December 3, 2010

The terror from Poissy: the Simca 1000 Rallye, Rallye 1, Rallye 2 and Rallye 3.

When the Simca 1000 first landed in showrooms in 1961 it was marketed as an economy car for the masses. It was small, it had the aerodynamics of a shoebox and depending on the model purchased it had an engine displacement hovering above or below 1000cc. In short, there was nothing sporty about it. This changed when Carlo Abarth got his hands on the car and turned it into the Simca Abarth 1150. When Chrysler took over Poissy-based Simca the 1150 didn’t interest them and they pulled the plug on the project before it was allowed to enter regular production. With the 1150’s demise the Simca 1000 went back to its original vocation of people’s car.

Fast forward to the late 1960s. The Renault 8 Gordini was a massive success both on the market and in competition. Simca saw an opportunity to compete against the 8 and started developing a faster version of the 1000, one they would later call the Simca 1000 Rallye.

Simca’s entry into the gofast-shoebox market was facilitated by a move from Renault: in 1970 the Renault 8 Gordini’s time had come and it disappeared from showroom floors, leaving its spot to the Renault 12 Gordini. With a front engine and front wheel drive the heavy 12 was diametrically opposed to the 8 and left scores of drivers longing for the rear-engined fun that the 8 provided. Joining the 8 Gordini in its grave was the Coupe R8 Gordini that so many young drivers had embraced as their sport and driving school. Simca launched the 1000 Rallye just in time to fill the gap left by the 8.

Below: a standard Simca 1000 sedan.

The Simca 1000 Rallye.

The basic requirements for Simca’s Rallye were that it had to cost less than 10,000 francs, have a top speed in the vicinity of 150km/h (about 93mph) and cover a standing kilometer in 37 seconds.

To build the 1000 Rallye Simca started with the 1000 Sim’4. It was the logical choice for two reasons: first of all the Sim’4 was the entry level model so using it as a base for the 1000 Rallye gave designers an advantage in price. Second, because of its lack of equipment it was the lightest model of the 1000 range.

The Rallye was only available in red and had a flat black hood to prevent glare. Inside it had a complete instrumentation and a bucket seat for the driver; the other three seats were standard Simca 1000 seats. Front disk brakes were standard (for the record, a Renault 8 Gordini had disks all around). The whole package weighed 785 kilos (1730 pounds), lighter than the 8 Gordini.

Under the rear decklid was an 1118cc water-cooled straight four good for 53hp and 59lb/ft of torque mated to a four-speed manual transmission. The concept looked promising on paper but it failed to meet Simca’s performance requirements: it could not reach 150km/h (its top speed was about 142km/h, approximately 88mph) and it took 38 seconds to cover a standing kilometer.

In spite of these shortcomings the 1000 Rallye was a success: 27,000 of them were sold by the time the model was phased out in January of 1972.

Below: a 1000 Rallye ad taking a stab at the Renault 8 Gordini. The text reads "who said that all the fast French cars had to be blue?"

The Simca 1000 Rallye 1.

While the Rallye wasn’t quite the car Simca thought it would be it provided a better than decent starting point for the next evolution. The first major improvement was found under the rear decklid: in lieu of the 1118cc unit Simca had fitted the 1100 Special’s 60hp 1294cc. With this new engine the Rallye 1 could meet Simca’s original requirements for the Rallye: it had a top speed of about 155km/h (96mph) and logged 37 seconds even for a standing kilometer.

An alternator finally came as standard equipment but it still had the dreaded single-speed wipers. On the outside little had changed, though the rear quarter panels said “RALLYE 1” instead of “SIMCA”. Compared to its predecessor the Rallye 1 had a stiffer suspension which added more of a sporty feel to the car while consequently giving it a less comfortable ride. But comfort be damned, the Rallye 1 was designed for the track.

The Simca Racing Team was launched at about the same time as the Rallye 1 and followed essentially the same guidelines as the Renault Gordini Cup that died with the 8 – only Rallye 1s were allowed to compete and it served as a training school for new drivers who didn’t have the cash to enter the circle of professional racing.

The improvements came at a cost and the Rallye 1 barely met Simca’s sub-10,000 franc price requirement: it cost 9,995 francs.

The Simca 1000 Rallye 2.

The Rallye 2 didn’t replace the Rallye 1 but was built alongside of it as a more expensive, more powerful version. It was what most Simca enthusiasts call the ultimate evolution of the model. Several modifications were made to get more power out of the 1294cc, including feeding it with two Solex carburetors. The compression ratio was bumped to 9:1 and the whole lot put out 82hp. The Rallye 2 was good for a stunning 164km/h (100mph) in fourth gear, logging 34 seconds to cover a standing kilometer. For the first time braking was assured by four disk brakes (as opposed to front disks and rear drums) borrowed from the phased out 1200S.

Better cooling was necessary so Simca relocated the radiator to under the front bumper, running coolant lines under the car to reach the engine bay. An extra grille was added in the front of the car to provide airflow; Rallye 2s are instantly recognizable because of it.

In 1977 Simca introduced the SRT 77 kit, available as a non-street legal option. Through various modifications the engine output was pushed to 110hp. A polyester body kit including fender flares and front and rear spoilers was mounted on the car. That same year the Rallye 2 got the square headlights that the rest of the 1000 lineup got.

As 1977 ended the 1000 saga was coming to an end as well. Standard sedans were starting to look rather ancient and hanging on to life by a thread. But Simca had one last trick up its sleeve before calling it quits.

Below: a Rallye 2 with the SRT 77 kit.

Simca 1000 Rallye 3.

The last evolution of the Simca 1000 was the Rallye 3. It was introduced in January of 1978 and precisely 1003 were built: 1000 for public consumption and three as test cars for Simca.

Up until this point the Rallye series was made up of cars roughly comparable to the 205 GTi of the 1980s: take a mass produced car and make it quick without overdoing it. The Rallye 3 was different; it was a full out race car made available to the public for homologation purpose. It was essentially a street version of the SRT 77 kit that was available on the Rallye 2. Mechanically speaking there were some differences between the two cars in order to meet new regulations in racing concerning noise and pollution levels. To lower emissions Simca fitted a new camshaft to the engine; a combination of longer gears (a feature often criticized at the time) and the addition of a second, generously-sized muffler made the Rallye 3 quiet enough to meet the regulations.

The familiar 1294cc was still under the decklid but this time around it was fed by two Weber 40 carburetors. Power output was 103hp, less than the 110hp available in a Rallye 2 equipped with the SRT 77 kit because of the noise and pollution modifications. In spite of the small loss of power the Rallye 3 performed brilliantly. It achieved a standing kilometer in 32 seconds and had a top speed – in fourth gear, mind you – of 178km/h (110mph). All of this came at the reasonable price of 30,500 francs.

The Rallye 3 was only available in white, though certain pre-production cars were finished in an attractive shade of light blue. It is worth noting that for the first time in the Rallye lineup the hood was painted the same color as the body. It had the square lights that the entire 1000 lineup adopted in 1977 and the outside trim (door handles, mirror, bumpers, etc) was flat black. On top of it all it had fender flares all around and model-specific 13” rims. Under the front bumper was a spoiler and it was possible to set up cooling ducts behind it to ventilate the front brakes. Finally, each car had a plaque on the dash engraved with its production number.

Rallyes of all kinds were often beat senseless in races and had very little value in the 1980s and the 1990s, showing up on used car lots for next to nothing and purchased by folks who flogged them even more. To add insult to injury the rust proofing was approximate at best, claiming the life of numerous cars.

As the Renault 8 Gordini’s price started to go up about ten years ago collectors turned to the more affordable and equally fun Rallye series and well-sorted examples are worth a small fortune today.

Below: the blue Rallye 3 is a preseries example and the color was never available in regular production.

Below: one of the first ads for the Renault 12 Gordini. We’ve included it with this article because in a sense it’s a response to the Simca 1000 Rallye. The text on top reads “the party continues”

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