Production of the Simca Special
Exner made considerable progress on the Simca Special during 1957. He got the chassis running during the spring. Progress slowed some during the summer because he accepted a job offer from Studebaker Styling. Nevertheless, he finished the full-size clay model of the body and began fabricating a 15-piece fiberglass mold of it.
In an unusual move, he used epoxy resin instead of the normal polyester resin because he had seen such good results from it during his summer stints at Creative Industries. Although more expensive than polyester, it shrank less during cure and thus yielded smoother, more accurate surfaces.
That fall, he entered the chassis in the Johnson Park Hill Climb near Grand Rapids, Michigan, and took second place overall, losing only to a BMW 328.
The Studebaker job was short-lived because in February 1958, the Air Force called him to active duty to fulfill a Reserve Officer Training Corps commitment. With just three months until he had to report, he quit Studebaker to concentrate on finishing the car.
Having also finished his course requirements at Notre Dame, he carted the mold back home to Detroit where the builder of Dual-Ghias, Gene Casaroll, gave him space to finish the body. Exner managed to lay up the body (also made with epoxy resin) and prep it for paint before leaving for Sheppard Air Force Base.
On a 30-day leave that fall, prior to leaving for Korea, Exner got Chrysler Styling's model shop to help him finish the car.
The finished car ended up 187.5 inches long, 72 inches wide, and just 45 inches high, with 4.5 inches of ground clearance. It weighed 1,650 pounds, with a weight distribution of 51.2 percent front and 48.8 percent rear (with Exner at the wheel and half a tank of gas).
Exner elected to use a clear plastic canopy as the simplest solution for a closed competition car (technically, then-new SCCA rules requiring doors likely would have barred it from competition). Air for ventilation entered through an intake near the driver's left foot and exited through a two-inch gap created by resting the rear edge of the canopy on two aluminum pads that held it off the body.
The canopy pivoted forward on hinges mounted to its front edge. Four thong-like rubber latches acquired from Volkswagen "Beetle" back seats held it down. These proved barely enough to do the job because, on the highway, aerodynamic forces would stretch them and lift the back of the canopy off the pads. The canopy provided exceptional vision in every direction except rearward, where the narrow ventilation gap provided the only clear view.
Inside, only essential gauges and toggles occupied an instrument panel that had the simplest black leather cover. Floated black leather covered thinly padded, low-backed bucket seats. The exposed frame members, padded and upholstered, served as both armrests and grab bars.
The polished aluminum driveshaft-tunnel housing rose high enough to serve as a central armrest. Spaces between the frame rails and the bodysides formed ample storage wells. A larger storage area behind the seats was normally hidden by a snap-down leather cover.
So was the Simca Special successful? Find out on the next page.