Small car talk
An assessment of the Simca 1100GLS front-drive five door saloon
THE FIRST MOTOR SPORT road test of 1970 should have been a longterm trial of an irresistible Alfa Romeo but the fashionable and prevalent influenza, which the Ministry of Health denies was an epidemic, caused me to be dilatory over its collection: this assessment is now in hand. I had hoped for a day on English roads with a Ferrari or Maserati but Maranello Concessionaires did not wish me to go solo in the former and the Maserati Concession referred me to Citroen of Slough who put the anchors on by telling me there wasn’t so much as one new Maserati in this country.
Then I remembered that transverse-engined front-drive small cars are on the increase and that although I have driven examples by BMC, Peugeot and Fiat, and to be pedantic the pre-war two-stroke DKW, I had not tried Simca’s version. So to Oxgate Lane, Edgware, I went, close to where the vintage Bentleys were built, because Mr. Cox, Simca’s PRO, had an 1100GLS awaiting me. I had heard good reports particularly of the road-holding and ride of the f.w.d. Simca and when a contemporary did a group test of £1,000 transports three out of four of their testers opted for the Simca 1100 against larger-engined and more costly cars.
The Simca people, today under the financial wing of Chrysler and associated with Rootes, make front-engined/rear-drive 1301 and 1501 models, this 1100 with its push-rod 74 x 65 mm. 1,118 c.c. five bearing four-cylinder engine set across the nose and inclined rearward at 41 deg., with a normal clutch and gearbox on its n/s, driving the front wheels, but they also have the rear-engined 1000 and 1200S models. They thus cover all permutations, but what a headache for their catalogue compilers! The transmission arrangement of the 1100 involves fewer step-downs than the gears-in-the-engine-sump of the BLMC f.w.d. cars and Simca use a normal radiator location. This should make for quieter mechanicals but the car’s major shortcoming is noisy running, the gears whining at around 5o m.p.h. and being drowned by the noise of the eager engine above this speed. Perhaps this is why Simca keep their rear-engined models in production!
This apart, the Simca 1100 is a great little car. Its vented five-door body enables station-wagon spaciousness and ease of loading to be achieved if the back seat is folded or removed, and this arrangement must surely increase in popularity. The torsion-bar all-independent suspension gives a decently level ride, most commendable in a small car, choppiness being well damped and pitching eliminated. The front-drive allied to this suspension results in excellent cornering powers, the Simca feeling more softly sprung than a Mini, so that its “dodgeability” factor is lower, but going round fast bends with similar stability.
The good ride and road-holding are the outstanding features of this pleasing small car but it has additional merits. The rack-and-pinion steering is high-geared, the steering wheel with its generous finger grips asking just over three turns from one full lock to the other. It is firm rather than finger-tip light steering, with useful return action and no kick-back, although some mild vibration reaches the wheel. The seats are comfortable in a spongy fashion, the front ones possessing very easy fore-and-aft adjustment and reclining squabs.
The central gear-lever has long movements both laterally as well as fore-and-aft and draws the gears into engagement through Porsche synchromesh rather than meshing the cogs. Reverse is beyond the top-gear position and was sometimes difficult to engage, and there is strong spring-loading towards the higher ratios. A conventional between-seats hand-brake is used.
The Simca’s facia has simulated wood trim at different levels, a metal instrument panel divorced from it, and prominently projecting moulded fresh-air vents at each end. Consequently, the general appearance is untidy but it makes up for this with a sensible l.h. shelf effectively lipped, a big lockable drop well on the left and a deep open stowage well in front of the driver: Instrumentation is simple— an oblong 110-m.p.h. speedometer incorporating a fuel gauge and thermometer, both casually calibrated but a fuel low-level light coming on some 70 miles before the 91/2-gallon tank runs dry, a non-decimal total mileometer and the usual warning lights, plus a Kienzle clock separately and centrally mounted. A l.h. facia knob puts on the lamps, the lower l.h. stalk lever selecting dipped or full beam, sounding the horn and flashing on dipped beam, the turn-indicators being controlled by a shorter stalk above it. The lamps’ knob is matched by that for the two-speed wipers, a floor button actuating the washers, which are of the powerful kind apt to make passing pedestrians open their umbrellas.
A central panel below facia level carries the easy-to-understand controls for an effective but rather insensitive heater, cigarette lighter, drawer-type ash-tray, and choke knob. De-misting is quickly achieved and the fresh-air vents emit a powerful stream of cool air; they swivel to direct it and are plugged by pivoted bungs. The doors had to be slammed shut and tended to stick but have convenient high-set plastic internal pull-out handles, arm-rests set sufficiently high up to be useful, and sill locks. The tail of the body, which is offered in seven colours, the test car being metallic Lorelei beige with black interior trim, drops away, so that the chunky appearance of the Simca 1000 is lost. Equipment includes an anti-dazzle mirror, rather pointless as it needed readjustment after use, roof grabs, coat hooks, vanity mirror in the n/s vizor, rubber-tipped bumpers, and front and rear roof lamps, the front one being conveniently switched on by sliding it and giving a good reading light. There is no way of extinguishing the facia lighting, which illuminates the clock, with the lamps on, and no reversing lamps: Incidentally, when a Triumph 1300TC driven by an incompetent driver tried to climb up the Simca’s tail when it was, stationary in Parliament Square, the wrap-round rear bumper protected it admirably.
The rear-hinged bonnet is opened by a toggle release on the right of the steering column, matched by the ignition-cum-steering-lock. It needed a strong pull. The bonnet has a neat prop and opens to reveal good accessibility of the battery and large washers’ bottle, but I would not care to change the plugs. The distributor behind the grille has a waterproof cover and the dip-stick is reasonably easy to withdraw, from between air-cleaner and grille.
The Simca 1100 proved an excellent way of dispelling traffic blues, its good pick-up as the 60 (DIN) b.h.p. engine surges towards 6,000 r.p.m., together with its outstanding road-clinging, aided on the test car by 13-in. Irish-made Michelin ZX tyres, its comfortable ride and big window area contributing to easy negotiation of congested areas. The disc/drum brakes, while not memorably powerful, are adequate, given a fair prod, and on clear roads the Simca 1100 cruises easily if noisily at our legal top limit, which it can exceed by rather more than ten m.p.h.
I had nearly 600 miles in this advanced and likeable small car, getting 35.6 m.p.g. of premium fuel and when I returned it the level of oil, presumably Shell, which is what Simca recommend, had not dropped from the full mark on the dip-stick. There is little about the steering characteristics to emphasise that the front wheels are driven and, transmission hum and engine fizz apart, this is a most likeable and load-swallowing little car. The five-door GLS saloon sells here for £899.-W.H.