In the mid-1960’s Matra enjoyed
considerable success in Formula 3 and F2 racing with (especially)
its MS5 monocoque-based car, winning the French and European
In 1967, Jacky Ickx famously amazed the F1
establishment by clocking in the 3rd-fastest qualifying
time of 8:14” on the German Nürburgring in his 1600 cc MS5 F2,
which was allowed to enter alongside the 3000 cc F1 cars. In the
race, he failed to finish due to a broken suspension.
Matra entered Formula One in 1968 when
Jackie Stewart was a serious contender, winning several Grands
Prix in the Tyrrell-run Matra MS10 which competed alonside the
The car’s most innovative feature was the use of
aviation-inspired structural fuel tanks. These allowed the chassis
to be around 15 kg lighter, while still being stronger than its
The FIA considered the technology to be unsafe and
decided to ban it for 1970.
Matra CEO Jean-Luc Lagardère made a
radical strategic decision for the 1969 championship: The Matra
works team would not compete in Formula One. Matra would instead
focus its efforts on the Tyrrell team (renamed Matra
International) and build a new DFV powered car with structural
fuel tanks, even though it would only be eligible for a single
The decision was even more radical given that Matra was
seeking a partnership with Simca, then a subsidiary of the
American company Chrysler, which would preclude using Ford-branded
engines for the following year.
Stewart won the 1969 title easily
with the new Cosworth-powered Matra MS80, which corrected most of
the weaknesses of the MS10. Stewart’s title was the first won by a
French chassis, and the only one won by a chassis built in France.
It was a spectacular achievement from a constructor that had only
entered Formula One the previous year, but it had little impact on
the French general public because the British contribution was too
large to fulfil nationalistic pride.
For 1970 following the agreement with
Simca, Matra asked Tyrrell to use their V12 rather than the
Cosworth. Stewart tested the Matra V12 and found it inferior to
As a large part of the Tyrrell budget was provided by
Ford, and another significant element came from French state-owned
petroleum company Elf, which had an agreement with Renault that
precluded supporting a Simca partner, the partnership between
Matra and Tyrrell ended.
The firm was also successful in
endurance racing with cars powered by the V12 engine. The
670 won le Mans in 1972, 1973, and 1974.