SIMCA VEDETTE & sIMCA ARIANE
Delighted with the success of the Simca Aronde, by 1954 Henri Pigozzi, the founder and Chairman of Simca, was considering ways to expand the company. It had one factory at Nanterre, Paris. If Simca was going to compete as a leading motor manufacturer, it needed a larger plant. A chance meeting with the head of the French Ford company led to a merger in July 1954. Ford owned a large plant at Poissy, further out of Paris than Nanterre, and land was available at this site for expansion.
The French Ford company by 1954 was offering just one model range, the Vedette. This was a large 5/6 seat 4 door saloon with a Ford V8 engine of 2,351cc. An estate version was also available. Simca took over the marketing of the Vedette range from the summer of 1954. As with the Aronde range, different trim levels were marked by different model names. There was the Trianon, the Versailles and the Regence, and the estate was known as the Marly. Ford had been building 150 Vedettes a day, but Pigozzi increased this to 250 per day.
In October 1957 an extensively revised Vedette range was introduced. At the rear there were now two massive fins, reflecting contemporary American styling. The front end was also re-worked, with a wraparound windscreen and peaked headlamps. Overall length of the revised car was 15ft 7ins, so the combination of the new styling and the size of the car made it look very impressive. The V8 engine produced 84 bhp, and gave the car a top speed of 90 mph. To accentuate the changes made to the Vedette, new model names of Beaulieu and Chambord replaced Trianon, Versailles and Regence, although the estate continued to be called the Marly.
The improved Vedette was offered for sale in the UK, but the rarity of the type in this country, plus the high import duty, did not encourage buyers. In France the Vedette proved quite popular, although it was never intended to be a mass market car. In 1959 the range was completed by the Presidence, which had a more luxurious interior, and an externally mounted ‘continental’ spare wheel at the rear to boost luggage space and add presence. President de Gaulle was so impressed that he had one as his official car in 1960/61. Production of the Vedette finished in 1961 with 173,288 cars.
Having introduced the new Vedette in 1957, Simca did not discard the old body shell. Instead, they fitted it with the 1290cc Aronde engine, and called it the Ariane. Clearly combining the old Vedette body shell with only 1290cc power was not going to produce a quick machine and so it proved. Top speed was only 75 mph, and it took a long time to get there. But the Ariane did appeal to taxi drivers, and soon became a common sight in Paris. A V8 engined version, simply called Ariane 8, was available for people who wanted to travel faster but did not want to buy a new Vedette. The Ariane was produced until the introduction of the Simca 1300 and 1500 in 1963. Production totalled 166,363.
Somewhat surprisingly, there are a handful of Vedettes in the UK, plus a solitary Ariane.