|When the Safrane took over from the successful R25 as Renault's high-spec topmodel, it soon was clear that they needed something with more appeal, and less conservatism. At the same time, Renault suffered from over-capacity at their factories, and rather than letting people off, they wanted to take over the manufacture of the hugely successful Espace. So, - they made the agreement with Matra that if Matra was given the task of developing this new high-spec topmodel, Renault could bring the Espace production in-house. Since Renault don't have the knowhow and expertise to produce cars like Matra do, they had to redesign the Espace, making it the conventional steel car we see marketed as "Espace IV" nowadays.|
Matra took on the task, - somewhat reluctantly - as the Espace had proven such a profitable design, - but eventually they came up with a series of design-ideas, all based on the Espace, and ended up with a cross between the people mover and a luxury coupé You sit high up, with glass all around you, (even the entire roof can be glass, with space-age sun-protection). The car has no B-pillars - which adds a roadster feel to it, with windows down.
It was named the Avantime - which surprisingly enough even by Matra themselves is not pronounced fully in French, but a combination - Avant- as in French for "ahead" and time pronounced in english. In other words "Ahead of its time". They are quite probably right, and it will not be the first time Matra have been ahead of their time, and have spotted a niche almost before it appeared.
(check the little videoclip at the bottom og the Gallery1, to listen their own pronouncation :-) )
It is an avantgarde looking, car, - the target group was (according to Matra themselves) people (former Espace-owners) whose kids have left home, but who still prefers the style and flexibility of the Espace, spiced up with a more luxurious interior, and some decent performance.
The Avantime was unfortunately seriously delayed (some say Matra were focusing too much on Espace production, and too little on the look ahead?). One thing that certainly delayed the project was getting the pillar-less design safety-approved, - the folding doors also proved difficult, - so there was a considerable delay in launching the car.
Renault had in the meantime tested their design studio "Vel Satis" with the public at car-shows in 1999, but told people that this was only a design studio, and it would never be produced. Whatever caused it (be it Matra delay, or the huge demand), Renault put the Vel Satis into production, and hit the marked about the same time as the Avantime was finally ready.
This means that Renault had two different approaches to the high-end luxury car - the one being almost entirely Renault, the other a Matra. The Renault Vel Satis has 4 doors, which should appeal to less adventurous (or more conservaitve) people, - but then again, it has a whacky front-end design, that I'm astonished to see accepted in conservative circles ... (but "hey! - its a real steel-car !"). If you ask me, the Avantime wins over the Vel Satis hands-down, but maybe I'm just too much of a Matra-head?)
Having the Avantime compete with its Renault sibling obviously was not a good thing for Matra, who must have felt that Renault had not kept their part of the deal. To add insult to injury, its no secret that Renault urged their sales-organisation to push the Vel Satis before the Avantime (by offering higher bonuses to the sales-people)
This caused the Avantime to sell suficciently poor, to drain Matra for funds, and since there were no hopes for Renault helping them out, Matra decided in december 2002 that enough was enough, and in April 2003 they shut down Matra Automobile, - closed the factory in Romorantin and a little later (August 2003) they sold off the test-track and prototype facility at CERAM/Chantillys (north of Paris) to Pininfarina. Only about 10.000 Avantimes were eventually built, - coincidently about the same number as was produced of the Murena, before its abrubt end-of-life.
The Avantime uses a warm-galvanized chassis very similar to the Espace in the lower part, but with the upper structure done in aluminium, to get the centre of gravity even lower than the Espace. The bodywork is still polyester, which is bonded in place. The doors are now a (galvanized) steel construction with polyester bodypanels bonded to it, making them much stronger than standard Espace doors, which were all fibreglass, with a metal frame, and in later models (J63 and JE) a side-impact steel bar about halfway up, on the inside.
The frontend design is developed from the Espace, with the air-con intake moved to above the headlights, rather than the sidemirrors. The sidemirrors, on the other hand, have moved towards the door-windows again, as on the early Espace models.
It is a two-doors only car (well, Matra did have a prototype 4-door version, but it never made it to production), but the doors are _huge_ to allow for easy access, and are novel in the way they open, as they are internally hinged, making them sort of fold when you open them. Hereby even these huge doors will only require the same parkingspace as any other car, but at the same time offering excellent access. No other car in the world has these ingenious doors, and I'm sure this feature will be one of the most remembered features of this future classic.
The following production figures have been published: (Source: Matra France, L.Thimonner, 2003 ):
The last AVANTIME left assembly lines 18th of April 2003 in Romorantin.
When you are finished looking at my little gallery here, I warmly recommend you to take a good look at avantime-gallery.org, a great website run by Holger Schulzen. I urge every owner of an Avantime and a digital camera, to submit pictures to Holger, so his lovely gallery can expand, and the community of Avantime owners can expand; - to the benefit of everyone.