Matra started out as an aeronautical engineering
contractor, which in 1964 took over the René Bonnet
sports cars. The Djet would
be sold as a Matra, and within 3 years the company
would switch production to their new factory
at Romorantin, where it launched the M530. This
beautiful coupe was powered by the Ford V4 engine,
but the lack of a proper dealer network with
which to sell the M530 would deprive the car
of the success it deserved.
The company would
be heavily involved in Formula 1 during the 1960’s,
even receiving the backing from oil giant Elf
and the French government to construct Formula
1 cars (Matra would go on to supply Formula 1
engines to the Ligier team in the 1980’s).
Knowing it was too small to survive alone, it
formed an agreement with fellow French manufacturer
Simca forming Matra-Simca in 1969 – their
first co-production being the wonderful 1973
Bagheera sports car.
The 1.3 or 1.4 litre engines
were fitted transversely in a fibreglass body,
and unusually it provided seats for three. The
soft-roader styled Matro Rancho would follow,
with the Bagheera being replaced by the all-steel
Murena in 1980. By this time Chrysler had assumed
control of Simca, so the Chrysler 2.2 litre 4
cylinder engine found its way under the hood.
Financial problems facing parent Chrysler would
see Simca sold to the Peugeot-Citroën conglomerate,
Matra leaving to join Renault. Its major contribution
would be the Espace, in effect creating a new
class of vehicle, the “people mover”.