The Simca 1100 is arguably the most significant car of which most people are unaware. Why? It was the first car to combine the benefits of a front wheel drive transverse engine layout with a compact three or five door body shell and therefore to be very space efficient. To these features it added affordability and excellent handling. The 1100 was bound to succeed, and it did so handsomely, becoming the top selling car in France for several years in the early 1970s.
Unveiled to the press in Sardinia in September 1967, the general mechanical layout of the 1100 was, by French standards, conventional. For Simca it was a big step forward, as all their other models were then rear wheel drive. Suspension was by torsion bars front and rear, which contributed to the excellent ride. Probably the 1100's biggest attraction at launch was the opening tailgate and folding rear seat. The idea of combining the virtues of saloon and estate had been demonstrated by the Renault 16 two years earlier, and Simca realised its sales potential. More than 36 years later it is difficult to appreciate how revolutionary the idea of a hatchback was in 1967.
At just under 13ft long and 5ft 3ins wide the new Simca was larger than its styling suggested. A long wheelbase permitted an interior which was more roomy than that of a Hillman Avenger. The engine was the only part of the car which was not entirely new; of 1118 cc it was a bored out version of the 944 cc unit fitted to the Simca 1000. When introduced, the 1100 LS model's engine developed 53 bhp, and a slightly more powerful version producing 56 bhp was fitted to the GL and GLS models. Right hand drive versions of the 1100 were launched at the October 1967 London Motor Show, and a full range including 3 and 5 door saloons and a 3 door estate was offered in the UK right from the start.
As soon as the new cars fell into the hands of the UK motoring press they received enthusiastic reviews. It was the cars' ride and handling which drew the greatest praise, coupled with excellent overall fuel economy of around 31 mpg. Sales in the UK were relatively slow at the start, but when all the Chrysler UK dealers started selling the full Simca range in 1971, they quickly accelerated. In France the 1100 was an immediate success and remained popular right through the 1970s.
October 1970 saw the UK launch of a sporting 1100, the 1204. This had a modified version of the 1200S Bertone coupe engine, capable of 75 bhp. It boasted two twin choke Weber carburettors, and top speed was 98mph, about 15 mph faster than a standard 1100. The car was available with either a 3 door or 5 door body, and the front seats were fitted with head restraints, the first Simca to have them. At the same time the 56 bhp 1118 cc engine was uprated to give 58 bhp.
A year later saw the only significant change in the bodywork during the car's history, with a new, more rounded tailgate fitted which increased the luggage capacity a little. At the same time, the 1204 was replaced by the 1100 Special, where the engine was bored out to 1294 cc. A single twin choke carburettor was fitted to this car. By the time of the next revisions, in 1974, the 1100 was simply part of the French landscape; they were visible everywhere, like 2CVs and Renault 4s. The 1974 changes were largely cosmetic, but they cleverly updated the interior of the car and allowed it to stay in production until 1981. A completely new and contemporary instrument panel with large circular dials reflecting BMW practice was fitted, and this set the standard for all subsequent Chryslers and Talbots. Redesigned seats, improved interior trim, flush fitting door handles and larger rear light clusters completed the exercise.
This was accompanied by the launch of a new performance model, the 1100 TI. By combining a pair of twin choke carburettors with the 1294 cc engine, 82 bhp was achieved. Alloy wheels, tinted glass, velour upholstery, front fog lights and a rear spoiler were all standard, but unfortunately this model was never imported into the UK. In fact we had to wait until April 1975 for any of the revised 1100s. A new model appeared in October 1975, the LX. This was a sporty looking version of the base LE model, and had a matt black grille, bold decals along the bodyside, sports steering wheel and head restraints on the front seats. Initially available as 3 and 5 door versions, for the 1977 model year it was only offered as a 3 door, but was joined by two more new models, the GLX and ES. The GLX was a more sober looking 5 door version of the LX, but the ES had all the luxury trim of the 1100 Special but with the standard 1118 cc engine. 1978 saw the building of the two millionth 1100, a TI given away in a competition organised by Chrysler France. But with the launch of the Simca Horizon in France early the same year, production of the 1100 was gradually reduced. The TI and GLX were discontinued in July 1978, the latter being replaced by a new 1100 GLS which incorporated much of the interior of the TI, but not the mechanical components. A version of this car, badged as the 1100 GLS Special, was the last new Simca model brought into the UK, and was the last Simca on UK price lists, finally disappearing in July 1979. A few of these cars stayed long enough in showrooms to receive August 1979 "V" registrations.
With the unveiling of the Talbot name to replace Chrysler in July 1979, in France and other European markets the cars were renamed Talbot Simca 1100s, with Talbot badges on the bonnet and Simca badges on the tailgates. A year later saw the Simca name finally abandoned, with Talbot badges appearing on the rear of the cars. The 1981 model year range consisted of 3 and 5 door LS hatchbacks, LS estate, and 5 door GLS hatchback and GLS estate. Production ceased in July 1981 after 2,167,129 cars had been built. However, that was not quite the end, because a van version, derived from the 1100 estate, continued to be produced until April 1985. In the UK the van and pickup were marketed under the Dodge name from 1977, then later as Talbots.
About 25 Simca 1100s are on the books of the Simca Club UK, including a small number of 1204s and Specials. We believe there are still a number in the UK awaiting discovery. Thanks to its excellent handling and the hatchback layout, an 1100 is still a practical form of transport today. Spare parts are available in many instances in the UK, and in France, though body panels are becoming scarce.