Matra Bagheera U8
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5
The Matra Bagheera
was a fine car - much like the modern day Mazda MX5/Miata
. The Bagheera was a beautifully set up machine powered only by a 1294cc, 84-bhp four cylinder engine
, while MX5
had only a slightly more powerful engine. The two were comparable in other ways too, particularly in the well sorted chassis department. In both cases, it was a chassis that was crying out for more power. In the case of the MX5
, a turbo was normally the answer. But in the early 1970s the turbo was prone to unreliability - so the French engineers came up with the U8 - simply put, two four-cylinder engines bolted together.
The U8 was a cheaper option too, and given the low sales volume of the Bagheera it saved the already struggling European Chrysler outfit the few million it would have taken to design a new engine. Obviously such a layout did not create a V8, mind, but a U8 - the two fours were still separate engines. At the time one Jean-Claude Gay explained to the motoring press the design principles "... (it was) very tricky, 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 spin 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 point of the set up was the fact that the drive shafts 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 use this system around the time of the Bagheera was British Leyland
The motors fed the 268 bhp into a five-speed gearbox with Porsche
of the standard Bagheera was by torsion bars all round and was, of course, all independent. It used a pair of wishbones up front but a Porsche style system of semi-trailing arms was used at the rear. The rear suspension of the U8 Bagheera was the same as the one used on the Matra Formula One car - twin wishbones, trailing links, coil springs, enclosing shock absorbers. 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.
was by rack and pinion mechanism - that made left to right hand drive conversion easy - and brakes
were discs all round. The headlights were pop-up types using vacuum actuation like the Lotus
of the day. The tyres
were different in size from front to rear as found on most true high performance cars (even back then) - 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
Behind the Wheel
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 Jean-Claude Gay. The Bagheera began as the brain child of M. Gay's former school friend, Phillipe Guedon, who by 1974
as a 39-year-old had become head of Matra's technical department and developer of the Matra 530 racer. "Phillipe told me when he was eight years old he'd build a car one day. Well he did, through Matra and he did the Bagheera to the point where Chrysler France-Simca supply the 1294cc 84 hp motor from the 1100 TS front-wheel drive sedan and Matra do the rest. "Chrysler France market the Bagheera at $4500, making 40 a day in the Loire Valley and have the order books filled for the next six months", said M. Gay.
Creating the U8 Engine
Even though the original Bagheera
design had become a success in France, Chrysler wanted the image of the U8 to imply both speed and consequence, perhaps in an effort to take on the Porsche market. Real air slots ahead of the rear wheels were the surest giveaway for the U8 Bagheera, the 130 mph car which at $10,000 was designed before the fuel crisis to take on Porsche. But the business of putting a couple of engines together in a car isn't new by any means. There was the twin-engined Mehari
which used a pair of 2CV
engines driving the ABS plastic off-road vehicle - and the Mehari
simply followed the trend of certain of the Type 181 Kubelwagen
VW staff cars which had an engine at each end. And then there was the Twini which had a mini engine driving it at each end plus Paul England's hill-climb title-winning Ausca which used a supercharged VW engine at each end.
Generally however, the principle had been reserved for special applications. And generally the cars used a pair of engines driving front and rear wheels. The principle of joining both the engines in a sort of V8 form without a common crankshaft and then driving conventionally was fairly new. Or maybe not. If you research the history of Simca
a little further, you discover a rather noble French heritage (or Italian depending on how you regard the antecedents and original domicile of Ettore Bugatti). Bugatti apparently took a pair of his four-cylinder engines and put them together, each as a separate motor but the final output being geared together. And in the early 1920s, when the American giant General Motors hadn't become a giant, its Olds-mobile division pioneered the special chain type link used by Chrysler France-Simca today.
The U8 Bagheera - before the fuel crisis of the mid 1970s - was scheduled to make motor sport appearances and then later go on sale to the public. But in 100 kph Europe, the market for fast cars crashed. And fast cars had a way of eating petrol - so the Bagheera U8 faced an uncertain future. Chrysler Europe was unwilling to pursue the project due in part to the fuel crises, and in part because of their own financial problems. Thus, the U8-powered Bagheera remained as a prototype and only three units were ever built.