1958 Simca Vedette Beaulieu - Reader Resto

By: James Secher with owner - Words & Photos


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The Vedette was initially designed by Ford and manufactured in France

Although the Simca was one of France’s highest volume car manufacturers of their time, you may never have heard of them. Founded in France by Fiat SpA in 1934, it was run by Italian Henri Pigozzi from 1935 to 1963. Simca sold various models; the small 1100, 1307, and Aronde and the larger American-styled Vedette.

Simcas were manufactured across Europe, Australia and South America through arrangements with Fiat, Chrysler, and other local subsidiaries. The Vedette was designed and made by Ford at its SAF Poissy factory in France, with an aim to expand into the French market. However, slow sales saw Ford change direction and focus on the German and English markets instead. 

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Simca saw an opportunity to rebrand the Ford Vedette the Simca Vedette and bought the SAF French Ford subsidiary in 1954 gaining ownership of the Poissy plant and the Ford France dealer network. It rebadged the car as the Simca Vedette.  

Simca manufactured the first-generation Vedette from 1955 to 1957 in three trim levels; Trianon, Versailles, and the Régence being the most lavishly equipped. A wagon, the Marly, was released in 1956.

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The Vedette ran a small displacement, 2351cc side-valve V8 called the Aquilion. It was derived from Ford’s Flathead engine range and put out a modest 74hp (55kW), running through a three-speed manual column shift through to a live rear axle. 

In 1958 Simca released the second generation Vedette with an American-inspired front end, larger tail fins, and increased length. The little Aqulion V8 received a power increase to 84hp (63kW). Transmissions were a choice of three-speed column shift manual or three-speed RushMatic auto available from 1959. Again three levels were offered, Beaulieu, Chambord, and topline Présidence. The Présidence was the first European car with an optional car phone. French President Charles de Gaulle used a Vedette at official ceremonies.

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Short front and long rear overhang, elongated tailfins typify 50s cars like the Vedette

The second-generation Vedette came to Australia in 1958 through Chrysler in Beaulieu trim. The Simca brand was familiar to the Aussie market, first appearing in the 1950s with the Simca 8 and the Simca Aronde, the latter being built in Australia in 1956. The Vedette was an utterly French car, but the small V8 and American-inspired styling made it unique.

Chrysler imported Vedettes from 1956 to 1958, but to minimise new import vehicle taxes, opted to manufacture Vedettes in Adelaide from 1959, using overseas and locally sourced parts, resulting in a price drop from $3790 to $2990.

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Stately looks and a Presidential carrier on many occasions. Showcasing the best of France

The second-generation Vedette was brought in by to compete with Ford and Holden. Chrysler produced the Vedettes until 1962 when they were replaced by the Plymouth Valiant.  

Australian Vedette sales were small and you’ll rarely if ever see one on the road. If you do find yourself in the company of two Simca Vedettes, you’re most likely caught up in a Simca club run.

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No shortage of chrome

Our feature car owner Doug Murphy has painstakingly restored his 1958 Vedette in Beaulieu trim with some minor modern conveniences and an updated period-correct lick of paint.

Doug bought the Vedette in 2014 as a project that unsurprisingly took more work than expected.

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"The previous owner was a fellow who collects Simcas, and this was one of two he had," said Doug. "He was never going to restore both of them, so he reluctantly parted with this one."

Doug had his work cut out, with the Vedette requiring serious attention and finding parts proved very challenging.

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"I didn’t know what I was in for until I started, and paint, for example, covers a million sins, but I had great help from a fellow named Peter Davies. Peter is a magician with metal and just wonderful with what he could do."

The Vedette was originally a faded orange, but Doug decided a more regal colour would suit the old girl.

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"I had it painted following the original scheme with a cream flash up the side and cream roof, but the gold is actually a Valiant colour. I thought metallic is too advanced for it, but the Valiant gold is about the same era, so I thought it would be an appropriate colour."

Apart from the Some Car, This Simca advertising slogan on the window, Simca doesn’t appear anywhere externally. Doug explained, "it’s common on some models; that nowhere on the car does it say Simca, except for a little plate in the engine bay."

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With parts few and far between, Doug relied on the Australian Simca Car Club and the online market for original parts. The Simca’s small V8 was a popular donor engine for boats in the 60s, but the alloy cylinder heads were prone to corrosion, so finding a whole engine for parts was not an option.

"I’ve had everything rebuilt from the engine, gearbox, wiring, and extensive bodywork, including remaking the sills. All the mechanicals were done by a fellow named Mike Cosgrove. I kept it as authentic as possible by sourcing parts locally and overseas. The hoses came from France, the pistons from New Zealand, I picked up some parts from the US, and the original parts manual came from Canada."

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Doug found a few parts interchangeable, such as the front shock absorbers, which he believes came from a Ford Zephyr and were machined to fit. Doug kept the interior as original as possible, with a bit of trickery involved. 

"The interior is as original as we can get it. There are some moldings that go around the door trims, but because they’re quite ornate, I’ve removed them to keep them in good condition. The steering wheel was tricky; you’d never get another steering wheel for a Vedette. So, this is, in fact, a Falcon XM steering wheel around the perimeter, welded to the original Vedette middle."

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Doug also added seatbelts and a digital speedo, making it a little easier to adhere to the speed limit and away from the law’s attention.

The Vedette wasn’t Doug’s first foray into this obscure brand, with his interest first piqued at Winton Raceway a few years before collecting the Vedette.

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"It was a particular madness," Doug laughed. "I went to a car race and got talking to a chap there; the passion for the Simcas was quite infectious. I bought an Aronde.

It was a nice little car; it needed a little work, but not a lot. And then I graduated forward, or maybe backward, into the Vedette."

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So how does the Vedette drive? Doug reckons, "they’re an interesting car to drive, like a lot of cars of this vintage, you’ve got to make allowance for them, especially in braking, plus they don’t run synchros in first gear either, so you just drive it in a gingerly way."

Doug did a great job restoring an interesting and rare piece of motoring history.

THE RESTO:

Sub assembly

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Restored rear end awaits reattaching.

 

Body beautiful

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The body has come up looking a treat.

 

New hue

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Doug went for gold from the Valiant pallette.

 

Two tone

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The cream roof adds a splash of flash.

 

Wheels down

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The rebuilt back end is in.

 

Door slammer

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Handles and winders refitted.

 

Modern addition

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Digital speedo for accuracy.

 

Unique donk

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The 2.4-litre V8 flathead was a Ford derivative.

 

Recommended lube

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Mopar parts are the ones to use.simca-resto-owner.jpg 

1958 SIMCA VEDETTE BEAULIEU​

Body: Four-door sedan
Engine: 2351cc V8
Power/torque: 61kW/152Nm
Performance: 0-100km/h 20.6 sec
Top speed: 142 km/h
Transmission: 3-speed manual or 3-speed auto
Brakes: Drum (f&r)
Wheels: 15 inch

 

From Unique Cars #475 February 2023

 

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