The Simca 1300 was an elegant mid-sized car Autotest

The Simca 1300 was an elegant mid-sized car Autotest
The Simca 1300 was an elegant mid-sized car Autotest

At Simca, the early 1960s were a time of change at all levels, especially noticeable in the model range. With the Vedette, a sedan with V8 inherited from Ford France, the mass manufacturer had made a foray into the higher segment in the 1950s, but withdrew from it in 1961.

Simca Vedette.

Simca 1000 came in 1961: back to basics

Instead of launching a second attack on that segment, Simca turned back to the basics of its success story. In that year, the manufacturer became active in the compact car class, where significant sales numbers were achieved with the compact Simca 1000, a four-door sedan with the rear engine. Sales of the outdated middle class Aronde stagnated at that time, because a large part of the customer base was eagerly looking forward to a new model. Behind the scenes, Simca was already working hard on ‘Projet 910’. The new model series had to replace not only the Aronde, but also the considerably larger Ariane.

Simca Ariane.

The latter was considered chronically underpowered, as it was essentially just a cheap derivative of the Vedette; the weak 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine had to work too hard to keep going in that big car. So it was decided right at the start of the development process that the future duo Simca 1300/1500 would share the technology and the compact standardized body, but that the model with the larger engine capacity would be positioned half a class higher than the basic version.

CEO Simca was a fan of Opel Kadett A

The new model series also had the task of bringing about a major improvement in quality. According to board member Jacques Rousseau, Simca’s CEO Henri Théodore Pigozzi was a big fan of the simple and pragmatic Opel Kadett A. “That’s what I want,” he is said to have told his engineers.

The Simca 1300 was the first to make its debut and was unveiled in March 1963 at the Geneva Motor Show. His exterior was immediately appreciated by the general public. Simca had already reinvented itself stylistically with the 1000. However, that angular entry-level model still looked inconspicuous. The new mid-range model added a refined elegance unmatched in this segment. According to an article in the German magazine ‘Spiegel’ at the time, the manufacturer regarded this new design direction as a ‘mixture of American style and Italian spiciness’ – and the choice of that direction was logical given Chrysler’s involvement and the Fiat roots. However, Italian influences predominated, because the lines were largely the work of Rome-born Mario Revelli di Beaumont, who had made his mark at Pininfarina and Fiat. The low beltline and the expressive front with the wide, chrome grille gave the originally 4.25 meter long sedan a certain dynamism, even when standing still, and made it appear more expensive than it actually was. Just as Chrysler was expanding its influence over the company, the Italo-French had successfully said goodbye to the unfashionable American-influenced pontoon style.

Simca 1500.

With 1300/1500 Simca went its own way

While the baroque-lined Aronde was still developed by Simca together with Fiat, the twin 1300/1500 went their own way in technical terms. The development work took place almost entirely in Simca’s own technical department. Compared to the Aronde, which continued to roll off the production line for another year as a cheaper alternative to the newcomers, the 1300, which was delivered from July 1963, was clearly the more modern car. At the rear, Simca replaced the outdated longitudinal leaf springs with coil springs. Although the rear axle was still of the rigid type, wishbones and a transverse stabilizer improved road holding and wheel alignment. A fully synchronized four-speed gearbox was also introduced.

Simca 1301, with 70 hp 1.3, an engine derived from the 1500 and a clear step up.

Initially with the very old 1.3

Fiat viewed the emancipation of the former subsidiary with a certain skepticism, probably also out of fear that Simca’s new mid-range car could get in the way of the Fiat 1300 and 1500. The Italians are said to have consistently suppressed what they considered to be an overly strong spirit of innovation in Poissy. This is evident, for example, from the fact that the 1300, which was otherwise state of the art, had to make do for years with the outdated four-cylinder engine, the basic characteristics of which were based on an ancient Fiat design. The long-stroke engine with a cylinder capacity of 1,290 cc initially produced 62 hp. The 1500, which followed in early 1964, received an enlarged, modernized derivative of the engine with a capacity of 1,475 cubic centimeters and a power of 81 hp.

In October 1964 Simca introduced a Break, which was available in different versions. Depending on the version, this station wagon had facilities such as a picnic table or fold-out emergency seats for children on board. The luggage compartment in the top model was covered with imitation wood. In 1966, the 1300 models were equipped with front disc brakes, which had been standard on its big brother from market launch. From 1965, customers could order a three-speed automatic transmission from Borg Warner for the 1500.

Simca 1301.

Facelift: 1300 and 1500 became 1301 and 1501

For the 1967 model year, Simca introduced a facelift for the 1300 and 1500, which were henceforth known as 1301 and 1501. The visual changes were significant. An elongated tail replaced the square shape of the trunk, and flat, rectangular light clusters replaced the round taillights. The front was given a more pointed shape. This changed the dimensions: the front became 6.9 centimeters longer and the rear of the sedan grew by 13.5 centimeters. With a length of 4.46 meters, the mid-range car now made an even more stately impression. The luggage compartment in particular benefited from the increased dimensions. It now had a capacity of 375 liters, 35 more than before. In the interior, the round instrument panel was replaced by a horizontal ribbon speedometer. However, in 1969 the dashboard was redesigned and the oval gauges returned.

Simca 1301 Break.

Simca 1301.

Two year warranty on engine and transmission

Besides the design, there was another reason for the increased interest from customers: from 1967 Simca gave a two-year warranty on the engine, transmission and all chassis components. The manufacturer was unusually lenient in this regard – a six-month warranty was the maximum offered by the competition at the time. However, in Germany, for example, the French brand had already managed to recruit many new customers for this campaign. In 1961 Simca sold only 2,850 cars to its eastern neighbors, in 1965 this had already been around 21,000. The French did not provide a warranty on the bodywork, which was not surprising given the poor quality of the sheet metal. Depending on the climate, some Simcas rusted out from under their owners’ behinds after just a few years – a fate that befell many cars at the time. Outside of Southern Europe, these models are now almost extinct.

Simca 1301 Spécial, as a sedan and station wagon.

The two 1301 Spécials that we were able to borrow for this report spent a large part of their lives in their home country. The sedan was ordered by the first owner in Franche-Comté in 1971 and is in original condition; the station wagon is two years younger. With the generously equipped ‘Spécial’ versions, Simca had given the model series a sportier appearance at the end of 1969. Four round instruments including tachometer and clock were standard for this variant, as was a double glove compartment. The sedan also always had a gear lever located on the tunnel console and front seats with a sleeping position.

During the test drive, both 1301s were already convincing before we had even started our introduction. The wide opening doors offer an ideal entry. Both the individual seats of the sedan and the continuous bench of the Break are firmly sprung, but that is precisely why they are very comfortable. You quickly find your way around the interior and, with its lettering and plastic parts with a wood-look finish, it would also have looked good in a car from a higher segment. Large window areas (2.2 square meters, even in the sedan) make the interior light and airy and provide perfect all-round visibility.

In December 1969, Simca got rid of the outdated four-cylinder engine from the Aronde era. The successor was given the designation 345 and, as before, had a cylinder capacity of 1,290 cubic meters. In fact it was a downsized 1501 engine, so not really a new development. With the new power source, the 1301 Spécial now had 70 hp, meaning that the sedan, which weighs just under 1,000 kilos empty, can still easily keep up with traffic today.

1301 is a quiet, comfortable travel car

However, there is no question of sportsmanship. This is also due to the indirect steering, but mainly because the new engine, despite its higher power on paper, needs to be pushed hard before it can achieve convincing performance. It delivers its 98 Nm of torque much later than before – only at 4,000 rpm. The station wagon feels even slower and, as expected, its extra weight of 140 kilos is clearly noticeable. On the other hand, the gear lever located on the steering wheel, which slides smoothly through the gears, fits better with the character of the comfortably adjusted touring car 1301 than the somewhat choppy floor lever placed between the seats of the sedan. Although the small four-cylinder engine sounds enthusiastic at idle speed and the brakes work decisively, a quiet driving style suits Simca’s middle class better. The station wagon, which was used by the French postal service and the police in Paris, among others, shows its true talent in transport mode. If you roll down the rear window and fold the rear seat down with two hand movements, the Break also has room for longer objects such as a ladder. With the rear seat flat, the 1301 Break offers up to 1,550 liters of luggage space, according to the manufacturer. Simca stated a payload of 480 kilos – another impressive figure. Depending on the version, the station wagon was suitable as a leisure vehicle for the bourgeoisie or as a pack mule for the middle class.

1.3 million produced

The elegant Simca could do much more than just look good. The regular customers were also convinced of this. After the sales figures of the Chrysler 160 and 180, with which the parent company had served the upper middle class since 1970, were severely disappointing, the manufacturer was forced to continue production of the large 1501 for another two years in 1974. A total of 1,342,889 units rolled off the production line between 1963 and 1976. Given this number and the timeless design, it is surprising that the model series seems to have almost completely disappeared from collective memory.

Sixty years after its debut, the time has come to once again recall the strengths of this car. With ‘Projet 910’, Simca not only achieved a radical change in design, but the manufacturer was internationally successful in the mid-range segment for the first time. Although the French were not able to go all out during the development process, the successors to the Aronde were good cars. However, there was still room for improvement in terms of body quality and engines. Nobody is perfect, so to speak.

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Simca elegant midsized car Autotest


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