Matra Enthusiasts Club UK
FAQ's: Frequently Asked Questions
- Bagheera or Murena, LHD or RHD? Which should I choose?
First, you need to understand that these 3-seater sports cars are designed and built asymmetrically to suit the three abreast seating. You might think 'That's obvious, so what?'. Well it is one of the most important considerations when converting from the original LHD to a totally non-standard RHD, and one that the converters never seemed to have taken into consideration! Also please note, no Bagheera or Murena was ever converted or approved by the manufacturer.
Matra correctly took into account the fact that the Bagheera and later Murena, needed different spring rates from side to side because often the car would be driven with only the driver on board, and he will be sitting well over to the left, not close to the centre line as with a conventional 2-seater. To some extent the drivers weight on the left is compensated by the fact that the lighter gearbox is also on the left. If you now put the driver on the extreme right where the heavier engine is also situated, you further exacerbate the spring problem. This left offset also affects things like the wipers which are set up to clear the screen in front of the driver on the left not the right; and then there is the gear lever and hand brake which are mounted between the driver and centre seat, not in the centre of the car; and since there never were any RHD cars made at the factory the dash, switch layout and wiring looms were only made to suit the LHD design. Furthermore the seating is unconventional since the twin passenger seat in the Bagheera, or two passenger seats in the Murena, were fixed to a flat floor whilst the driver seat was mounted on runners to be able to adjust its position back and forth to suit different height drivers. This means the floor pan is asymmetric with a lowered well for the drivers seat runners and frame, compared to the flat slightly raised floor on the right. To build a proper RHD car the floor pan shape needed to be reversed but this was never done by the converters as it was considered too expensive, and any cutting and welding of the chassis will compromise the galvanising of the Murena.
The result of all the foregoing is that any RHD modified car will be a bastard that has compromises and they will never be as good as the original LHD car and will cause more problems than you might expect. My personal view is that you should avoid any RHD conversion of these cars, but if you really cannot live with the LHD configuration, then consider not having one at all and buying something else. If you still want a RHD Bagheera or Murena, please test drive the one you're thinking of buying before you buy it. The RHD converted car will never be as good as the original LHD and you will never experience how good they are or what these these cars are really like. The interior will never look as good because certain shapes were designed for the LHD and they will not look right in a RHD conversion. The converters had to chop the original dashboard to move everything including the instruments, switches and radio, across to the right and then cover all the joins by recovering the whole with leather cloth, but these are never as good, and at this age the edges have usually started to come unstuck and curl up. The chassis structure on the right to take the column, pedals and dash did not exist so had to be fabricated and welded in, plus the original structure removed and holes blanked off (and this was often simply done with grommets many of which may no longer be in place or still be sealing well). As previously stated, in the case of the Murena with its total immersion galvanising process, any welding to the chassis will compromise that protective covering.
From the point of view of driving a RHD conversion, the first thing from a safety aspect is that since the wiper does not clear the screen in front of the driver correctly it restricts your view in poor weather just when you need good vision the most. On the Bagheera the gear change will not be good, and with the extra slop in the linkage you will probably rap you knuckles against the dash when you select first gear! The hand brake of the Hodec converted ones I have seen, are so poorly made and fitted that they should never have passed the original design or final inspection if they ever had one! They will rarely meet the minimum M.o.T. requirements and may well fail since there is 'no reserve travel'. In terms of less important things, the boot release will still be in the left hand door shut so you will have to go around to the left, unlock and open the door to be able to open the glass to gain access to the boot or engine. You will also find that owing to the revised dash arrangement you will probably knock the wiper switch on every time you go to start the engine. These may seem minor things but even in the brief time I used a RHD Baghera, they start to become really annoying.
Since they did not make new wiring looms for these conversions, they have modified the originals in order to make them reach across to the right, and the wiring is very poor, which leads to electrical unreliability. This is the last thing you want with any car, but especially with a rare car where if you don't understand car electrics and have to rely on others, most technicians in the U.K. will not know the Matra cars and their wiring anyway, so will struggle to understand a standard car let alone a modified one!
To convert these cars correctly to RHD would have cost far more than it was economic or practical since they were relatively inexpensive cars in the first place. The good news is that since they have excellent visibility all round, the LHD cars are not difficult to drive here. I have had mine over 33 years and never found the LHD a problem. However, if you are buying a Murena from the continent, then some have had the rear glass replaced with a glass fibre rear deck similar to some of the Italian mid-engined cars, and vertically slatted covers over the rear side windows. These will seriously restrict your over-the-shoulder right side rear view, which is important particularly at angled junctions, when driving a LHD car in the U.K. So beware of these fitments. Also the Murena came with convex glass in the two door mirrors. These give a good field of view rearwards and the ability to pick up cars in the 'blind spot' area. Make sure the glass is convex and has not been replaced with flat glass (as is often done when one gets broken) because it will be almost useless. Similarly beware of broken door mirrors particularly the (RH) passenger side one as this is really necessary in the U.K. Check you can adjust it up and down as well as in and out.
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This was last updated 21st July '16