A Small French Saloon which is Smooth, Willing, Light-to-handle and Economical on Fuel
To cover the R.A.C. Championship Trial last December Fiat (England), Ltd., put at our disposal a Simca Nine Aronde saloon. It was a car which just previously had been put through its paces by two weekly contemporaries, but the Fiat people handed it over with complete confidence. Thus it came about that one winter Friday lunchtime we exchanged sports two-seater for cosy saloon and set off from Wembley for the Lake District.
The Aronde has a four-cylinder push-rod o.h.v. engine of 1,221 c.c. and is the French equivalent of our Austin A40. Purchase tax, import duty and the rate of exchange combine to heavily penalise cars imported to Britain from overseas and the Aronde competes in price directly with Jowett Javelin, M.G. Magnette, S.M. 1500, and Wolseley 4/44, but it costs more than a Standard Vanguard. On the other hand, its modest engine size gives a fuel consumption as low as 36 m.p.g. under favourable conditions, which can be set against its somewhat high price.
It is essentially a modern car — softly sprung, sleek in outline, of semi-one-piece body/chassis construction, with steering column gear-lever, light controls and most of today’s “mod. cons.”
For many miles we were disappointed that this Simca from a land of fast cars should feel as flabby as a big American, and call for a considerable amount of twirling of its small two-spoke steering wheel.
There is no denying that the Aronde is softly sprung, to the. extent of rolling when sudden changes of direction are made and of dipping its nose under heavy anchorage, notwithstanding which the shorter, sharper road jolts are conveyed to the occupants, as is a degree of up and down motion over surfaces able to promote this reaction. On becoming more accustomed to the car we found that it could be cornered fast on dry or wet roads without cause for alarm, although not with the precision of a V.W. or the sense of “surefootedness” of a Citroen, for instance. But the suspension is well damped, roll nicely controlled and the Simca will corner as well as any family car, better than some.
The steering is light, cream-smooth and responsive, and this adds to the pleasure of rushing bends in an Aronde, although some “juggling” is called for to keep always to the desired path, due to pronounced roll oversteer, which, however, is sufficiently controlled not to promote exaggerated initial oversteer. The effect is noticeable again when heavy braking is necessary downhill, when the steering has to be corrected slightly to counteract a desire to wander. The steering has useful but not violent castor action, transmits no return motion, but the column judders at times.
We were surprised that a French car should he so flexibly sprung (Fiats have tended this way since the “1100” model, however), but certainly the Aronde is just as pleasant to drive rapidly as most modern cars of similar suspension characteristics and low-geared, “disconnected” steering gear. The degree of roll is never excessive, the tyres never protest and the lightness and smoothness of the steering gear make cornering an effortless function. Moreover, the combination of cloth and leather seats holds the occupants literally by the seats of their pants, immune front slithering about the amply-wide benches.
The driving position does not provide a view of the near-side front wing, but the screen is wide, if far away, the seat comfortable in the sense of being luxurious.
At first we felt rather cluttered-up, for there is the built-in speedometer, cum petrol gauge, cum warning lights standing up front the decked facia, a control for the blinking trafficators protruding from the top centre of the steering column (difficult to use when on lock, in process of cornering), a horn ring at the base of the wheel (again, somehow, not entirely convenient), the steering-column gear-lever to the left and the lights-control lever to the right. Moreover the minor controls and switches form a row under the facia (which itself has similar-looking lift-up cubby-hole lids and pull-out ashtray cover) and all look alike. Further slight confusion came from a desire to pull out the ignition switch, whereas it has to be pushed in to make h.t. contact and to flick the lights control down to go from full to dimmed-lamps position, whereas it functions the opposite way.
But is it fair thus to criticise? The Aronde owner is obviously going to find his way about his own car; we were doing so ourselves after 300 miles or so. Moreover, the gear-lever is good of its kind, being rigid and positive in action, with reverse safely beyond top-gear position. The movement from second to third speed is rather long. The lower gears are uppermost on the gate. The horns are usefully penetrating in the Continental manner, there is a good fan-style heater with hot-air ducts to the windscreen, and the screen wipers work fast and quietly, although they are not self-parking and their two blades assume rather disconcerting attitudes when not in use. There is no ignition key, but reverse gear can be locked in and the boot-lid and driver’s door locked, using two key sizes. The Marchal Equillux headlamps give a very powerful, white beam, adequate for far-faster cars, but, in the dimmed position, as so often with built-in lamps, there is a bad black spot, although in lieu of a spot-lamp, this beam is useful in fog. The interior lamp, on the near side, operates, if required, as the doors open. The doors are somewhat difficult to shut; they have small arm-rests rather loose, sharp-edged interior handles and window winders, and those at the front have ventilator panels. The boot provides ample luggage stowage after the spare wheel has been folded flat on its bracket. Its lid has a rather strong return spring, making it initially heavy to raise.
The speedometer incorporates warning lights for dynamo and lubrication deficiencies and another which winks first, then glows permanently for some 30 miles until the petrol supply is exhausted. Another window blinks brightly in time with the American-style turn signals; so brightly that the photographer said it reminded him of “a good quality pin-table.” There is rheostat control of the instrument lighting, but the light could not be turned off completely, an irritating matter at night. The odometer has no decimal readings and no trip recorder is provided. There is no clock.
The Continental-style headlamps “flick” lever is a good feature, for signalling in built-up areas as well as ordinary dimming; to employ all four settings it has to be used in conjunction with the facia pull-out lamps-control knob, which involves some fumbling at night with the left hand, but a keen driver does not mind working in a good cause. After all, a vintage car calls for such effort and strong arms and fingers in addition; in a modern car all the tasks can be accomplished with fairy fingers.
The anti-dazzle rear-view mirror is rather restricted and that on the car tested was loose on its pillar and swinging free. Underbonnet accessibility is good, the battery beside the compact engine, and the alligator bonnet is opened without use of an interior release.
An unusual feature is that the petrol filler is revealed by swinging sideways the near-side rear-lamp. Although small and set horizontally the filler takes fuel easily. Its cap is unsecured. The pedals are convenient to use, clutch and brake rather close-set, the accelerator of treadle type. The right-hand brake-lever pulls out from under the corner of the facia and is twisted to hold it in the “on” position. It holds properly on hills. There are two cubby holes, both lidded and lined; their lids have rather vicious springs and give rise to a “tinny” sound. The edges of the lids are too sharp in view of their close proximity, when shut, to the minor-controls panel. There is also a map pocket by the driver, but no door pockets. Twin anti-dazzle visors are provided; amongst the accessories is a small crankhandle for manual actuation of the screen wipers in emergency and a cardboard blanking panel for the radiator. The handbook is comprehensive, the text rather American. The general impression of the interior appointments of the Simca Aronde is that it has been planned for big production, with an eye on the appeal of American-style appointments. This is no real criticism, for it seats four or five persons very comfortably on low, deeply upholstered seats. There is the usual parcels-shelf behind the back seat.
Perhaps its greatest appeal, however, is the manner in which it goes about the task of transporting its occupants front “A” to ” B.” The little engine, besides being a pink-free, easy starter which never “runs-on,” is remarkably willing, the revs going up and up in the indirect gears with no trace of vibration or effort. It does not make more noise than would be expected and the gears are so quiet that third can be mistaken for top. These two gears are complementary one with the other when fast averages are the order of the day. It is quite normal to go up to 55 m.p.h. in third gear, while once in the 4.77 to 1 top gear the Aronde is cheerful cruising at over 60 m.p.h. for mile upon mile. On the rear window of the car sampled was a sticker reminding us that a Simca had averaged 100 k.p.h. for 100,000 kilometres (62,077 miles at 64.7 m.p.h.) round and round Montlhèry Track and in the waiting room of Fiat’s Wembley factory are big pictures of the little saloon devouring the steep bankings of the Paris autodrome. From the staunch manner of its going we felt that the same durability should be obtainable from the production 72 by 75 mm, engine, the almost-square dimensions of which obviously contribute to effortless running.
This easy gait, allied to the light controls and safe cornering qualities aforementioned, make the car a very pleasant one to drive over long distances, while the seating completely obviates cramp and muscular fatigue.
On our journey to Kendal we met the inevitable string of “heavies” on the roads of the “black country,” before better highways are met north of Wigan — we also got lost, equally inevitably, on Birmingham’s miserably-signposted ring road. Coining home we took the plunge and drove straight through the centre of Birmingham, when the route to Warwick was adequately sign-posted and the traffic wasn’t heavy. Under these conditions the ready response of the Aronde to the accelerator and its well-maintained mile-a-minute cruising speed belied its modest twelve-hundred c.c. There is certainly no need to look for greater literage in order to accomplish average speeds of the 35 plus m.p.h. order.
The hydraulic brakes are amply powerful, and have no vices apart from a slight squeal which cured itself and they are quite light to operate.
The maximum speed is better than 70 m.p.h. and the Aronde is notably economical, doing over 30 m.p.g. for the entire 780 miles we accomplished with it, nearly all the time in our habitual hurry. With the 11-gallon tank, holding 1.3 gallons in reserve, refuelling is a usefully infrequent requirement. In this distance no oil or water was required, and the only trouble was a nail puncture of the nearside rear Dunlop. The wheels are secured by nuts having spring washers beneath them, one of which was found to have disintegrated.
The Simca was as sound at the conclusion of our test as when we started, the few metallic rattles in the body had not increased, the brakes felt just as powerful. The engine had a slight flat-spot at low r.p.m., but otherwise this is one of the smoothest, most willing “fours” we have met.
The better we got to know it the better we liked the Aronde. It can be cornered easily without anxiety at considerable speeds and by using the gears it leaves the average large cars well behind along arterial roads punctuated by traffic lights. More economical than many vehicles of equivalent engine and carrying capacity, the Simca Aronde is outstanding also by reason of its very smooth, easy running and its well-appointed interior. It is a development of the 1,100 Fiat, which the French motor Press has described as one of the world’s best all-rounders; it gives a pleasant impression of being durable as well as willing. — W. B.
The Simca Nine Aronde Saloon
Engine: Four-cylinder, 72 by 75 mm. (1,221 c.c.). Pushrod o.h.v.; 6.8 to 1 compression ratio; 45 b.h.p. at 4,500
Gear ratios: 1st, 17.65 to 1; 2nd, 11.35 to 1; 3rd, 7.01 to 1; top, 4.77 to 1.
Tyres: 5.50-15 Dunlop on bolt-on disc wheels.
Weight: 18 3/4cwt. unladen.
Steering ratio: turns, lock to lock.
Fuel capacity: 8.8 gallons. Range approximately 265 miles.
Wheelbase: 8 ft. 0 in.
Track: 4 ft. 0 1/2 in.
Overall dimensions: 13 ft. 4 in. by 5 ft. 1 in. (wide) by 5 ft. in.
Price: £632 (£896 9s. 2d. with pt.).
Concessionaires: Fiat (England), Ltd., Water Road, Wembley, Middlesex.