Brief history of Matra automobile

The D'Jet

In the mid 60'ies Matra bought the small racingcar-company of René Bonnet to whom they had allready been delivering the fiberglass-body of its beautiful midengined D'Jet. Bonnet had been very successfull at Le Mans with very streamlined and small-engined cars.

Matra participated in motorracing - with great success in both formula-1 and sportscar world championships.

The M530

In 1967, the D'Jet was replaced by the Matra M530 , a midengined fiberglass-body, well balanced car. The engine was a compact Ford V4 mounted right behind the driver. The compactness of the V4 actually allowed for a 2+2 arrangement, quite remarkable for such a small, midengined car.

At the same time Matra developed their own 3-litre V-12 engine - which brought the company so much succes; - among other things a hat-trick at Le-Mans by winning in '72,'73 in '74. One of the companys successfull cars was the M650 and the M670 - powered by excactly this wonderfully noisy, 3 litre V-12 engine. To listen to this with your own ears, check out my small gallery of soundclips. I have also written a separate document covering the Matra sportsprototypes in motorsport

The Bagheera

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
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 handling was exceptional, and the car was very well accepted among the world enthusiasts.

The Rancho

The Bagheera was later joined by the Rancho - an "estate" or "family" car - which looked very much like a Simca 1100 with a revised "Range Rover lookalike" tail. However, the frame was reinforced, and despite its humble two-wheel drive, it was classes above its origin in comfort and handling. Certainly it was a lot cheaper than a Range ROver, and hereby it found its place in the market, as the utility-car for the (large) family. (6-7 seats)

The Murena

In 1979, the Simca brand was changed to Talbot (PSA) - and around this time Matra launched a replacement for the Bagheera - the Talbot-Matra Murena - still a 3-seater - but with an even more aerodynamic body, and a bigger engine - two versions were initially build, a 1.6 and a 2.2 - The increased power and lower air-resistance made the Murena a very fine sportscar indeed.

The Espace

In the beginning of the 80'ies, Matra developed their project P18 - the concept of a radically styled one-box 7-seater car to replace the Rancho. Since PSA didn't want to spend the money to build the car, Matra went on to Renault, who accepted the idea ..
In 1983, Renault and Matra signed the agreement, and the Matra productionline was converted to produce the P18 - better known as the Renault Espace. However, as the Espace production took place on the same factoryline as the Murena (including the hot galvanizing), the Murena production had to stop. Today, the Murena shows its durability well, as very many of the 10.000 cars produced are still around, and being driven regularly - some even still serving as everyday-car. Not bad for a 20 year old sportscar.

New developments

The M25

However, - despite production stopped, Matra continued being innovative in car development, - a fact that was proven by the M25 prototype which arrived in 1989. Take a look at the interior (dashboard) of the M25, then think of the Renault Spider ... similarities ? ;-) The M25 was low geared, making for a low top-speed (~200 km/h) , but hugely impressive acceleration (0-100km/h in 4.5s) - speed is severely regulated throughout Europe, but acceleration is (fortunately) not :-)

Matra (together with Renault) produced the Espace-F1, as a showstopper in 1994. A 4-seater MPV, with 0-200km/h in 6 seconds ? ... calls for some thought :-)

The P55

Matra have always been interested in small, practical solutions (hence the 3 seats in what other manufactors would have made into a two-seater) - and in 1997, Matra designed an ultrasmall 4-seater - the P55. It can be seen as a "Swatch/Smart" competitor. It was designed with two front-facing seats, and two rear-facing - not a new idea in itself, but having the entire dashboard moveable instead of an adjustable driverseat is a new idea (well, apart from the pedal-arrangement in the Ford GT40), which may prove to be brilliant. (certainly a space-saving idea).
Luggage ws to be stowed away between the seats, as can be seen in this drawing

The Renault-Zo

Renault have also showed a new "fun-vehicle" called "Zo", which combines sport with off-road, - this car again has a practical 3-abreast seating configuration; - my guess is that Matra were involved in this as well;

The Peugeot-Rancho

In 2000 Peugeot launched a new multi purpose car, with a layout very similar to the good-old Rancho, and the name for this new Peugeot is in fact "Rancho" - coincidence ? . The car never made it into production though.

The M72

In 2001, Matra developed yet another small and practical car - the P72 - this time with only two seats. The objective was to create a 350kg, 20HP mini-car, which would then be legal for 16-year olds in France, and other European countries. The car has an aluminium-frame, with trendsetting open wheels, and fibreglass body. I see this as an absolutely great idea, as I would much rather see 16-year olds driving something with a body around them, and ABS, than zipping around on (probably illegal) mopeds, getting crushed by lorries etc.
The P72 seems to become a "real reality" - making it the first Matra car, sold under the Matra brand since the Murena was stopped, back in 1983. - the model-designation has been changed from the prototype denomination of P72, to the Matra-range: M72.

Matra is also very active in displaying the cars from the museum to the public - and at least once a year, the glorious Matras are taken to a racetrack...

The Avantime

- During the (many) years of Espace production, Matra had to concentrate on production, but despite this, they still were looking for new projects, and spawned many new ideas , most of them regarding MPV lookalike cars (large and small).
In 1997 Matra was asked by Renault to design a successor for the Safrane, - understood as high-end limousine transport, - and at the same time Renault announced that they wanted to take thwe Espace production home, and design the next version as a traditional all steel car. (to utilize their large over-capacity at their factories)

Matra immediately pulled out their idea of a MPV for the MPV-owning people, whose children have left home, but mum & dad still prefer the elevated driving position of an MPV. Only now they can afford a bit more luxury; - and the Avantime was born. (oddly pronounced by Matra themselves like the french "avant" followed by the english "time")

There were several trendsetting features on this car, - the huge doors are doubly hinged, giving much improved access, even on narrow parking spaces - and the lack of B-pillar, which makes the car almost open, with all windows down.

These two trendsetting issues also unfortunately caused a delay on the car - primarily ude to safety implementation. The Design was radical, and especially the rear-end lifted eyebrows, so while the Avantime was still developing, Renault presented a "strictly prototype" in 1999, - the Vel Satis, which we were told was only a prototype, that "would never reach production" ... However, as we all know, Renault responded to the large interest, and ran home to produce it, overtaking the Avantime on the inside, by being a largely traditional car. - and when both models were in the same showroom, its not wonder that the Renault salesmen pointed customers towards the more traditional VelSatis
This unfortunately caused the Avantime to not reach its sales target, and for the first time in 15-20 years, Matra were now loosing money on their automobile section.
The response was quick and harsh .. the factory closed in April 2003, after just one year of Avantime production.


On the 16th September 2003, the design, prototyping and testing section was sold to the wonderful Italian design-bureau Pininfarina (!) - a very logical move, as both have produced stunning and radical (trendsetting) cars over many years. We Matra-enthusiasts certainly welcome Pininfarina, as the savour of our beloved marque. The new company got the name Matra Automobile Engineering

Matra Manufacturing & Services

In 2005 a new company evolved, under the name of Matra Manufacturing & Services or cunningly "Matra MS" - what a great name, with an (intentional?) pointer back at their lovely MatraSports V12 engines ...

The focus of Matra MS is however pretty far away from the V12, as they focus on environmentally clean and low power means of transport. The rationale is that 40% of all travels are shorter than 2km, and 80% are shorter than 5km - and the average speed we move about in urban areas with is close to 18km/h ... which means we really don't need petrol-powered cars, with potential for much higher speeds - but could in fact use electric power-assisted bicycles, or small electric cars.

The Matra Zoom was designed very much within the same frame of mind, however, that was in the late 1980'ies, and the suppliers of batteries and eletric motors were far too unreliable to allow for production. Today this has obviously changed, and Matra MS is now marketing a sort of electric "Golf cart", which is highly configurable. The car is called GEM car.

Now, - I for one, would hope that the fantastic M72 could be revived, - and I would be first in line to buy one! :-)

Last update: Fri Apr 28 23:59:43 CEST 2006   -   email: