Articles

Love of the Open Air: The Simca Aronde Plein Ciel

by Amanda Norris
28 June 2017 3 min read
Love of the Open Air: The Simca Aronde Plein Ciel
Shore side in the Simca.

We’ve all been guilty of impulse buying. A new watch you really didn’t need. That piece of tech you didn’t know existed but had to have as soon as you saw it. Yet another pair of shoes to add to the wardrobe.

Rarely can you be accused of impulse buying, however, when purchasing a car. Before handing over your money, the chances are you would have engaged in extensive research, calculating running costs: fuel, insurance, and maintenance. You would have investigated reliability and maybe even considered the practicality of the model.

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None of that mattered to Julie Lambert, though, when she spotted a pretty little Simca parked outside a small dealership in Havant. “I just pulled over to have a look at it. I didn’t know what it was; I didn’t know anything about it.” Julie said. “I didn’t even know much about Simcas. I just had to have it – it was love at first sight!” There and then Julie bought the car, and 25 years later she still owns and loves it.

This wasn’t just any old Simca, though, it was a 1958 Simca Aronde Plein Ciel, and it’s no surprise that Julie didn’t know anything about it. It was, and is still thought to be, the only known example in the UK. Surprisingly, though, the owner of the dealership had been using the little Simca as his daily runaround.

Like Julie, you’d be forgiven for not knowing much about the Simca marque. While the company was once France’s top privately owned car manufacturer, it was around for less than forty years.
Simca started out life in 1938 building Fiats for the French market, and it wasn’t until 1951 that they produced their first car in-house.

The Aronde was the first model to be made that wasn’t Fiat based, and quickly became a big hit for Simca. Many versions of the Aronde were made, but the Plein Ciel, along with its soft-top twin, the Ocean, was one of the sportier models.

The Plein Ciel – meaning “open air” due to its airy cockpit – and the Ocean were made for a fashion-conscious market; designed to be stylish, yet affordable, around-the-town cars. So stylish, in fact, that apparently Bridget Bardot, the French actress and model, owned one.

Both had bodywork redesigned by Facel Vega – many of your will have probably noticed the similarities with the HK500 – who had been building bodies for Simca since the 8 Sport in 1951.

You also can’t fail to notice the American influences, with its finned rear, wheel embellishments and wraparound, panoramic windscreen. It even came with four-speed column shif. All this meant that the Plein Ciel and Ocean became just as popular in the US market as they had in France.

While its performance couldn’t keep up with many of its rivals at the time, it still had a good amount of poke. Its “Flash Special” 1288cc, four-cylinder engine had low-range torque, with a power output of 57 bhp at 4800 rpm. It also had a respectable top speed of 87 mph. Later models came with a “Rush Super” engine with 62 bhp, which then finally evolved into the “Rush Super M” with 70 bhp.

The handling was superior to many of its French contemporaries. The suspension was stiffer, but remained soft enough to cope with the cobbled streets of most French cities. However, the stiffer suspension proved to be unpopular with the French motoring press, who were used to the softer rides found in French cars of that time.

But what does Julie say about how it drives?

“It’s not bad for a 59 year-old car! It’s got a good amount of speed for a 1300. I just don’t like driving the old girl in the rain; that’s best left to my Range Rover Sport!”

Like all classic cars, the Aronde Plein Ciel has not been without its problems. Both the windscreen and rear lights needed replacing, and, due to the rarity of the car, needed to be specially made. The engine also required a full rebuilt but luckily her brother, and expert mechanic, Steven Goldbert was more than capable of the task.

While her Simca may not be her everyday car, Julie is certainly not afraid to use it. Over the past 25 years it’s made numerous appearances at car shows, won many awards, gone on a Simca rally in France, and even made an appearance in The Ultimate Classic Car Book, by Quentin Willson. It’s also played the important role of wedding car at both Julie’s own wedding and at one of her friend’s.

So what about the years to come?

“I’d love my car to appear on the Cartier Lawn at Goodwood’s Festival of Speed.”, said Julie, giggling. “No, I’d actually like to do a full restoration in the near future. I found an official Simca colour swatch, so I’m thinking of returning it to its original shade.”

Hagerty can’t wait to see the results!

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Comments

  • Nr Chelmsford Essex says:

    I have just located a 1958 Aronde Plein Ciel coupe in Mexico and I am in the process of importing it at the moment , the car was exported from France in 1960 and is a runner , sound condition but needing some cosmetics seems it is much rarer than I first thought !

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