Friday, August 21, 2009

Beater Road Test - 1971 Simca 1204: Mopar Ou Pas de Voiture



In an attempt to produce a relevant competitor for other European front-wheel-drives...



Price New: $1950
Price Now: $500
Date of Acquisition: 8/7/09
Cost to Date: $568.72
Engine: 1204cc OHV 4 Cylinder, transverse mounted
Transmission: 4 speed manual, all forward synchromesh, floor shift
Fuel Consumption: 40mpg@40mph claimed by previous owner, 28mpg observed
Acceleration: 0-60 14.5 secs
Top Speed: 85mph claimed by press, 95mph claimed by previous owner
Oil Consumption: 1qt/1000 miles

Intro

In an attempt to produce a relevant competitor for other European front-wheel-drives like the Austin Maxi and Autobianchi A111, the Simca 1204, known internally as Project 928, was green lighted in 1962 with vehicles actually hitting the market as 1968 models. Brought over to the US through Chrysler, the models were expected to see the same success as in Europe where sales totaled over 135,000 in the first year of production. In the US, the 1204 was a flop with Chrysler abandoning Simca in favor of Hillman and later Mitsubishi for its rebadged US market import lineup. Automotive press proclaimed that the car was solid, sporty, and comfortable but was not suited to US freeways due to comparatively low power levels and the lack of an overdrive gear. Although the 1204 was essentially replaced in 1978 by the 1308, production continued until 1985 to fuel export markets where the 1204 replaced donkeys and camels in daily service.


Interior

It's rare that the driving position and ergonomics of a beater can actually be analyzed. Collapsed seats, sharp cracked plastic, and crumbling floorboards typically tend to mask any semblance of comfort or ergonomic engineering. However, this particular car is fairly well preserved and the judgment can be made that it is actually usable, comfortable, and well thought out. In their day, Simcas were marketed as the practical and slightly up-market alternative to the Beetle, Mini, Renault, and other 60's import invasion competitors and offered slightly higher spec interior packages. Interior conveniences are abundant for an entry level small car. There is a full size glove box, dashboard baguette shelf, vented vinyl seats, defroster, and the assumption was made in the design process that all passengers will be smoking.


Both front seats fully recline and slide to accommodate people of Napolean to American sizes although the top hinged pedals feel slightly awkward if you prefer a closer distance to the controls. Rear seats fold flat to provide storage from the rear hatch to the back of the front seats - a first in the industry. The contribution of the seat belts to the overall safety of the vehicle is purely psychological, the mechanical action feeling more akin to clipping a dog to a leash than buckling one's self in. Although stark, instrumentation on the faux wood-laden dash is clear, readable, and somewhat BMW 2002-esque.

Driving Impression

The Simca adheres to the only rule of French of suspension design - make it soft. It turns where you request and feels extremely light through corners, but still manages to produce copious amounts of body roll. No commentary can be given for the brakes of a fully operational Simca 1204, but this particular car had the master cylinder safety wired to the front cross member and no functioning rear circuit. As a result of my labors in the name of safety, I can now say that the master cylinder is, however, bolted to the firewall.

Shifting the 1204 smoothly requires practice. Although this vehicle is of the production batch equipped with a solid rod shift linkage instead of a cable, shifter feel is still vague with second and fourth gear being moving targets. The ratio difference between each gear is spot on and feels even sporty. The 1204cc motor is surprisingly willing at middle to higher RPM and feels perfectly matched to the transmission, making it rewarding to drive aggressively.

But as a Daily?


The Simca 1204 has all the makings of semi-sporty and practical daily driver: good mileage, awesome space utilization, good ride, fun to drive, etc. but it has one huge drawback that must be considered before putting it into daily service: parts availability. As an experiment, I went to three different major auto parts stores, none of which even had Simca as a brand in their libraries. It seems as though the only way to obtain parts is through specialty parts store (I did manage to find a distributor rotor at SG Imported Parts in Ann Arbor), eBay, or the Simca Car Club, who has managed to accumulate a large stock of NOS replacement parts, presumably from the dumpsters of Chrysler dealers.

So in the mean time, I'll be enjoying this car for weekly highway commuting and daily in-town service, but living in fear of when something made of unobtainium actually does fail.

8 comments:

  1. Great write up, and I agree completely! The lack of parts availability is the scariest part, and as far as the Simca club goes, forget it. We few Simca owners left rely on each other and our very, VERY good friends in Europe to provide most of our parts, and most parts are pretty readily available, although some at a price.
    Remember, when the Simca 1100 was introduced, in 1967, there was no serious competition in the front-wheel-drive hatchback catagory. The Autobianchi was Fiat's "experiment" and it was, I think, 10 years later when they introduced the Ritmo/Strada. And the Austin Maxi was in a larger category and introduced two years later. Also available was the Renault 4L since 1961 and the Renault 16 since 1965, but for some reason, they was never really considered a hatchback car at that time (because no one had ever said the word "hatchback" before!), but instead a sedan/wagon (people could picture that!).
    If you need Simca help or have Simca help, give me a jingle. Some day, we have to have a photo op!
    Best Regards,
    Matt Cotton
    Lake Parsippany, NJ
    1965 Simca 1000
    1969 Simca 1118
    1969 Renault 16

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  2. Thanks for your post and all the info. I need all the help finding parts that I can get. You are right, Simca club is useless. Drop me an email at Matthew.sayler.anderson@gmail.com

    Good luck with your projects.

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  3. Well I can't say that the Simca club is useless, because the owner did offer technical advice and some parts, but the club is more or less suspended for the time being. Not sure if it will come back or not, but I'm hoping it does

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  4. Hmmm... not sure who the "matt" was who said the Simca club wasn't useless, because it is! The only "club", for all intents and purposes is you, me, Dietz, Joe, Pierre and Dan! There's another guy in California who no one can identify yet, also! I wish more would appear, though, because the cars appear all over the country, but you can never get a conversation started!
    Best Regards,
    Matt Cotton

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  5. My parents bought a brand new Simca 1204 when my older sister went to school. I was lucky enough to have it for my senior year and it was very fun to drive. Even back then getting parts was difficult and expensive. Seems the seatbelt fastner had a spring that would break and then no seat belt.

    During the year that I had it, it was fun to drive; not a lot of pep on the freeway but that was good news as I couldn't get into too much trouble.

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  6. There's a new guy with a 1204 out in San Diego, I think Dave Dietz introduced you two in an email. He's gonna need a lot of hand-holding, lol!

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  7. Obviously, the people who owned a Simca, before are foreigners. Because, us Americans were LUCKY enough, not to get that ugly piece of shit. LOL

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  8. Just found this, and thought I'd add my 2 cents... My wife and I bought a new 1970 Simca 1204 in October 1970. Owned it until 1987. Great car, and a forerunner of the Golf, and many other FWD cars. Chrysler used the 1204 platform to develop the Horizon/Omni (ugh!) Parts were a problem even shortly after purchase as the Dodge dealer we bought it from was hopeless. There was a large import parts distribution center in Chicago which thankfully carried all parts, especially the half-shafts which required replacement occasionally. I still have the original OEM shop manual for the 1204! I really miss when cars were simple, practical, fun to drive, easy to work on, and most of all, very affordable. But, then again, that's when the US Dollar was worth something on the world financial market. When all rear wheel drive cars here in Illinois were sliding around in the snow, the 1204 just motored past. Great memories... Don

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