The sight of a French car on American roads today is slightly more common than spotting a unicorn. But, I’m not here to talk about the fading memories of French automakers being involved in the U.S. market. I’m going to take a quick look at the other side of this relationship. How American influence resulted in a unique French homage to the Motor City, the Simca Vedette.
The Simca Vedette was the child of a transatlantic marriage. On the 4th of July 1954, it was reported in the New York Times that the FIAT-founded French manufacturer Simca would merge with Ford of France. Simca acquired all of French Ford’s liabilities and assets including its factory in Poissy, 16 miles west of Paris. In return, the Ford Motor Company received a 17 percent stake in Simca. The merger made Simca the second-largest automobile manufacturer in France, only behind Renault. The Vedette was a model produced by Ford of France and was being prepared to be relaunched with a new body design prior to the deal’s completion.
The Simca Vedette was designed around a 2.35 liter V8 engine initially created for Ford of Britain in 1935. A road test in the January 1957 issue of Road & Track cited that development in the past 20 years yielded a nearly 20 horsepower gain to increase the V8 motor’s total power output to 79 hp. The power of the V8 was enough for the car to reach top speed just over 88 miles per hour.
Though, the Vedette still retained dimensions more common to Europe. Despite being the largest model that Simca built at the time, the Vedetta was still smaller relative to similar American models. The car was 178 inches long, 28 inches shorter compared to the Monterey of its sister marque Mercury. Road & Track praised the Vedette’s small size as more practical compared to the “gargantuan” sized cars being produced in Detroit.
The most striking aspect of the Vedette was its appearance. Road & Track noted the sedan’s curved windshield, chrome trim, and bright colors options as being distinctly American. Also, the body shape hinted at an American influence with sharper angles and even small fins at the rear. The magazine’s road test came to the conclusion that the Simca Vedette was a car that drivers in the US should be interested in and that “Detroit ought to build.”
However, a reader disagreed strongly enough with Road & Track to mail in a letter that was eventually published in a subsequent issue. In this letter, Jim Pennington of Medina, Texas disapproved of the American restyling and longed for the curved bodywork of previous Simca models. He wrote, “Isn’t it bad enough for a certain Detroit colossus to flood this county with squared-off “sports cars” and egg-crate sedans? Do they need to sneak over to Europe and start pulling the cube treatment on curvaceous French beauties?”
The Vedette was manufactured by Simca through the early years of its takeover by Chrysler in the early 1960s. The Simca Vedette could be seen as either an American road not taken or an American encroachment on an European automaker.