By on May 31, 2011

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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10 Comments on “The Other Chrysler Hemi: Simca Esplanada!...”

  • avatar

    What a misch-masch of lousy styling…

  • avatar

    There is a 60 Vedette for sale locally but no engine, the upgraded flat head would be ideal where can I get one?

  • avatar

    “If you read Portuguese”

    I know one word despite working for local Portugese farmers after school and on weekends…. during the period I wasn’t hustling grub at the non-chain fast-food joint next to the relatively new I-5 in California.

    Those farmers seemed to delight in who could make the “town kid” quit the soonest or pass out in summer’s heat.

    Anyway, the linguicia sausage they brought with them from the home country when used in its crumbled form made the best pizza topping of any topping I shoved into my innards.

    Available regionally here and there. not available in the majority of USA regions/areas.

    Absolutely delightful.



    Of course, unheard of ’round these parts.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      I’m fortunate to be part of a decent sized and growing expatriate Hawaiian population here in COS: there are 2 shops within a short drive which regularly stock both the Redondo and Purity brands of linguica/Portugese sausages. An hour’s drive north, Pacific Mercantile in the Sakura Center in downtown Denver also regularly stocks the aforementioned sausages, along with the island favorite S&S frozen saimin packages along with bulk soup mix. HI’s breakfast of champions features a bed of proper short grain rice topped with eggs any style and a few discs of preferably spicy sausage, fried up and served hot.

      I made certain to stock the trunk of the gift car I delivered to my friends in a neighboring state. Linguica sausage, several jugs of tonkatsu sauce, a dozen assorted furikake shakers, several kamaboko fishcakes and the assorted oriental super spices and specialty noodle types to round out the lot. Life in a rural/remote setting is peaceful – but the limited food selections can become monotonous.

    • 0 avatar

      I once had a girlfriend whose mother was Portugese and whose father was a flinty New England Yankee. Her mother loved me because I really enjoyed her cooking, especially her linguica soup. I remember meals at her house where she prepared all kinds of really tasty food and her husband the Yankee would have a separate meal of peas, potatoes and a pork chop. As the son of chefs, I never understood that. I’ve loved linguica ever since. It makes a fabulous omelette, chop some up, put it in a pan with some water and reduce it over low heat, add the eggs and perhaps some cheese and it’s to die for.

      Linguica is available all over the Boston area.

  • avatar

    To me, from the front, it looks more like a mid-late ’60s Mercury Comet than a dodge coronet or a Chevelle. I don’ tthink Chevelle ever had dual vertical headlights.

    From the back, maybe a ’64 Valiant.

    In any case, what an amazing story. A car like that probably belongs in Cuba

    • 0 avatar

      You’re not kidding about the Cuba reference! I was born there and vividly recall that, during the late 1950s, a lady that lived near me owned a black-and-white Simca Chambord.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

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

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