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SNAPSHOT 372: Simca 5

This Simca 5 is of uncertain age – because these tiny cars were built between 1936 and 1949, right through World War II.

It was designed by Fiat engineers in Turin as the Fiat 500 ‘Topolino’ (‘Little Mouse’ – but also the Italian name for Mickey Mouse) and launched in 1936. It was powered by a 569cc four-cylinder side-valve engine mounted in front and driving the rear axle, putting out around 13bhp for a top speed of about 53mph. The radiator was mounted behind the engine, thus allowing a streamlined nose that gave exceptional forward visibility. Other advanced features for such a small family car were independent front suspension, a 4-speed gear box, hydraulically controlled drum brakes on all four wheels and a 12-volt electrical system. Rear suspension initially used quarter-elliptic rear springs, but buyers frequently squeezed four or five people into a car sold as a two-seater, forcing the company to extend the chassis and fit stronger semi-elliptics.

But where did Simca come into the picture? In 1935 (as we have already said in Snapshot 160 for the 1952 Simca 8), Fiat founded Simca (Société Industrielle de Mécanique et de Carrosserie Automobile) when it bought the former Donnet factory in the French town of Nanterre. It was thus natural for them to produce a French version of the Topolino – and in fact the French model was launched first. The Simca 5 was first presented at the company’s new plant three months ahead of the Fiat equivalent, on 10 March 1936. Production was delayed, however, by a wave of strikes at the time of the June 1936 electoral victory of Léon Blum’s Popular Front government. Simca boasted at the time that it was ahead of the “plans across the Rhine”: a reference to the already rumoured launch of the Volkswagen Beetle that did not appear until 1938.

The Simca 5 was originally intended for sale on the domestic market for less than 10,000 French Francs, but a decline in the currency’s value in the second half of the 1930s meant an increase by the time of the 1938 Paris Salon to 13,980 Francs for the most basic version.

The engine size of the Fiat and Simca cars corresponded with the 3CV car tax band. They could therefore be presented as the “smallest volume production car in the world”.

Production of the Simca 5 was slowed by the war, but never ceased entirely. A number were commandeered by the German Army for use as staff cars. Simca made 46,472 of these cars up to the end of production in 1949. Fiat production of its sister car topped 520,000.

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