A forgotten French classic

By Classic Yorkshire correspondent Tony Lofthouse

Can you remember what the first car you bought was?

A Mini, Escort, Beetle, Nova or another make! I guess not many would say a Simca.

Back in the 1970s a dear friend – sadly no longer with us – revelled in having a Simca 1000, a lively rear-engined small car, the French product of an alliance with Fiat.

The boxy egg-shell blue four-door I remember had all the looks of a neat Italian runabout with the added boost of great performance. Behind the wheel the open roads of West Yorkshire offered just as much fun as a quiet countryside drive in the Simca’s homeland.

It got me thinking that despite impressive worldwide sales – over one and a half million were made – the 1000 was still something of a rarity in the UK.

The story of the Simca 1000 is the story of its Italian founder, Henri Pigozzi. A businessman intent on developing a small ‘runaround’ ready to cash in on the economy car boom of the 1960s.

Fiat would be Simca’s major shareholder for over 30 years until 1963 and play a big part in the history of the car.

Given a clear route by Fiat, who were more interested in developing a smaller engined two-door project (which would become the iconic Fiat 850), Pigozzi set about capitalising on his close relationship with his Italian counterparts.

Pigozzi wanted an advanced specification car which would challenge Renault and with Fiat’s blessing his designers worked on early prototype designs originally drawn up at the manufacturing giants vast Turin operation.

In 1961, the Simca ‘Mille’ (as the French called it) went into production with a rear-engine lay out – a first for Simca. The fuel tank was also fitted behind the rear seat giving the car a light and nimble front end and responsive steering on windy roads.

The car was an immediate success and proved a big hit in France, Spain, South America and also the US market. In the UK, the 1000 was competing with the Rootes-built Hillman Imp.

By the mid 1960’s it’s sales attracted the interest of Chrysler and they jumped on board in a takeover of Simca.

Over time, the Simca 1000 would go through a series of facelifts and new models as it faced competition from the rise in front-wheel drive vehicles. A left-hand drive coupe version was a real head turner and clocked up sales of over 26,000 units.

By 1969, the 1000 range had been completely revamped. The existing 944cc engines were replaced by the Type 349 engine which had greater tuning potential. A year later, the 1000 Rallye was launched and became an inexpensive way into motorsport. Simca would also develop a 1118cc engine and, in 1972, a 1294cc unit was added.

After clocking up many years of impressive sales, production of the 1000 ceased in 1978. The cars market successor, under its US owners, would be the British-designed Chrysler Sunbeam hatchback which would also replace the struggling Imp.

Looking back, the Simca 1000 really was an underestimated classic. It might not have been to everyone’s tastes but under the bonnet it packed a punch, whilst inside it offered a surprisingly spacious cabin.

Today, there are very few Simca 1000s for sale here but when they do come up a restored four-door model can sell for over £7,000. The sought after coupe and Rallye versions can go for double this.

There are benefits to tracking one down! It could be a good excuse to take ‘that’ trip to the French countryside in search of your own special ‘Mille’.

One thought on “A forgotten French classic

  1. Thanks for a very nice review of a forgotten (in UK at least) once very popular car, but not an uncommon sight back in the day when I had a Hillman Imp (my second car) and I tended to compare them. A friend of mine used to drive around in his mother’s Simca Aronde, that was more of a rarity, but the 1000 Rallye was pretty scarce too and I’d love to see one again in the flesh. Seemingly just 3 remaining in the UK, I wonder where they are.

    Hugh Allan

    Like

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