When Europe arose from the ruins of the Second World War in 1945, the situation in France was one of utter helplessness. Not only had the country been a fierce battleground in 1940 and 1944, it had been intensively looted by Germany to obtain the machinery and materials for the Eastern Front. What remained was used for German war production, but fleeing from the Allies, the Germans took with them what they could and destroyed what they did not want to fall into the hands of the enemy. When peace finally came, the production of cars and trucks had stopped.
The upheaval continued for years. It wasn't until 1947, with the Marshall Plan, that things started moving again. The need consisted of the cheapest passenger cars, trailers and heavy trucks to rebuild the country. In that country, where hardly any money was involved, where petrol was on the receipt, the Citroën 2CV a brilliant idea.
In 1926, the then 26-year-old Henri Theodore Pigozzi had started producing Fiat licenses under the name SIMCA. That stood for Société Industrielle et de Méchanique et Carrosserie Automobile. The Simca 5 was a direct copy of the Fiat 500 “Topolino”, which, as I wrote earlier, was also made in Neckarsulm in Germany by NSU-Fiat. This "mouse" was just about the minimum car and the maximum that the European could afford in those years. The mouse had the disadvantage that it was a two-person car, where only very lenient and agile people of small stature could squeeze into the back seat.
And that during the post-war baby boom! France experienced a population explosion in those poor but hopeful days. And that created opportunities for those who could offer an affordable family car. Renault jumped into that market with the 4CV, Simca with the Aronde. The takeover of Talbot-Lago in 1949 not only brought new machinery and company buildings, but also a good team of engineers and designers.
The Aronde (a swallow would be Simca's logo for years to come) was a full-fledged five-passenger car with a solid cast-iron four-cylinder engine, the "Flash". With the Aronde, Simca became a powerful opponent of Renault and Peugeot. And a strong manufacturer! That gave the opportunity to make the next acquisition.
Ford SAF (Societé Anonyme Francaise), under the brand name Matford, was created in 1934 when Ford took over the Alsatian car manufacturer Mathis. In addition to the Mathis models, the French variant of the American Ford V8, the Matford Alsace V8, soon ran off the line. Soon a new factory was set up by Ford in Poissy, below Paris. And it was this factory that was bought by Simca in 1954. The last French Ford, the Vedette V8, was unfortunately not a success. The car was largely developed in Dearborn and therefore had the typical American characteristics: spacious, comfortable, extremely solid and equipped with a very smooth V8 side valve engine, but unfortunately too expensive and too "American" for the French market.
After the 1954 takeover, Italian stylists started to give the Vedette a somewhat more European look. The car was tightened, the engine was made a little more economical - as far as possible with a side valve V8 - and voila, the new Ford Vedette became the Simca Vedette in 1955. At the same time, Simca suddenly had a large and modern car factory, the then fifteen-year-old Matford factory in Poissy.
Simca Vedette 1st series
In 1955 appeared the stripped-down Simca Vedette Trianon, the best-selling model Versailles and the very luxurious Régence. The latter had – in 1955! – a radio on board as standard, was painted in two colors of paint, had two colors, luxurious upholstery and carpets everywhere. The Marly was a spacious station wagon.
All of them were equipped with the "Aquilon" 2.351 cc V8 engine of 80 hp, the main feature of which was that the car could be driven in the third and highest gear from 15 to 120 kilometers per hour. And let me not forget that this was one of the first cars with McPherson struts, just like the Ford Taunus 17m of the time. The first series of Vedette sold over 100.000 copies in two years, a quarter of which were exported. This made it the most exported French car in its time.
Simca simultaneously took over the truck manufacturer Unic and the Matford, Talbot and Simca designers started working on the following models.
Simca Vedette 2st series
The new series appeared in 1957. The large Simca had grown no less than 25 centimeters: with a length of 4,75 m, this car could stand without shame among the other European large middle class. The model range was renamed Beaulieu, a luxury Chambord, a very prestigious Présidence and again the Marly order variant. The styling with wings and trapezoidal lines was modern, the performance good, the comfort excellent. But he was still not frugal.
In order to offer an economically attractive alternative in the large middle class, the factory decided to continue producing the previous model under the type name Ariane, with the heavy V8 being replaced by the engine from the Aronde. The result was a 4,5 meter long, 1200 kilo full-size six-seater family car with a boy of a trunk, powered by the 1300cc four-cylinder 60 hp “Rush” engine.
It goes without saying that it was not a speed monster. But the car was economical and strong and in France, where, just like in Belgium and Italy, road tax is calculated on the cylinder capacity (tax horsepower) also advantageous when it was standing still. And well, who needs a high top speed in Parisian traffic?
The Présidence was a different story. An ordinary Vedette was completely finished by hand in the old factory in Nanterre, according to the customer's wishes. Many examples were given leather upholstery, trim with wooden parts, a sliding roof, a few new African presidents were wary and ordered versions with bulletproof glass or a reinforced bottom and sometimes air conditioning was installed. An extended convertible was prepared for Charles de Gaulle. All the presidency versions were black.
Still, all that beauty couldn't hide the fact that the archaic, smooth, quiet, hard-wearing Ford V8 had come to the end of its development. The competitors, including Citroën and Renault built four-cylinder engines that performed no less well with less petrol.
And then there was another thing: a side valve V8 with central camshaft, both the intake and exhaust valves on the "inside" of the block. The four exhaust ducts per cylinder head therefore ran straight through the cooling jackets, making such a block thermally quite sensitive. A somewhat poorly maintained engine, whose cooling system was no longer optimal or was not topped up in time, could suffer from overheating and leaking head gaskets. Still, this was a fantastic car. The older examples were very popular in stock car races, because of their extremely strong bodies and suspension. For decades these large and strong Simcas drove around the African continent in Indochina. They also drove around in South America, a small series was built in Argentina.
The decline started in 1960. This quintessential 50s car with its 30s engine fell out of favor with its more modern and economical competitors. Simca decided to stop production of the Aquilon V8 (it was the last application of the Ford flathead V8 in a passenger car) and in the summer of 1961 the last Vedette left the factory in Poissy. That year the old Simca factory of Nanterre was sold to Citroën and a rejected design of a larger variant of the 850 was adopted from Fiat, which would actually be called Ariëlle but which we still know as the Simca 1000. Finally, the Ariane, the last Simca with Ford body and technology, was replaced in 1963 by the Simca 1300 and 1500.
The next big Simca would not be developed until the mid-929s as “project 1970”. In 160, under duress from Chrysler, that design was pushed aside and the Chrysler 180 / XNUMX / Deux Liters came on the market. I previously devoted an article to this.
1926: Simca starts production of Fiat licenses
1934: Mathis starts production of Ford licenses
1937: Ford takes a majority in Mathis, renames the factory in Matford and builds a large factory in Poissy
1949: SAF (successor to Matford) replaces the old Alsace V8 with the new Vedette
1954: Simca takes over SAF
1955: Appearance of the Simca Vedette Trianon, Versailles and Marly
1957: Appearance of the Simca Vedette Beaulieu, Chambord, Presidence, Marly and Ariane
1959: Chrysler acquires the first 15% shares in Simca and with it the Talbot . brand
1961: End of production of the “big” Simca's, the Aquilon V8 (Ford had already stopped these engines in 1954)
1963: The Ariane is succeeded by the 1300-1500 series.