SIMCA 1300 - Following in the footsteps of a giant

In March 1963, Simca introduced the 1300/1500 at the Geneva Motor Show. They were designed to replace the phenomenally successful Simca Aronde. The Aronde had been the making of Simca but by the start of the sixties it was starting to look and feel a little dated. The Aronde continued to be produced until 1964. Just under 1.5 million had been built since its introduction in 1951. Following such a car was not going to be easy.

The new Simca 1300/1500 was designed and developed under the careful eye of Ing. Montabone, who later returned to Turin to head up Fiat’s engineering division. That’s probably why the Simca 1300/1500, although entirely French in design, had an unmistakable Fiat feel to them. They were stylish without being extravagant and good to drive without being temperamental. In France, they were unashamedly middle class cars pitched into the French 7CV and 8CV taxation classes. The new cars inherited the robust qualities of the Aronde. Whereas Simca’s most recent car, the Mille/1000 had its engine at the back, the 1300/1500 stuck with the traditional drive train of the Aronde with a front mounted four-cylinder engine driving through a four speed Porsche-type syncromesh gearbox the rear wheels. A column gearchange was standard along with a front bench seat, although British market cars all had a floor mounted gear change. The 1300 featured four wheel drum brakes, worm and roller steering and 5.90 x 13 cross ply tyres. The car was bigger than the Aronde with a wheel base of 99.2 inches and a length of 166.9 inches. It was a roomy car featuring a number of little tricks to squeeze as much usable space as possible out of the car – for example, the spare wheel was recessed into the top of the petrol tank which in turn formed the part of the boot floor.

The Simca 1300 inherited its ‘Rush’ engine from the Ariane, a strange hyrbid made up of the 1290cc 62bhp five bearing high performance Simca Aronde engine slotted into the bodyshell of the Ford developed Vedette – which had originally been designed to have a V8 to pull its huge bulk around! The last of the Araines were sold in 1963 and the same engine, fitted with a single barrel Solex carburettor, was used for several years on the new 1300. Front suspension was by coil springs and double wishbones while the live rear axle was suspended using coil springs, trailing arms and a Panhard rod. Autocar’s first road test of the new car praised the car’s finish and generally sturdy nature. British sales started in the autumn of 1963, with both the 1300 and 1500 being listed although deliveries of the latter were delayed as production didn’t get fully underway until early 1964.

The 1500, aimed squarely at the Peugeot 404 was finally launched in early 1964. It used an identical body shell as the 1300 with a few subtle differences. The rear bumper of the 1500 wrapped around both sides, reaching almost to the rear wheel arches and its grille had no vertical grille bars unlike the 1300 which did have them! The windows got chrome trim. The 1500 featured a larger, all-new 81 bhp 1475cc engine. A twin barrel Weber carburettor was used along with front disc brakes to match the greater speed potential of the larger car. Top speed was 90 mph.

For 1965, the range grew. In France, a 1500 GLA automatic model was offered – any colour you wanted as long as it was metallic brown! It featured a traditional Borg-Warner BW35 three-speed automatic transmission also available on other 1500 models as an option. The selector was on the steering column. The 1500 and 1300GL featured such amenities as a key-lockable front passenger door and a switch to turn on the interior light automatically when that door was opened. The more expensive 1500GL added a range of luxuries way beyond what most early sixties car buyers could expect from a fairly mainstream family car. They included an electric clock, designed to resemble a half scale version of the large round speedometer, mounted centrally on top of the dashboard. There was also a day/night rear-view mirror, a provision in the cigarette lighter to allow the use of an electric plug-in razor, a centre fold-down armrest in the rear seat, and a ‘swallow’ emblem on the front left wing. Of lesser value wasthe mock wood trim which adorned the dashboard.

Simca al fresco

Three estate cars were also announced for 1965, all using the same engine as the 1500. All had driver-side exterior mirrors as standard. The cheapest of the trio was the 1500 Station Wagon with feature as for the 1500 sedan. The mid range model was the 1500 Familial which added a roof-top luggage rack and two child seats fitted in the sides of the cargo area and which faced each other. Top of the range was the 1500GL that included all features of the 1500 GL sedan but with a nice little touch for families wanting to eat al fresco. The cargo floor could be removed and four legs unfolded from underneath to create a Formica topped picnic table! The load areas of the estate cars were fully trimmed in Formica, a feature that remained until the car’s demise in the 1970s. All had a split tailgate – the window wound down into the bottom half of the tailgate that then opened out to provide an extended load bed. This useful feature – which allowed shopping to be loaded without having to open the full tailgate – did however mean that a heated rear window was never fitted to the station wagons.

The British range did not initially become as extensive as that offered to the French. Just three versions were listed in October 1964 – the 1300 and 1500 saloons and the 1500 estate. However, by the summer of 1965 the range had been extended to embrace a 1300 and 1500 saloon, a 1500L saloon and 1500L and GL estate cars. The cars were slightly dearer than their obvious British competitors but offered a little more in return for the extra cash. The Simca 1300 cost £800 in August 1965 compared to £787 for a Hillman Super Minx or £747 for a Morris Oxford – which didn’t even have a heater fitted as standard!

In 1966, all the 1300s gained front disc brakes, like those previously fitted to just the 1500. There was also the option of front bucket seats and a floor mounted gear shift lever. In France, the range was relabelled. The 1300L replaced the previous 1300 and the 1300LS replaced the previous 1300GL. The new 1300GL and its slightly dearer sister the 1300GLS wore the front grille from the 1500 models. The 1500L replaced the 1500 and the 1500GLS replaced the 1500GL, featuring fancier upholstery and full-length chrome side trim. A new 1500LS slotted into the middle of the line-up between the L and GLS. Estate car 1300s were offered for the first time - the range was made up of the 1300LS wagon, 1300LS Familial and 1300GLS wagon. The 1500LS wagon and Familial replaced the former 1500 wagons and the 1500GLS wagon replaced the former 1500GL wagon at the top of the range. The 1500GLA introduced in 1965 and featured GL trim continued. The automatic remained available as an option on all 1500 models, including the estate cars.

In October 1966, the new 1301 and 1501 replaced the 1300 and 1500. The previous cars had been successful with 275,626 1300s and 162,183 1500s being built since their launch in 1963. The 1301/1501 featured revised styling and the overall length was increased by 8" to 175.5" - 2 inches in front, and 6 inches at the back. It was the first and last styling change made to the range. The wheel base remained the same at 100”. New, wide rectangular taillights were used and boot space increased by 10% and the bonnet line was raised slightly, meaning a slightly taller grille was needed. The estate cars retained the earlier rear end styling but the front of the station wagons was revised in the same way as the saloons.

The infamous ‘reverse gate’ gearchange was changed to a more conventional type – no longer did new drivers try to set off in third instead of first! A new dashboard was introduced with a rectangular, strip speedometer replacing the pronounced round one of the 1300/1500. A steering column lock was standard fitting. All the previous trim levels were retained with the exception of the L which was dropped. A 1500GL was added to the line up along with the 1301 Universal which was commercial version offered because French tax laws smiled favourably on utility vehicles. It didn’t have a rear seat and the rear windows were painted body colour to allow for the business advertising!

The 1967 British range was made up of the 1301LS saloon, 1301 LS estate, 1301 GL, 1501 GL, 1501 GLS saloon and estate car, this range being slimmed down for 1968 to the 1301 and 1501 GL saloons and 1501 GLS in saloon and estate formats. Motor magasine were rather impressed by the 1501 GLS: “Interior is roomy and comfortable, the boot capacity is excellent, the ride and performance are quite good, and the handling safe and predictable if rather uninspiring. The only real fault…is a rather fussy and noisy engine”. However, the 1501 was costly – its price of £1020 put it up against larger and more ostentatious cars such as the Wolseley 18/85 and Ford Corsair 2000E. The £860 1301 LS faced equally tough competition from Triumph’s front wheel drive mini-limo 1300 at £835, the lithe and efficient Hillman Hunter at £838 and the crude but luxurious Wolseley 16/60.

Any colour you like – as long as its red…

The French range was trimmed somewhat for 1969 when all models gained radial ply tyres as standard equipment. The 1301LS and 1301GL saloons along with the1301GL station wagon remained as did the 1501GL in both saloon and estate formats. New for ’69 were the 1501 Special saloon and estate. The Special was promoted as a sports saloon and had a top speed of more than 100 mph. A new combustion chamber and modified camshaft increased power from 81 to 95 bhp. Power assisted brakes were added, as well as two, long-distance driving lights mounted above the front bumper. A front anti roll bar was added to the suspension to reduce roll around corners. The sporty mock wood rim steering wheel featured three spokes and a floor-mounted, centre console held the shift lever and the optional tachometer. Deep red carpets were fitted too – at first regardless of the exterior colour specified! Motor commented that the Simca was quite a costly car, pitched against faster and in some cases bigger engined cars such as the Fiat 125, Renault 16TS and Ford Corsair 2000E, although the Simca had the edge on fuel economy. Motor added that it was a comfortable car that could also: “be hustled through corners very smartly”.

The British range for 1969 was also slimmed down to four models – 1301 and 1501 GL saloons and the 1501 in both saloon and estate versions. Motor magasine’s road test of the Simca 1501 Special noted that the 1969 models exported to Britain were fitted with a higher rear axle ratio and a magnetically coupled cooling fan to reduce noise at cruising speeds, answering criticisms made in their 1967 test of the original 1501.

A new engine to replace the old Aronde/Ariane Rush engine was introduced in February 1970 for the 1301, rated at 7CV under the French taxation system. It was a smaller version of the 1475cc 1501 engine, itself a new design back in 1963. The new engine produced more power than the old Rush unit but used less fuel!

At the same time, the 1301 Special saloon and station wagon were added to the French line-up. The 1301 Special had a top speed of about 90 mph and could be ordered with the automatic transmission previously the preserve of the 1475 models. All of the other models remained as for 1969 - the 1301LS, 1301GL, 1501 GL and 1501 Special saloons and the 1301GL, 1501GL and 1501 Special estate cars. A new dashboard was introduced for 1970 with circular instruments, two on the 1301LS and four on all others. The 1501GL and 1501 Special shared a revised 74 bhp 1475cc engine while the 1501 Special itself received a new, sporty matt black grille with two, rectangular long-distance lights built in. It also got a tachometer as part of the new circular instrument layout. This round of changes was the last of any significance to be made to the range.

The American influence was being felt in France at Simca just as much as it was being felt at Rootes across the Channel in Britain. The Chrysler ‘pentastar’, replacing the Simca ‘swallow’ on the hubcaps. The Simca identity was further downplay a couple of years later - on August 31st, 1971, new smaller rectangular Simca badges replaced the individual S.I.M.C.A. letters on all Simca cars.

The 1301 and 1501 GL saloons and the 1501 Special as either saloon or estate car models made up the British 1301/1501 line up for 1970. Simca slimmed the French range down for 1971 to the 1301 saloon with the previous, simplified LS trim and the 1301 Special as a saloon and estate. The 1501 saloon and estate remained in production for export only as the newly announced Chrysler 160/180 line was meant to replace the 1501 on the French market. The British line up for 1971 was a GLS badged Simca 1301 in saloon and estate forms, the latter being announced at the 1970 London Motor Show, and the 1501 in saloon and estate forms.

A cut above the rest…

Simca continued to market the cars in Britain as being a cut above the rest of the field, although pricing was starting to get a little more competitive. In October 1970, 1301GLS at £1049 was cheaper than the technically more advanced Austin Maxi 1500 at £1057. It was, however, nicely pitched between its British cousins, the Hillman Hunter 1725 Super at £998 and the Hunter 1725GL at £1079. The £1149 1301 GLS Estate was similarly priced between the Hunter Deluxe and GL Estates and was a sound if slightly dated competitor to the £1160 Ford Cortina 1300XL Estate.

All that remained in France for the 1972 model year were the Simca 1301 Special in both body styles which gained the spotlight equipped grille from the 1501 Special. The British range on offer for 1972 was the 1301 Special and 1501 Special, both available as saloon or estate car – this was the line up that remained on offer to British buyers until the car’s demise at the end of 1975.

Hello old friend…

Australian Chryslers come to Britain

The 1972 French range continued for 1973. Changes were minimal. The transmission and rear brakes were improved, a day/night mirror and illuminated cigarette lighter were fitted as standard and an alternator had finally arrived. However, the 1501 Special and 1501 Special estate car were re-introduced in France for 1974 thanks to dismal sales of the Chrysler 160/180. All 1974 models now featured a centre console and cloth trimmed seats were fitted to the saloon variants. Compression ratios were lowered slightly on both the 1301 Special and the 1501 Special. Sales held up well in France. Sales in Britain were not too bad either. In the first six months of 1973, Simca managed to shift 3,596 Simca 1301/1501s – however, that was only a third of the British sales in the same period of the Renault 12. Sadly, though, in Britain the cars were beginning to look dated and expensive against more stylish and powerful competition. Indeed, Autocar commented in 1973 that the Simca 1301/1501 now: “show signs of their age”. In October 1973, a Simca 1301 Special saloon cost £1326 – for twenty pounds more a buyer could have an overhead cam 1800cc Vauxhall Magnum. The Simca was even undercut by £40 by its younger stablemate the Hillman Hunter GL. Life was even tougher for the Simca 1501 Special. At £1404, it found itself up against the larger, more modern Ford Cortina 2000XL for exactly the same outlay or for just forty pounds more the incredibly quick and well trimmed Hillman Hunter GLS. The Simca was becoming very much a car of a bygone age – it even retained its sixties style chrome horn ring on the steering wheel right up until the end of its life! By this time, though, Chrysler’s attention was firmly on the soon to be announced Chrysler Alpine/Simca 1307/8. In a final moment of madness, a vinyl roof appeared as standard equipment on all 1975 French market saloons but this wonderful seventies style icon did not feature on the cars exported to Britain. The last 1301/501 had already come off the Poissy line in July 1975 well before the introduction at the Paris Salon in October 1975 of the new Chrysler Alpine/Simca 1307/1308. For 1976, the last of the 1301 Special saloon and 1301 Special station wagons were sold from stock in France, priced to undercut the new Chrysler-Simca 1307GLS, 1307S and 1308GT The last of the 1301’s gained reversing lights and rear fog lamps. In Britain, the 1301 and 1501 managed to linger on in the price lists into the spring of 1976 although they didn’t get a mention in the 1976 Simca sales brochure. Requiem for an unknown but faithful soldier The Simca 1301 and 1501 cannot in any way be seen as failures. A total of 1,342,889 were produced between 1963 and 1975. They were sold mainly in France although reasonable exports were made to Britain, Holland and Germany. A limited number also managed to find their way through the Iron Curtain to Czechoslovakia. While they may have been technically unexciting, they were carefully designed and well thought out family cars, with many details features that in their early days put them well ahead of the market. The estate cars had the option of chrome fitted roof rails long before other European companies even thought of offering them on their station wagons. The Familial models offered people carrier seating capacity before people carriers were a twinkle in the motor industry’s eye. Integral spot lamps were another little feature offered a few years ahead of the pack. With very little investment – a Chrysler trait as far as its European operations were concerned especially when compared to the Vauxhall, Opel and Ford outposts of General Motors and FoMoCo – these Simcas remained popular cars right up until they were replaced by the Simca 1307/8. However, very few remain alive today. Rust protection was never a Simca strongpoint and the cars just didn’t attract the same enthusiasm amongst petrol heads as other contemporary models. Which is a shame because the Simca was a solid, reliable, unassuming performer that, like so many unsung heroes, deserves to be remembered. Article written by Andy Thompson. Thanks to the Dutch Simca Club, the French Simca Club and Simcamaniac for providing information to compile this history of the Simca 1300/1301/1500/1501 Colour pictures, courtesy Richard Gunn.

 

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