Today the Simca name is almost forgotten, but it was once a reasonably familiar imported French marque in the UK. Today, there are only 11 Simca 1501s left on the road in the UK, and Paul Anderson owns the sole surviving Special Estate.
The Special is the ultimate version of the 1300/1500, which debuted in 1963 as Simca’s medium-sized business and taxi market offering. Some film-makers, notably Jean-Luc Godard with Alphaville and Jacques Tati with Playtime, saw them as the embodiment of American-style corporatism invading France. Meanwhile, thousands of drivers appreciated the 1500’s mid-Atlantic good looks.
Three years later, the Simca launched the facelifted 1301/1501 with a larger boot, a longer bonnet, and a modified fascia. “New Big Simca in Orbit”, exclaimed one British advertisement – you would have to call GLAdstone 1136 to learn the connection between the 1501 and the space race. The 1501 Special, with a twin-choke Weber carburettor, quartz-iodine auxiliary lamps and even a wooden-rimmed “sports” steering wheel, made its bow in 1968.
Motor magazine regarded the Special’s improvements as a “useful set of changes” on the saloon, even if the deep red carpeting was “of dubious appeal”. Autocar wrote of the estate: “As long as there are family men (and women) who enjoyed sports-car motoring in their bachelor days, there will be a demand for a ‘tweaked-up’ and better-equipped station wagon.”
By late 1969, the Special featured a new frontal treatment with a black grille and integral fog lamps. The 1301/1501 range continued until July 1975, when they were replaced by the 1307 – aka the Chrysler Alpine in the UK – after 1,343,000 units. Three years later, Peugeot acquired Chrysler Europe and by 1981 the Simca marque was no more.
In France, motorists often regarded the 1501 as a more contemporary-looking alternative to the Peugeot 404. Across the Channel, it frequently shared dealerships with Hillmans, Humbers and Sunbeams because these marques were, as with Simca, part of Chrysler Europe’s empire. A truly dire commercial, complete with a modified Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse track, celebrated this confusing line-up:
The 1501 Estate had a top speed of 92mph, and its price in 1972 was £1,367 – more expensive than a Ford Cortina 1600XL Mk3 Estate at £1,239 and its Chrysler Europe stablemate, the Hillman Hunter GL Estate at £1,256. It also looked slightly more dated – albeit in an elegant way – than both its British rivals with lines that clearly harked back to the early 1960s.
However, what the 1501 Estate did offer the discerning motorist was a sense of affordable glamour. In addition to the auxiliary lights, the dealer could point out the Aeralon upholstery, the mock-wood fascia, and the rear screen that could be lowered via an external handle. Better still, the tailgate incorporated a detachable picnic table.
It was memories of the Champagne Gold 1501 Estate that Anderson drove as a student which prompted him to buy YUJ 676K. He says: “That Simca when I was younger cost just £135. It proved a most reliable car and I was devastated when it was written off after a crash.” A picture of that wrecked Simca graced the cover of a David Cross Band album, and two years ago, Anderson could not resist buying another 1501 in precisely the same colour.
Anderson found that “the memories came flooding back when I drove the 1501, down to the way the doors closed with a refined ‘thud’. It really is a super quiet car and the Champagne Gold paintwork does suit the Estate. When new, Simca advertised the 1501 in Country Life magazine to appeal to socially ambitious drivers.”
Car magazine once described the 1501 as having “a basic honesty of purpose”, which encapsulates the Simca’s appeal, while the Special Estate is a car of genuine charm, right down to the folding picnic table. The reality may have been a thermos of tea in a layby off the A35 during a bank holiday, but the dream of an elegant roadside meal was all.
With thanks to: Paul Anderson
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