The Other Chrysler Hemi: Simca Esplanada!

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
the other chrysler hemi simca esplanada

I love stories of American cars that take a weird journey to production in South America, preferably with a dash of European influence added during the journey’s many twists and turns. The Argentinean Renault Torino, a Rambler American with Jeep Tornado engine and Pininfarina rebody is a great example, as is the Willys Itamaraty, a limo-ized Willys Aero sold in Brazil by Ford. The list goes on, but perhaps the greatest, most convoluted tale of them all is that of the Simca Esplanada. How about a late-60s Chrysler product, based on a Dearborn-designed French Ford, with an Ardun-ized hemi Ford Flathead V8 under the hood?

If you read Portuguese, head on over to the Simca do Brasil history site; actually, you should head over there even if you don’t read Portuguese, because the gist of the Esplanada story comes through via the photographs. The Old Car Manual Project also has some Esplanada brochure scans.

It all started in the 1940s with the Ford Vedette. Ford France built this flathead-V8-powered postwar-Mercury-esque machine— incidentally, the first production car in history to feature McPherson strut front suspension— from 1948 through 1954. Ford tired of the constant strikes at the Poissy factory and sold the whole operation, including rights to build Vedettes as well as flathead V8s, to Simca. Simca made the Vedette in France into the early 1960s and in Brazil (as the Simca Chambord, main character of Brazil’s favorite highway-patrol-themed TV show) until 1966.

By that time, Chrysler had taken over Simca, which meant that machines sporting 1930s-vintage Ford V8s now sported Pentastar badging. Henry’s design had become a little long of tooth by the mid-1960s, so Simca budgeted the funds necessary to design and mass-produce an overhead-valve cylinder head with hemispherical combustion chambers, so as to bring the flathead into the (semi-)modern age.

The heads for the new engine (which Simca dubbed the Emi-Sul) were essentially copies of Zora Arkus-Duntov’s famous Ardun head, but with some performance-enhancing upgrades. The end result was a 140-horsepower OHV V8. Some flathead freaks over at the H.A.M.B. are importing these engines for use in their American hopped-up speed buggies, so we’ll probably start seeing Model Ts with Brazilian V8-60 power soon enough. Naturally, the Emi-Sul still has many fans back in Brazil.

Once the Emi-Sul was ready to go, Simca ditched the Chambord’s ’46 Merc-esque body and replaced it with a vaguely Dodge Coronet/Chevy Chevelle-influenced sedan body. A little blocky, but the Esplanada still had a helping of real Detroit style to go with its V8 guts.

Esplanadas were built for the 1966 through 1969 model years. We can assume that Chrysler management wasn’t particularly happy about selling cars equipped with Henry Ford’s V8s under the hood, not to mention the marketing problems associated with the Esplanada’s ancient design, and so Brazilian Dodge Dart production started that year.

Since I’m on a quest to adopt a Zaporozhets into my personal fleet, I won’t be sidetracked a search for a historically fascinating Ford-Simca-Chrysler sedan to drive around Denver… but it’s tempting.

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  • Brandloyalty Brandloyalty on Jun 01, 2011

    I've posted on ttac about this before, but this seems like an appropriate place to repeat. My family lived in France from 1958-1962. My dad bought a 1958 Simca Vedette Beaulieu, and we put over 140,000 miles on it while in Europe. So I spent a lot of my childhood in this Simca. It was odd in having a tiny 2.3L V-8. In its day, it was a rather handsome car. At that time, European cars had yellow headlights. I recall that it was reliable, and one time it accommodated 4 adults and 3 kids, plus camping gear, for a month touring Europe. That car went over the old roads on all the high passes in the Alps. Picture here, just like the dark blue/pale blue/white one we had: When we returned to Canada, the Simca was shipped back. However its thick sheet metal and chrome bumpers were no match for Ontario winters as it was ravaged by rust. There was an "American spec" of the Vedette made for export to North America. Rather than the large panel-style taillights with red plastic above amber, it had a bezel with three separate round lights. I've never even seen a picture of one of those on the road.

  • Murilee Martin Murilee Martin on Jun 01, 2011

    Here is a '59 Vedette in New Mexico, for 500 bucks.

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