Matra-Simca Bagheera

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Matra-Simca Bagheera

1973 - 1980
4 cyl.
1294/1442 cc
75 bhp
5 spd. man
Top Speed:
Number Built:
3 star
Matra-Simca Bagheera
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3


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.

The 1.3 or 1.4 litre engines were fitted transversely in a fibreglass body, and unusually it provided seats for three. But its best feature was the wonderful bodywork, so beautiful that the car would be awarded design trophies for being both the “Most Beautiful” and “Most Functional” in 1974, beating the likes of the Lancia Beta and Ferrari 308 GTB.

The Bagheera Mark II

Best of all though was the handling, the well sorted chassis always compliant and leaving everyone who drove it with a smile on their face (and wishing the car had a little more power on tap). When enthusiasts started using the Bagheera in competition it became plainly evident that the car needed more power, and so in 1976 the Bagheera S was launched. Another Simca engine was used, this time the larger capacity 1442cc 4 cylinder unit good for 90hp.

Appropriately named the Mark II, the new model required some body modifications to allow the engine transplant, a longer nosecone being required, along with new bumpers. Now able to do the 0-100 km/h dash in just under 12 seconds, the Bagheera was almost starting to perform as good as it looked.

The Bagheera U8

To help improve performance the Simca engineers set about further tuning the 1442cc unit - but no matter what state of tune it was in, they knew many would continue to gripe that the Bagheera chassis deserved more power. This led to the development of the “U8” engine - created by simply connecting two 4 cylinder engine blocks alongside each other and connecting the output before the clutch.

Chrysler France could have spent a few million on designing a new engine for the Bagheera - but they decided the cost was too prohibitive. The conjoined engines did not make a V8, but a U8 - the two fours were still separate engines. "Very tricky," said M. Jean-Claude Gay, of Chrysler France. "The motors even turn opposite ways and are linked by chain, like that (engine-transmission link) of the Oldsmobile Toronado." But just as amazing were the very small changes needed to take the Bagheera from an 84 hp car to a 268 bhp (net) tourer. For a start, widening the car was not necessary because the U8 was mounted transversely. However, because of the extra "length" of the U8, the wheelbase was lengthened 14 cm (5.5 inches) to accommodate the mid-mounted engine.

Wheel sizes and shock absorbers were uprated, also, to take the extra power of the U8. Matra made the engines contra-rotating to get around vibration problems as the engines spun faster but fitted a big flywheel to only one of the two banks. The mated engines were held in position by a reinforced alloy casing which also housed the timing chain gear for one bank of the twin fours and the special connecting chain between the two engines. The fan-generator belt pulley on the left engine drove the water pump via a toothed belt. But the engines did not share any mechanicals other than those already mentioned. For instance, each had its own distributor, so no attempt was made to even join the two engines electrically.

The two 1294cc engines were each more highly tuned than the single motor of the "standard" 110 mph Bagheera. The 130 mph Bagheera U8 engines were fed by four twin-throat Solex carburettors. Another unusual feature was the set up of the drive shafts, which were of unequal length because of the offset of the transmission which did not share the engine's oil supply. The only other manufacturer to have used such a system, we believe, was Leyland.

The motors fed the 268 bhp into a five-speed gearbox with Porsche-type baulk-ring-synchromesh. Suspension of the standard Bagheera was by torsion bars all round and was all independent. It used a pair of wishbones up front but a Porsche style system of semi-trailing arms was used at the rear. But rear suspension on the U8 Bagheera was similar that that used on the Matra Formula One car - twin wishbones, trailing links, coil springs (enclosing shock absorbers). The front suspension was the same and, in fact, was that used on the little Simca 1100. There was a torsion bar system with a top and bottom wishbone which, with its mounting structure, enabled strength to be built into the front of the car to meet safety standards.

Steering was by rack and pinion mechanism - which would have made left to right hand drive conversion easy - and brakes were discs all round. The headlights were pop-up types using vacuum actuation like Lotus. The tyres were different in size from front to rear, something that was becoming common with high priced performance cars of the era, and with around 130 mph for the road version of the U8 Bagheera it was approaching that category. A 185 section front tyre and a 205 section rear tyre were used. The prototype was good for 170 horsepower, however it would never go beyond the experimental stage.

On the Inside

Inside the Bagheera, U8 or standard, the three occupants were seated in a row across the vehicle which, at 1.73m (5 ft. 7 ins.) was no wider than the Chrysler 180. "Thin windows and body shell," explained M. Gay when the U8 was revealed. The Bagheera began as the brain child of M. Gay's former school friend, Phillipe Guedon, who was 39 when the Bagheera U8 was announced, and was head of Matra's technical department and developer of the Matra 530 racer. Phillipe told journalists that, when he was eight years, he dreamed that one day he would build a car.

Chrysler France marketed the Bagheera at around the equivalent of A$4500, making 40 a day in the Loire Valley and had the order books filled for the next six months. Despite being underpowered, the Bagheera was a success in France. It is such a shame that something of such beauty would be so badly afflicted with rust problems, the all-steel chassis having virtually no rust protection and many less cared for examples making a quick entry to the wreckers yard. Thankfully, with over 47,000 being manufactured, many have survived and enthusiasts of today we are sure will have sorted out any such problems. In 1980 Matra replaced the Bagheera with the Murena, which featured a fully galvanized chassis, larger engines and an even more aerodynamic body.
Matra Bagheera
Matra Bagheera
Matra Bagheera U8

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Also see:

Matra Bagheera U8
Talbot Matra Murena
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