tailored for the Australian market.

SIMCA continued going from strength to strength, and a year after the 1000 was launched, Chrysler grasped the bull by both horns when it increased its shareholding in SIMCA to 63%. SIMCA founder Henri-Théodore Pigozzi died in 1964, and was replaced by Georges Hereil. Hereil confirmed that although SIMCA was now under American control, it would remain French.

In 1967, Chrysler upped its stake in the company to 77%. Although the Americans were in financial control of SIMCA, as stated by Heriel, they would not exert too much influence on the company - until later...

The hugely popular SIMCA 1100 was launched in 1968, and a year later, the company took control of the automotive division of Matra. SIMCA effectively ceased to be in 1970, when Chrysler's share of the company was increased - yet again - up to 99.3 per cent. The company's name was changed to Chrysler France, and gradually during the 1970s, the SIMCA name was supplanted by the Chrysler Pentastar.

When Chrysler withdrew from Europe in 1978, Peugeot that picked up (what had been) SIMCA along with (what had been) Rootes; SIMCA was by far the most valuable of the pair. On the 10th May 1978, an agreement was signed which stated, "the Chrysler Corporation transfers all of its interests in its European operations to Peugeot Societe Anonyme." That was that — Chrysler had sold to Peugeot for a nominal sum. [In fairness, this was done out of a need for survival; Chrysler also sold off its highly profitable military and marine divisions, the Airtemp air conditioning business, its Australian operations, and everything else it could think of in order to raise cash and survive just long enough to get its new K-cars out the door. The creditors were not sympathetic, and the Volare/Aspen quality glitches and badly placed development bets on big cars, coupled with wasteful management, had destroyed the company's finances.)

The following year saw the company renamed: on the 10th July 1979, it was announced that "Chrysler Europe shall become the Talbot Groupe and that all Chrysler-SIMCA models (which controlled 11% of the French market at the time) would become Talbot-SIMCAs". The Talbot name was one taken from both companies' past, as The Rootes Group had absorbed Sunbeam-Talbot in the UK, with SIMCA taking Talbot in France in later years.

Post-War SIMCA cars

Aronde 1951-1963

SIMCA's Aronde marked a significant step forwards for the company, as it was the first in-house car (as opposed to being Fiat based). It lasted until 1963 and remained popular throughout its life, thanks to continued development and several facelifts. In total 159,418 were built.

Vedette and Ariane 1951-1961 / 1957-1963

When SIMCA took over Ford-France's Poissy operation, it inherited the Ford Vedette. The Vedette had two different bodies. It started out as a fastback in 1951, then was made a sedan/saloon in 1954. For some time after becoming a SIMCA, the Vedette continued to wear Ford badges. Ariane was created by adding a SIMCA power unit to the Vedette. The Ariane was always single coloured with a minimum of chrome.

1000 1963-78

The incredibly successful SIMCA "Mille" - rear engined, and continually developed, it proved popular with young drivers thanks to its low price and the availability of the sporting Rallye versions. Simca 1000 Info

Simca 1300/1301 1500/1501 1963-1976

Saloon car mainstay of the SIMCA range throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Simca 1300 Info

1100 1967-1982

The first French "supermini", and a best seller. Extremely long-lived thanks to the commercial vehicle afterlife; best remembered in later years for being the basis of the Matra-Rancho. Simca 1100 Info

1610 / 180 1970-1980

The first Chrysler-Europe SIMCA; designed in Coventry, produced in France and Spain. It looked good enough, but did not make a dent in the market. Chrysler 160/180 Info

1307/1308/1510 1975-1985

A contemporarily styled development of the SIMCA 1100; a spacious five door hatchback to rival the long-in-the-tooth Maxi and Renault 16. Chrysler Alpine Info

Horizon 1977-1985

Smaller version of the 1308, designed to do battle against the VW Golf and Renault 14. A lasting hit in the USA. Horizon Info

Related Pages:

Simca 1000
Simca 1100
Horizon

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