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SEMA 2019 Project Update: Cool Hand Customs’ 1960 Simca Autocross Wagon

(Image/Cool Hand Customs)

When our friends E.J. and Amy Fitzgerald at Middleton, WI-based Cool Hand Customs told us what their 2019 SEMA Show project would be, we raised a collective eyebrow.

Somewhere they found a French-made 1960 Simca Châtelaine two-door station wagon, then decided to mate it with a 2007 Cadillac STS to create an autocrossing terror.

“We are so completely nuts,” Amy Fitzgerald said.

She’s not kidding—much. For starters, let’s compare the dimensions of each car:

1960 Simca Châtelaine

  • Wheelbase: 96.1 inches
  • Overall length: 165 inches
  • Overall width: 61.8 inches
  • Height: 56.7 inches

2007 Cadillac STS

  • Wheelbase: 116.4 inches
  • Overall length: 196 inches
  • Overall width: 73 inches
  • Height: 58 inches

Doing the math, the STS is 31 inches longer and about 11 inches wider than the Simca, presenting some big packaging issues. The simplest solution would have been to build a custom frame, swap over the Caddy’s drivetrain and suspension, and drop the Simca’s body over the whole shebang.

But Cool Hand didn’t go that route.

Instead, E.J. and Amy stripped the STS’s unibody down to the chassis and floorpan, shortened it 20 inches, then cut the Simca’s body in half and widened it five inches. The metal work needed to do that is huge, but there are practical advantages.

“We wanted to keep the STS’s drivetrain and suspension, so mating the Simca body to the Cadillac’s chassis made the most sense,” E.J. Fitzgerald said. “Everything stays in the factory locations, eliminating the hassle of building a frame and figuring out how to swap things over.”

The STS drivetrain and chassis are about perfect for the project. The 4.6L, double overhead-cam Northstar V8 makes 320 horsepower and 315 lbs.-ft. of torque. It’s connected to a 6L50E six-speed automatic and an all-wheel drive setup with a Borg Warner transfer case. It sends 60 percent of the power to the rear wheels and the balance to the front wheels to help pull the car into and out of the corners. Sounds like an ideal setup for an autocrosser that will weigh well under 3,000 pounds.

The four-wheel independent suspension features GM’s excellent Magnetic Ride Control active suspension system updated with QA1 components. The four-wheel disc brakes get new ACDelco calipers plus Power Stop rotors and pads.

As we’re writing this, E.J. and Amy have mated the Simca body to the Caddy chassis and are about finished with the exterior metal fabrication. The next projects are the six-point roll cage, dash and interior metal work, and finish welding, with body work and paint prep coming afterwards.

If you are fortunate enough to attend the 2019 SEMA Show, make time to check out the Simca at the Thermo-Tec display. In the meantime, enjoy these build photos.

E.J. and Amy Fitzgerald at Cool Hand Customs are mating this forlorn-looking 1960 Simca Châtelaine wagon with a 2007 Cadillac STS to create an autocross terror. Simca equipped the little wagon with a 40 horsepower, 1090cc four-cylinder with a four speed. The STS will provide eight times the horsepower, a six-speed automatic, and an all-wheel drive system. (Image/Cool Hand Customs)
Comparing the Simca and the STS side-by-side shows the size disparity. The STS is 31 inches longer and about 11 inches wider than the Simca, presenting some big packaging issues. (Image/Cool Hand Customs)
That’s E.J. Fitzgerald and the Sawzalls of Doom cutting the Cadillac down to the base chassis. (Image/Cool Hand Customs)
Using the STS chassis meant the drivetrain and suspension components remained in the factory locations. That eliminated the need to build a custom frame, figure out how to mount everything, and making things like linkage, fuel system, hard line, hose, and hundreds of other details that pop up during a swap. (Image/Cool Hand Customs)
E.J. and Amy were able to get the 4.6L Northstar V8 running with the help of HP Tuners VCM Suite software. (Image/Cool Hand Customs)
Modern cars have computers and lots of wire. Cool Hand went through the painful process of removing all of the modules not needed to make the car run and drive. The unneeded wiring weighed over 50 pounds! (Image/Cool Hand Customs)
The Cadillac was shortened 20 inches by removing a section of floorpan, then welding the halves back together. The bare metal areas show you where the section was removed. The operation did not disturb the suspension or drivetrain; the only modification needed will be a shortened rear driveshaft. (Image/Cool Hand Customs)
Since the STS is—er, was—a unibody chassis, removing so much sheetmetal reduced structural rigidity. These 1 5/8 inch diameter bars and a six-point roll cage will restore much of that chassis integrity. (Image/Cool Hand Customs)
The simplest way to mate the Simca’s body to the Cadillac’s chassis was to strip the wagon to a shell, split it down the middle, and drop the halves into place. (Image/Cool Hand Customs)
Putting body halves in place left a five inch wide strip down the middle, which will be filled with sheetmetal. The Northstar V8 looks like it was made to live there. (Image/Cool Hand Customs)
The STS’s track width left some tire hanging outside the Simca’s wheelwells. Here, E.J. is widening the rear quarter area to cure the problem in the back. Sheetmetal flares will cover the front tires. The factory rolling stock will be replaced with 18 x 8.5 American Racing Torque Thrust VL wheels on 255/45R18 Nitto NT 555 tires. (Image/Cool Hand Customs)
The metal fabrication continues up front with hood fitment, the addition of a bumper from a Corvair, and the Simca’s headlight surrounds. (Image/Cool Hand Customs)
E.J. and Amy redid the Simca’s dash using pieces from a 1955 Dodge panel truck. The binnacle houses the factory STS gauge panel and pushbutton start. The factory throttle and brake pedal assemblies were retained, and you can see the mockup for the new ididit steering column and column support. (Image/Cool Hand Customs)

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