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”.
1973 - 1980
In 1973 Matra entered a sales agreement with Chrysler attempting to benefit from the conglomerates widespread dealer network. Named after the panther from Jungle Book, the Matra-Simca Baghera was powered by the Simca-1100TI 1294cc engine, arguably underpowered, however the low air-resistance from the Bagheera’s lovely low slung body helped make the car reasonably quick. More>>
The Matra Bagheera was a fine car - but it was powered by a 1294cc, 84-bhp four cylinder engine. Underpowered when you consider how well sorted the chassis was. It was a car that was crying out for more power. But rather than opt for bolting on a turbo, the French engineers came up with the U8 – simply put, two four-cylinder engines bolted together but running independently. More>>