Simca Special

Development of the Simca Special

A three-way deal left Exner with the 1.2-liter engine, driveline, and suspension from a 1950 Simca, and the 95.5-inch-wheelbase chassis from a Fiat 1100.
A three-way deal left Exner with the 1.2-liter engine, driveline, and suspension from a 1950 Simca, and the 95.5-inch-wheelbase chassis from a Fiat 1100.

Paul Farago had very specific ideas while developing the Simca Special. He wanted the body from a 1950 Simca "Huit" ("Eight") four-door sedan that fellow Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) member Louie Turco was selling.

Farago also had a Fiat 1100 chassis, with a wheelbase of 95.5 inches and track of 48 inches, front and rear, on which he planned to build his own sports car. He had already spread the side rails in order to get an unusually low seating position.

But Farago was so busy building cars for other people that he had no time to work on his own. Knowing that Exner needed a chassis, he prompted him to buy Turco's Simca. He then traded his Fiat chassis to Exner in exchange for the Simca's body.

Farago had what he wanted, and that left Exner with the Simca's 1.2-liter engine, driveline, and suspension that he, in turn, used to complete the Fiat chassis (Simca was a licensee of Fiat, so many components of the two manufacturers' cars were interchangeable).

Young Exner mounted the engine four inches farther back than Farago had planned to, and 3.5 inches lower, to improve weight distribution and the center of gravity. He finished the structure by adding a tubular roll bar as well as tubular body hoops and braces. He fitted 10-inch Al-Fin brakes with steel liners, 15-inch Dayton knock-off wire wheels, and a 10.5-gallon Volkswagen gas tank.

Trailered to South Bend, the nonfunctional chassis then took up residence in the basement of Notre Dame's new Arts & Letters Building. Exner suspended work on it during the spring 1955 in order to study in Vienna.

This allowed time to concentrate on body design. Foregoing the more traditional form of his earlier design, he built several 1/10-scale models of designs featuring fins.

But it wasn't until he left Vienna for home that a concept truly gelled both rationally and emotionally: "It was in a little hotel room on the Left Bank [in Paris] that I actually hit on what was to become the final design. It was just a tiny sketch on a 3 X 5 card. But it represented much more of an original and practical design than my previous Bertone B.A.T.-like sketches -- perhaps the romanticism of Paris influenced me."

Back at Notre Dame for his senior year (1955-1956), he worked a little on the chassis but concentrated on development of the Paris design concept with sketches, a 1/8-scale airbrush rendering (now at the Henry Ford Museum), and a 1/4-scale fiberglass model. For his senior thesis, Exner wrote a paper describing the proposed car.

He won the University's Jacques Gold Medal of Fine Art for the best thesis that year and a graduate teaching fellowship that would allow him to continue work on what became known as the Simca Special. It also enabled him to teach in a fledgling automotive design program that he put together.

Chrysler Styling, headed by his father since 1949, helped with money and supplies, and by periodically sending Chrysler designers to lecture and supervise projects. (Several Notre Dame alumni reached notable positions in the industry, including Dave Turner at Ford and Art Blakeslee, who now directs design at Citroen.)

Check out the next page to learn about the production of the Simca Special.

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