The former Engines Matra, an armament specialist, purchased the
small automaker Rene Bonnet in 1964 and formed la Societe Matra
For some reason, fascinating cars always result
when an aeronautics firm decides to enter into the production of
automobiles and Matra's entry into automotive realm proved to be no
Unlike most other aircraft manufacturers that turned to cars,
Matra entered the automotive field not by designing a new car, though
rather by purchasing the remains of the pre-existing Rene Bonnet works.
Bonnet had been producing quick little hybrids (mostly with his partner,
Deutsch) for years prior to Matra assuming control of the concern yet
soon after the takeover, the aerospace giant carefully began remolding
the resulting new company named Matra Sport into one of the most
formidable race track champions of its day.
Nonetheless, Matra, between
the races, also found time to design and build a few notable (albeit
somewhat flawed) road cars that exhibited a unique mixture of character,
style and charm.
Matra Sports was independent and relied on Renault to
supply drive trains for their mid-engine sport cars.
The Matra D'jet
was available as the type 5, with 70hp and top speed of 106mph or type 5S, with 90hp and 125mph top speed.
1,500 Matra Djet's, with
Renault motors were produced from 1964 to 1967.
In the spring of
Matra launched an ambitious project: the Matra M530
which became quite successful with 10,000 produced.
1970: On 1 Jan
an agreement was made between Automobiles Simca and Matra Sports to distribute the M530.
In April, a commercial
and technical accord was signed with Matra.
The Matra 530 LX
coupe was partly integrated into the Simca line, which made it dangerously competitive with the
Simca 1200S Coupe.
In 1970, 1200S power was increased to 87 hp DIN and
top speed to 111 mph.
On 11 Jun
the Le Mans victory of the Matra-Simca MS670 confirmed the presence of Chrysler France in the
echelons of the competition automobile.
Its prestigious Sport 3 liters, which gained the
Championship of the world of the marks in 1973 and 1974, indeed ran under the
denomination of Matra-Simca.
Matra entered into a sales agreement with Chrysler-France in order to benefit from that company’s huge dealer network.
Chrysler felt a bit embarrassed to now have a Ford V-4 powered car in their range, so a
totally new car was planned.
The goal was to produce a car which was much
more sleek, in order to bring down air resistance.
Matra, who had always
been interested in producing a car with more than two seats, came up with a 3-seater,
and the Matra-Simca Bagheera
was born (in fact named after the panther in Rudyard Kiplings, The Jungle Book).
considered a central driving position (as the McLaren F1 has it today) but abandoned
that idea, presumably because it would not allow for the standardization of
parts from existing cars, thus making the new car too expensive.
to the press on 14 Apr 73, sales began in July, 1973 after its victory at LeMans.
Initially, the Bagheera was powered by the Simca-1100TI engine, and the low
air-resistance and relatively low weight made it a reasonably quick car.
The car featured the centrally mounted,
1294cc transverse motor, 3 seats across, low aerodynamic drag of .33 cx,
4-wheel disc brakes, rack & pinion steering, 155x13 front and 185x13
rear tires, wheelbase was 93.3 in, length 153.5 in,
width 68.1 in, height 46.1 in, front track 54.3 in, rear track 54.3 in, curb weight 1947
The handling was exceptional, and the car was very well accepted among the
The car also won a trophy for the
most beautiful and at the same time functional design back in 1974 - where it was competing for
that prize along with cars like the Lancia Beta and Ferrari 308 GTB.
well have been the only time a Matra road car beat a Ferrari.
70's the Bagheera began to see some competition, and it became evident
that the car had too little power.
Introduction of the designer-inspired Matra-Simca Bagheera Courreges,
in monochromatic white inside and out.
This car had the Simca 1308 GT engine, which produced 90 HP and soon thereafter the Bagheera Mk-II
It received revised, more
substantial, front and rear styling, enlarged taillights with central red reflector, improved braking, more
efficient cooling, new colors for the instruments and the availability of the Jubilee model, with tweed upholstery and, of course, the new 1442 cc engine.
car did 0-62 mph in 11.6 seconds, quite respectable!
Although Chrysler-France had no wish to introduce
bigger engines for the Bagheera, the factory did experiment with higher performances by
tuning or modifying the existing engines.
radical approach was when they produced what must be the only U8 engine in the world - using two 4
cylinder blocks alongside each other, connecting the output
before the clutch.
This gave the U8 Bagheera some respectable 160-170HP and a weight of about
2650 lbs, not bad at all.
However, this remained an
experimental project that never was put into production.
The Bagheera - beautiful as it was, did
however suffer from rot - the steel chassis had little or no rust protection from the
factory, and hence if not maintained carefully, some cars literally disappeared before
their owners eyes.
A total of about 47,800 Bagheeras were built through
In May, Matra-Simca launched possibly the worlds first
practical sport-utility vehicle, literally decades before it's time, the
Matra-P12, better known as the Matra-Simca Rancho.
This car is
an excellent example of Matra's ability to spot a market niche and
The car was derived from the Simca 1100 , with torsion bars
in front and rear, - the rear was made longer and stronger.
The engine, however, was the larger Simca 1308's 1442
cc, 9CV developing 80 HP at 5600 rpm and good for 91 mph.
Most of the rear body was fiberglass on steel frames.
The car was front-wheel drive only.
A total of 56,700
were built through 1983.
Wheelbase 99 in, Length 170 in, width 65 in,
height 68 in, front track 56 in, rear track 53 in, curb weight 2483 lbs. Tire size: 165 x 14 (Pirelli 185/70 x 14 optional).
The name was
changed to Talbot-Matra Rancho in 1980.
The Matra-Simca Bagheera X was
introduced with special paint, velour seats, 1442cc motor and a choice
of 1 or 2 carburetors.
In late ,
Matra launched a new car, the Talbot-Matra Murena.
Still a 3-seater - but now with an even more
aerodynamic body, and a bigger engine.
Two versions were built, a 1.6 and a 2.2. The 1.6 got its engine from the Talbot 1510 / Alpine / Solara range - a very
robust, humble pushrod engine, and the 2.2 engine was the one used in the
The chassis was now completely warm
galvanized from the factory (actually the Murena was the first mass-produced car to undergo
this treatment), and the body was then riveted/bonded in
place, - producing a very long lasting car.
The 2.2 version is somewhat heavier,
but has 25HP more, which pushes it from 0-100km/h in 9.6 seconds, vs 11.2
seconds for the 1.6.
Moderate tuning of the 2.2 engine (primarily a
performance camshaft) easily increases the power by another 25HP.
suspension consists of longitudinal torsion bars in front but at the back the
transverse torsion bars have been replaced with McPherson struts.
brakes are discs all around.
On 1 Jan
the society Chrysler-France changed its name to the Societe des Automobiles Talbot.
Six months later, for model year 1981, the name Simca was permanently abandoned.
For 1980, the Matra-SIMCA Bagheera was renamed the Talbot-Matra
It's replacement, the Murena appeared that year also.
was the last year for the Bagheera and used a restyled dashboard.
Rancho became the Talbot-Matra Rancho.
During 1980 Matra had developed their project P-18 as a replacement for the Rancho, but
since PSA didn't feel they had the money for it and Matra
were turned down, Matra then approached Renault with the idea, and they accepted!
However, since Renault felt that the Matra Murena was
competition for their 'Alpine' and 'Fuego' models, they demanded that production of the
Murena was stopped before the P18 would be produced.
the 2.2 liter Murena-S
was launched, to use up the remaining chassis and body shells.
The 'Murena-S' was a 2.2
version delivered 142HP which definitely made it a fast car -
0-62 mph in roughly 8 seconds was easily obtainable.
Matra had plans to use the PSA
2.9 liter V6 also used in the Talbot Tagora, but for some reason Talbot didn't
Also in the minds of the designers was to equip the car
with Matra's own 11,000 rpm, screaming (formula-1) V12 engine.
remained a dream, but they did produce a highly tuned 2.2 version called the Murena 4S
- in which they squeezed 180HP out of the engine.
The rear fenders had also been widened, to produce an
air-intake for brake cooling and engine-feed.
The front spoiler was lowered further to
keep the car to the ground, and a new distinguishing alloy wheel design adopted.
Only a single car was ever built - in deep-blue , with green Murena-S
By Christmas 1983 (when the factory closed down for the holidays) the
last Murena rolled out from the factory - (it is said to
have been a red 142HP Murena-S).
Thereafter the production line was converted to
produce the P18, Renault Espace.
The last Talbot Solara was produced in the Spring of 1986.
The Renault Espace is now made by Matra at the
Matra-Automobile factory in Romorantin, south of Paris and was actually based on the Talbot
1510 / Alpine / Solara platform!