Simca Esplanada

You just know this is going to be a good story when I have to begin the tale of this Brazilian Simca by talking about Ford…in France.

Ford Société Anonyme Française, or Ford SAF if you prefer, had been operating since 1916 as, basically, an importer of Ford vehicles from the U.S. Started by the head of Ford of Britain, the French arm brought in Model Ts, As, Ys, and Bs, but without a dedicated production facility there was no way they could build desirable vehicles for the French and European market as tastes started to shift. 

Mathis, a French automaker (that I'll eventually get around to talking about…) had just built a new plant in Strasbourg and agreed to a partnership. Ford SAF would become Matford, an amalgam of Mathis and Ford. Then, as it happens, the Second World War broke out.

Ford's post-war plans for Matford were clear when they reintroduced vehicles as Fords, but the blend of vehicles, engines, styling—not to mention the runaway success of vehicles like the Citroën Traction Avant—gave the bosses a lot to worry about, and in 1947 asked Dearborn for help.

In 1948, they introduced the first "French" Ford, the Vedette. And they sold so few that by 1954 had offloaded the entire operation—factory, plans, cars—to Henri Pigozzi, the Simca boss. (I talk more about Pigozzi in the piece about the Simca 1000 Coupé by Bertone.) Plans included the all-new Vedette, which was launched by Simca in 1958. (Someday I'll write about that car specifically, and its "Rush-Matic" transmission…)

Here's where it gets very confusing.

You may recall that Simca was really just the French arm of Fiat. When Chrysler decided to enter the European market, they bought shares in Simca from Ford, who had retained stock through their partnership with the French automaker. Chrysler then turned to Fiat, buying enough stock to gain a controlling interest in Simca.

Due to local regulations, Simca owned only 50 per cent of its overseas Brazilian operations, but after Chrysler gained control of Simca, they controlled what happened in Brazil as well.

The Vedette had been made locally in Brazil from 1959, but by the mid-1960s it was considered quite staid. Chrysler invested in a significant upgrade and introduced their new halo car, the Simca Esplanada, at the 1966 São Paulo Motor Show.

With modern exterior styling, the large sedan started to suddenly make more sense for buyers. The Brazilian operation saw fit to upgrade the interior, with reclining leather seats and Jacarandá wood trim. Order the top-of-the-line model and you got a vinyl top, too. 

Initially, the Esplanada was so terribly built that the U.S. Chrysler team demanded 53 "improvements" to the car. By the summer of 1967, the quality had improved enough for Chrysler to offer—get this—a 2-year warranty, at the time a big deal in Brazil.

Most interestingly for us car nerds was its V8 engine. Follow the link to below to read (much) more, but let's just say that the 140 horsepower 2.5-litre "Emi-Sul" V8 was actually a wormhole of sorts back to when Ford Société Anonyme Française, er, Ford SAF was still a thing.

Yes, the "Emi-Sul" engine is a flathead Ford V8 modified for the European market, then modified again by Simca, then again by Chrysler—"Emi" refers to its Hemi head.

So a French car made in Brazil had a flathead Ford V8 engine upgraded with Hemi—hemispherical—cylinder heads? Yup. And it's not such a crazy thing.

In the U.S., Ardun heads were a popular performance upgrade for the flathead Ford V8 that gave overhead valves and, along with them, much-improved performance. 

Wait, what's Ardun? 

As much as Chevrolet mythology would like you to think that the father of the Corvette, Zora Arkus-Duntov, showed up in the U.S. with plans for the 'Vette under his arm, Arkus-Duntov's first business as an American was designing overhead valve and hemispherical combustion chamber heads for the flathead Ford V8, an engine commonly fitted to U.S. military vehicles. His company, Ardun, sold the performance and reliability-enhancing kits to the military and, soon, hot rodders.

While Chrysler's modifications to the Esplanada's engine were more extensive than the Ardun kit, including aluminum heads and new intake and exhaust manifolds, there's no doubt that the Brazilian engineers used it as the template.

And if I don't stop connecting the dots now, I'll never finish this story. The Esplanada was replaced in 1969 by the Dart. Yes, the one you already know about.

Oh! Almost forgot: there was an Esplanada GTX. It had stripes.


Note: Some of the brochure scans refer to the car as the Chrysler Esplanada, because by the end of its run the Simca brand had been phased out.