In 1973, the Matra entered a sales agreement with Chrysler in order to benefit from the companys dealernetwork. Chrysler felt a bit embarassed to now have a Ford V-4 powered car in their range, and a new car was produced. - The goal was to produce a car much more sleek to bring down air resistance. Matra who always had been keen to accomodate more than 2 seats, now settled for a 3 seater solution, and the Matra-Simca Bagheera was born (in fact named after the panther in the Jungle Book). Matra considered a central driving position (as the McLaren F1 has it today) but abandonned the idea, presumeably because it would inhibit reuse of parts from any standard car, and thus make the car too expensive - missing its aim.
Initially it was powered by the Simca-1100TI (1294 ccm) engine, and the low air-resistance and relatively low weight made it a reasonably quick car. The handling was exceptional, and the car was very well accepted among the world enthusiasts - actually the car won a trophy for the most beautiful and at the same time funtional design back in '74 - where it was competing for that prize along with cars like Lancia beta or Ferrari 308 GTB. (this may well have been the only time a Matra roadcar beat a Ferrari ;-)
The Bagheera was later joined by the Rancho - an "estate" type car - (which looked very much like a Simca 1100 with a revised tail).
During the 70'ies the Bagheera began seing some competition, and now it became evident that the power was too small, and in 1976 the Bagheera-S was launched. This car had the 1442 ccm (still ex-Simca) engine, which produced 90 HP and soon thereafter the Bagheera Mk-II was launched (see photo above). This car had some body-modifications - especially a longer nosecone and new bumbers, and the new 1442 ccm engine. Now the car did 0-100 km/h in 11.6 seconds, - respectable enough to take up competition.
Although Chrysler/Simca had no wish to introduce bigger engines useable for the Bagheera, the factory did experiment with higher performances by tuning or modifying the existing engines. The most radical approach was when they produced what must be the only U8 engine in the world (?) - using two 4 cylinder blocks alongside eachother, connecting the ouput before the clutch. This gave the U8 Bagheera some respectable 160-170HP and a weight of about 1200kg - not bad at all... - however, this remained an experimental project that never was pushed into production (and probably never was intended to)
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 litteraly disappeared before the owners (sad) eyes.
A total of 47802 Bagheeras were built - and despite the corrosion problems there are still
quite many around; - and lets hope for the enthusiasts to keep them rolling for many years to come.
In 1980 Matra replaced the Bagheera with the Murena, which had a fully galvanized chassis, bigger engines, and an even more aerodynamical body.