The Truth About Cars » simca 1204 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 14 Jul 2014 13:00:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » simca 1204 And the Real Winner Is… Mon, 08 Aug 2011 01:35:46 +0000
40-year-old cars have an edge on the Index of Effluency, LeMons racing’s top prize. Chrysler products also have an edge. And, of course, French cars have a huge edge on the IOE. When you race a car that’s simultaneously 40 years old, a Chrysler, and French… well, just keep it running most of the weekend and the big trophy is likely to go home with you.

The SimcaCUDA, aka Le Mopar, is a 1971 Simca 1204, which could be purchased in Chrysler showrooms back in the day alongside rebadged Hillman Avengers and rebadged Mitsubishi Galants. What kind of madman would dare to race such a terrible car at brutal, hilly Thunderhill Raceway? We’re talking about Unununium Legend of LeMons honoree Spank, of course. This is Spank’s third Index of Effluency trophy, following his 998cc Austin Mini’s win at the ’09 Buttonwillow Histrionics and his 1971 Citroën ID19′s win at the ’10 Sears Pointless race (he went on to drive the Citroën from San Diego to Miami, in order to race it at the ’10 LeMons season-ender, so you know we’re dealing with a serious madman here).

The best part about the SimcaCUDA’s Index of Effluency win today is that second-place Eyesore Racing ran out of gas on the checkered-flag lap and was pushed across the finish line by the Simca (thanks to Dave Coleman for the photo). Congratulations, Le Mopar!

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When You Have More Balls Than Sense: Road Racing a Dead-Stock 1971 Simca 1204 Fri, 20 May 2011 02:00:01 +0000
When you’ve driven your $500 Citroën ID19 race car from San Diego to Miami and raced a Mini Moke-based Apollo Lunar Rover, where do you go from there? Why, you buy a furiously underpowered, 40-year-old Chrysler of Europe product and race it for 24 straight hours at a high-altitude road course packed with BMW E30s and V8 Detroit bombs. What else could you do?

The Henri ‘Cuda started out life as a 1971 Simca 1204. Chrysler, unable to manufacture a Detroit-designed subcompact that anyone in America would buy, was busy importing rebadged Mitsubishi Colt Galants and Hillman Avengers at the time, but they decided to throw some Simca 1100s onto American showroom floors as well. Simca wasn’t quite a household name in North America at the time, and sales were weak to put it mildly. The ’71 Simca 1204, as the American version was badged, packed 62 horsepower in a 1,204cc front-wheel-drive package (yes, MG fans, that’s the exact same rating as the 1,800cc engine in the ’71 MGB) and sold for $1,693. That was $139 more than the 1971 Fiat 850 sedan, but 222 fewer bucks than the ’71 Plymouth Cricket. Even a Pinto would set you back $1,919 in 1971, so the Simca was quite a deal.

However, the Simca was also a genuinely terrible little car, making even the purgatorially bad Pinto seem solid and luxurious by comparison. That means, of course, that a Simca 1204 starts a LeMons race with a huge advantage in the Index of Effluency trophy race; all a Simca team needs to do to grab LeMons’ top prize is to finish in, say, the top half of the field.

At the Sears Pointless race in March, the Henri Cuda took quite a while to get through the tech inspection and hit the track a bit late in the game. To be honest, it hit the track during the race’s final lap. Spank and his crew had high hopes for the Goin’ For Broken race.

Since it’s not possible to get any replacement parts for a Simca 1204, the Henri Cuda still had its 30-year-old ignition points, factory shocks, and everything else. In fact, other than the addition of a roll cage and a kill switch, the car was painfully, gloriously stock. That meant that the car was going to have a few reliability issues during the course of 24 straight hours of racing. Shift linkage problems and electrical woes required the services of the wrecker on occasion.

Eventually, the Race Director got tired of dropping full-course yellow flags in order to drag the Simca back to the paddock, and issued an ultimatum at about 2:30 AM: One more tow-requiring breakdown and that’s it. Spank and his crew decided to bench the car for a while, but eventually convinced the man in the tower to let the car back out.

It was by far the slowest thing on the track (its quickest lap of 3:44 was nearly a minute slower than the Killer Bees MGB’s best lap, so we’re talking serious slowness), but it also got the most respect from the crowd. Only 35 laps total; not enough for an Index of Effluency this time, but we can count on a strong IOE performance at the next race, now that most of the Henri Cuda’s bugs have been worked out. Well done, Team LeMopar SIMCAcuda!
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Curbside Classics: Plymouth Horizon and Dodge Omni – Detroit Finally Builds A Proper Small Car Thu, 11 Nov 2010 17:10:44 +0000

Is time slowing down? Just fifteen years separate this 1960 Imperial and the Horizon’s birth. Or was it just that Detroit was terribly slow to embrace the inevitability of modern European design? Better late then never, because not only were the Horizon and Omni the first proper small cars ever built in Detroit, they also saved Chrysler from irrelevance and bankruptcy just in the nick of time.

Before we turn the clock back and rediscover the origins of Omnirizon twins, let’s briefly put that fifteen year span between the Imperial and Horizon in perspective:

Thirty five years separate the Horizon from this 2010 Golf. Has automotive evolution really slowed down that much? Unfair comparison, perhaps. Well, there is no 2010 Imperial to compare it, since that species long ago became extinct. And the Golf does loom large in the Horizon’s existence. Or is it the other way around?

Our timeless main story begins with the Simca 1100 (at the left on the top, and right on the bottom, mislabeled as an R12). This photo is here courtesy of, which has an excellent article about the birth of the Horizon by its creators here. We see it in a comparison of the C2 Horizon’s proposal with the brand new Golf . The C2 was the intended replacement for the Simca, and it’s easy to see that they (Simca, C2) sat on the same platform and followed its general shape.

When the Simca 1100/1204 first appeared in 1967, it set the template for the modern hatchback small car. It was the true winner of our CC virtual 1971 Small Car Comparison, and one of the first cars to employ that template was the 1975 VW Golf. Some of the Chrysler fan-boys at allpar argue that the Golf imitated the Simca. Conceptually yes; stylistically, the  photo above is the damming evidence that once the Golf appeared, Chrysler’s fine tuning of their C2 proposal was deeply influenced by it, to put it politely.

The final of our comparison photos: the evidence is all too obvious, right down to the kink in the rear door. Well, if you’re going to imitate, the original Golf was certainly a good model, and it was a sight cheaper than hiring Guigiaro, like VW did.

The development of the Horizon has other compelling aspects beyond the cribbing. As the headline says, it was the first time one of the Big Three pulled its head out of its ass and decided that a modern FWD European design did actually make more sense for a small car than the crap it came up with by itself: the Chevy Vega, Ford Pinto and AMC Gremlin. In case you’ve forgotten, click the links, but in a nutshell, Detroit was obsessed with the idea that small cars needed to look like a shrunken Mustang or Camaro. Combined with RWD meant that they were atrociously cramped, especially in the rear. Perhaps they were punishing their buyers for being so stupid to want a small car instead of a real car.

It didn’t have to be that way, and cars like the Simca 1100 and the Golf showed the way. Certainly, by today’s standards they are quite small indeed, perhaps like a Fiesta or less. But at the time, when even cars like the over sized Nova were none too roomy, this was a revelation. And the Horizon was bigger than the Golf, by far the roomiest of any small car at the time.

Chrysler, fortunately lacking the funds to join the Vega-Pinto debacle, looked to its European subsidiary for a life-line, having already been convinced of the Simca 1100′s capabilities, despite its poor sales in the US and reliability issues. In a very closely coordinated effort, Chrysler undertook a three-way development effort with its French and British units. That presented huge challenges, given the substantially different priorities and the metric-inch divide. But the body was fine tuned on both sides of the continent, and for the fist time ever, digital scans of the clays were exchanged via satellite. A first, and not bad for 1975.

It became clear early on that the US version would be a very different car except for the basic body. Well, at least that was shared. The Simca’s supple but more expensive long-stroke torsion bar suspension was jettisoned for more pragmatic MacPherson struts in the front. Americans just didn’t deserve or wouldn’t appreciate that famous French ride. On the other hand, the Americans wisely stayed clear of the Simca engine, which was generally fragile and usually developed terrible valve clatter within 20k miles or so. In another nod to the Golf, Chrysler instead bought engines from VW, a 1,7 L version of the Golf’s 827 engine. Chrysler added its own manifold and cantankerous carb, foolishly eschewing fuel injection for several more years.

The Americans also developed the front automatic transaxle, a miniaturized TorqueFlite, which turned out to be pleasantly similar to its big brother reliability wise (whew!). And it brought its electronic prowess to both versions, with the first popular priced trip computer. Of course, the domestic version got an interior more in keeping with the um…slower to develop taste of Americans at the time. Still, it was a refreshing place to sit in the late seventies era of bordello interiors, with excellent visibility and decent ergonomics for the times.

Either way, the Horizons on both sides of the Atlantic were well received by the press, both winning respective COTY awards. That may have meant more in Europe, where it’s voted on by hundreds of auto journalists. Still, the American press and public reception was pretty universally positive, even though it was clear that the Horizon was not a Golf in certain key respects, mainly in the handling department. The Omnirizon’s suspension was Americanized in more ways than one. Its handling was decent for the times, but just neither actually fun nor inspiring.

Maybe that was a worthwhile trade off for the American versions’ much better rustproofing; the Euro Horizons were some of the worst rusters ever, and there may likely be less than 200 examples left on the whole continent. I’m sure I could find that many in Oregon. Our city water and electric utility had a fleet of them until just a couple of years ago.

Of course, those were undoubtedly from the latter years of the Omnirizon’s long US run from 1978 through 1990. And typical for American small cars, they slowly got better and better, later adopting the Chrysler 2.2 L four, fuel injection, and a 1.6 liter Peugeot engine as the base mill. Meanwhile though, cars like the Civic, Corolla and Mazda GLC/323 were evolving at a much quicker pace.

So even though the Omnirizons were pretty progressive when they arrived, time in the eighties was not standing still. The Japanese upsurge kept Omnirizon sales in check, although in its first three years it averaged over 200k units and some 1.8 million were sold during the whole run. Those first couple of years were critical, because Chrysler was in the depth of its brush with bankruptcy, largely in part because its big cars were obsolete or stinkers.

But it wasn’t just the sales numbers alone. Without the Horizon and Omni, it’s highly doubtful Chrysler would have been able to develop their K-Cars in time and on budget, or at all. Chrysler had a huge head start with the Horizon and its fwd transaxle, and Lee Ioacocca could prove to his Washington DC bankers that he really did have that leading edge fwd technology, the equivalent of GM and its Volt today.

Of course, the legendary hi-po versions of the Omni developed with Carroll Shelby can’t be ignored here, although the odds of finding one on the street are slim indeed. But starting with the 1984 GLH (“Goes Like Hell”), the VW GTI had a wild and woolly competitor. The first version was actually the most GTI-like, with the 110 hp tweaked 2.2. The optional 146 turbo version was already something different altogether. But then the GLHS appeared with an uprated 175 hp turbo. A crude and rude little beast it was; the wildest combination of torque steer and turbo lag bang for the buck.

The Omnirizon twins did nothing to stave of the Japanese invasion of the coasts or dissuade VW lovers from their Rabbits, but they did finally expose heartland Americans to what a proper small car could be, including a fitting hot-rod version of it. For that, it deserves a special place in my history book. And if Chrysler had kept developing it properly, my last combination picture could be comparing an original Horizon with a 2010 Horizon. Oops; make that a 2010 Omni.

No such luck; Chrysler decided small cars should look like a trucky SUV. Well, the Caliber’s replacement will be based on a European Fiat. So maybe automotive time hasn’t slowed down; it’s just running in circles.

More new Curbside Classics here

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