For the first race meeting of the season I took to Goodwood a Simca “Montlhery”, a good omen, I hope, for my forthcoming book on the track of that name, and a fitting car in which to journey lightheartedly to the Sussex circuit. In comparison with some soggy, heavy-hearted British cars I could name, the Simca is lively, lightly sprung and easy to handle.
I have tested a great many Simcas in the last few years and liked them very much, but the most recent model, which has the Super Rush 5-bearing power unit with centrifugal oil filter, is the best of them all. This French car with Italian ancestry, now backed by Chrysler and thus a car with an International flavour (reflected in its French headlamps, Italian speedometer, and Yankee lettering such as “Hi-beam” and “Gen” – for dynamo – for its facia warning lamps) has a strong reputation for durability which the new Rush-engined model enhanced by that impressive long duration run (80 days at 65 m.p.h.) at Miramas last year.
Certainly the Simca’s Italian connections (the engine was originally basically Fiat) are emphasised by its ready response to the throttle and quick, light steering. The four-cylinder 74 x 75 mm. 1,290-c.c. engine, as befits its 30% additional bearing area, is commendably smooth and only betrays its excellent output of 62 b.h.p. at 5,200 r.p.m. by some power-roar when it is working hard. Otherwise it is a quiet power unit, and the car is in keeping, road and wind-noise being very low, so that this Simca Montlhery is restful to occupy, while pouring out power more suited to a full 1½-litre engine.
Indeed, the arc-type 100-m.p.h. Veglia speedometer (the ribbon-type has been abandoned) goes to 27, 45 and 72 m.p.h. in the gears and sits at a cruising speed of 82 m.p.h. indicated in top gear, which it reaches as a matter of course on ordinary roads.
The suspension, which incorporates the new system of coil-springs, stabiliser bar and double-action shock-absorbers supplementing the ½-elliptic back springs, gives a lively ride and permits quite a high degree of roll when cornering, which seems in keeping with the happy demeanour of the Simca, which has an oversteer tendency but is sufficiently well glued to the road for a keen driver to enjoy taking if fast round bends with the kick-free high-geared (three turns, lock-to-lock, discounting some free play) very light steering, which has reasonable castor-return action. The brakes are light and powerful but set up a slight judder when applied hard. The four-door saloon body of the Montlhery was finished in a blue very suitable for a French car, with deeper blue roof, this two-tone colour scheme being continued within the car. It has a rather narrow body, normally a four-seater, although as only a shallow transmission tunnel (and no gear-lever) impedes the floor, three people can be accommodated on the bench front seat in cases of dire necessity, and three slim people can comfortably occupy the back seat. This 3-D front seat is high set and has fully reclining separate “Autogalbe” squabs adjustable over a wide range (10 positions in all) by operating neat side levers, a feature often regarded as a refinement found only in costly luxury cars, although France and Russia manage it for their family models! The roof line is rather low, so that tall people are apt to bump their heads when getting into the car.
The moulding of the squabs and the rather spongy, gay leathercloth upholstery holds the driver firmly in place and seat and driving position are comfortable, except for the somewhat close proximity of clutch and brake pedals, the latter rather far to the left. Both front wings are in clear view. The pull-out metal hand-brake is set rather far under the facia, yet is not unduly inconvenient for operation by the right hand. There is stiff crashpadding along the bottom of the facia and the inside handles pull back to open the doors.
There is a left-hand steering column gear-change and while I prefer a floor lever, the Simca change has quite a precise, light action, with effective synchromesh, on all save bottom gear, and even bottom engages easily. The lower ratios are uppermost, reverse is safely beyond top and easy to select, the lever in no way whippy. A floor gear-lever is available for about £6 extra.
Instrumentation of this Simca is simple but effective. The wide speedometer panel incorporates a total mileometer sans decimal readings, a pessimistic fuel gauge with rather faint low-level warning light, matched by warning lights for too high water temperature or low oil pressure. Smaller warning lights tell of hi-beam in use, dynamo failure, and flashers’ winking. A Continental-style dual horn is sounded by a neat half-ring below the steering wheel; its note can be loud or softer, at will, by moving a thumb-switch on the steering-wheel hub, an acceptable refinement. A matching switch operates the wipers. In the centre between these small controls is the direction flashers’ lever, badly-placed below the wheel spokes, which usually had to be zeroed by hand, due to dubious self-cancelling mechanism.
Opposite the gear-lever is a short, rigid lamps-control stalk the knob of which rotates forwards to select, in succession, sidelamps, sidelamps-cum-instrument lighting, and full headlamps. Pulling out the knob dims the headlamps beam. This is an extremely convenient control and although there is no means of switching out the panel lighting when the headlamps are on, this does not result in dazzle and saves fumbling for a switch when driving fast, as one normally is when headlamps are in use.
On the left there is a deep lidded, but not lockable, cubbyhole, the interior slightly impeded by internal hinges to the plastic lid. A pocket is provided on the driver’s side of the scuttle. On the test car a Pye radio, with speaker down on the near side of the scuttle, occupied the centre of the metal two-tone facia, and above it was the simple horizontal quadrant control, numbered 0, 1,2, for the efficient heater. The radio is wired independently of the ignition switch and the horn likewise, but not the wipers. The key has to be pushed in as well as turned, to operate the starter. There is an automatic choke ensuring prompt starting from cold. This substantial key is also used to lock the front doors. A smaller key unlocks the boot lid, which flies up with startling eagerness to reveal a spacious, entirely unobstructed luggage space, the spare wheel being beneath the floor and the jacking equipment strapped on the near-side of the engine compartment.
The bonnet is opened by an external lever and props open on its own by means of bed-springs and toggle-levers after a simple bent-wire safety catch has been released. The dip-stick is rather far down but accessible, as are the Exide battery and all the fillers. The Solex carburetter is topped by a transverse cylindrical Vokes air-cleaner. Shell oil is recommended on an under-bonnet plaque,
The Simca has the usual equipment of ash-trays, swivelling dual vizors with vanity mirror, screen-washers, etc., and the front doors possess quarter-lights with rather crude tamper-proof catches but no rain gutters. The windows wind up and down with an exceptionally light action, the front ones needing 3¾ turns, the back ones 3 turns of the handles. The test car had good, rigid wing mirrors. The interior lamp on the windscreen rail has courtesy action from the front doors only. The rubber-faced bumpers are a Simca characteristic, much stainless steel is now used for body trim, door handles and knave plates, etc., and the slightly-hooded Marchal E2 “Equilux” CE headlamps gave powerful illumination.
The car was shod with 5.60 x 14 Firestone gum-dipped de luxe whitewall tyres, which protested but mildly on fast corners.
The fuel tank is of generous capacity (9½ gallons) and provided an absolute range of 306 miles, including a number of cold starts and no attempt at economical driving. It was impossible to make an accurate check of petrol consumption because the filler would not accept fuel even from a specially-shaped can, but if the maker’s figure of 9.5 gallons for tank capacity is correct it exceeded 32 m.p.g., which, in view of the car’s lively performance, seems an excellent argument in favour of a small efficient engine rather than a slightly larger, less powerful power unit. Nothing went astray in over 300 miles, at the end of which not a drop of oil was required.
I have always looked forward to journeys by Simca and this Aronde Montlhery Type BB is as lively and responsive a 1,200-c.c. family saloon as you can wish for. It is sold here by Chrysler Motors, Ltd., of Mortlake Road, Kew Gardens, Surrey, and costs £661, or £896 inclusive of purchase tax, which the extras on the test car increase to a total of £935 10s. 8d.—W. B.