Three’s Company (Part Two)

We recall the Talbot-Matra Murena, successor to the successful Matra-Simca Bagheera, and chart Matra’s departure from the automotive business.

1981 Talbot-Matra Murena. Image: secret-classics.com

1978 saw the departure from Europe of Chrysler, the US automotive giant that was in considerable financial distress at that time. It offloaded its European assets (and very considerable debts) to the PSA Group(1) for a nominal US $1. In the preceding years, Chrysler had replaced the individual European marque names it had acquired with its own, which meant that PSA now had to find a new name for its acquisition.

It might have resurrected the recently deceased Simca and/or Hillman names but chose instead to dig deeper into its past and found Talbot. This marque name, which had been retired in 1958, had the advantage of being perceived as British in the UK and French in continental Europe, and so was revived in August 1979.

In its last year of production, the Matra-Simca Bagheera was rebranded Talbot-Matra. A replacement was in the final stages of development under the project code numbers M551 and M552(2) and would Continue reading “Three’s Company (Part Two)”

It’s Not V, It’s U

The Bagheera’s highly unusual twin.

In the early 1970s Automobiles Matra enjoyed popularity as a manufacturer of relatively inexpensive light sportscars such as the Djet, 530 and Bagheera. The French firm’s racing arm – Equipe Matra Sports, founded in 1965 – likewise had swiftly built up an impressive palmares in motorsports. Matra won the 1969 Formula One Championship with the MS80 driven by Jackie Stewart and with the MS670 emerged the overall victor at the gruelling 24h Le Mans endurance race three years in a row starting in 1972.

These impressive results stimulated Matra to Continue reading “It’s Not V, It’s U”

Three’s Company (Part One)

The Matra-Simca Bagheera combined supercar-apeing looks and robust if rather prosaic mechanicals to produce a practical, everyday sports car.

1973 Matra-Simca Bagheera Series 1. Image: hemmings.com

Mention the name Matra-Simca to a car enthusiast of mature years and their mind will almost certainly turn to the 1977 Rancho, a modestly successful vehicle that was decades ahead of its time. The Rancho was based on the FWD Simca 1100 but had a bespoke fibreglass body aft of the B-pillars, with a raised roof and a large split tailgate. It also had a raised ride height, plastic wheel arch extensions and other faux off-road addenda. It was, in effect, a crossover, long before that term was coined.

There is, however, an earlier and less well-known vehicle that carried the Matra-Simca name. This is the 1973 Bagheera, a sports coupé, the most unusual feature of which was its three-abreast seating arrangement.

Matra(1) was a French industrial engineering conglomerate that was established in 1945. Its activities included aviation, satellite and defence technology. Following the acquisition of Automobiles René Bonnet in 1963, it also became a car manufacturer, albeit on a modest scale: it inherited Bonnet’s small two-seater mid-engined sports car, the Djet. This was succeeded in 1967 by the somewhat larger Matra 530, still mid-engined, but now with 2+2 accommodation. The latter was only produced in small numbers because Matra simply did not Continue reading “Three’s Company (Part One)”

Theme : Simca – Hangin’ Tuff – 1977 Matra-Simca Rancho

Faux by four or pre-emptive strike? We cast a (largely) unprejudiced eye over the Rancho.

“It’s gripped, it’s sorted, let’s offroad!” Image: carinpicture

The 1973 oil embargo had a profound effect upon all auto manufacturers, but the low volume specialists were most exposed. Mécanique Aviation Traction, better known as Matra were no exception and in the aftermath of the fuel crisis, found it necessary to broaden their automotive base. Best known for sports cars, Matra had introduced the Simca powered Bagheera in 1976 and were now seeking a second Chrysler-Europe-derived model programme to boost revenues in addition to providing a buffer against further geo-political shocks. Continue reading “Theme : Simca – Hangin’ Tuff – 1977 Matra-Simca Rancho”

Theme : Passengers – Threesomes

Three for Two – Why not Supersize?

GM Bench

As soon as cars got wide enough, it was taken for granted that you would fit three people in front. So the bench seat was joined in the 1930s by the column mounted gearstick allowing three people to sit abreast in comfort.  Of course, as GM’s rather coy little illustration above suggests, the bench had other attractions but, for most, it meant you could squeeze more people in.

By the late 60s, though, the bench seat was reaching its end in Europe. As cars got faster and better handling, seats that located your bum in a single position became more desirable. Also, seatbelts were becoming mandatory and that central passenger was beginning to Continue reading “Theme : Passengers – Threesomes”