Roy's Matra Enthusiasts pages
FAQ's: Frequently Asked Questions
- I wish to buy a Murena. What information can you provide?
First, I have added this to my FAQs since I am getting a lot of enquiries recently about buying a Murena when for years there has been no interest at all. Hopefully this will answer many questions before you contact me. There are four models, a 1.6 with the Talbot Alpine/Solara engine; a 1.6 exec; a 2.2 with a transverse version of the Talbot Tagora 2.2 engine; and an 'S' which is an uprated 2.2 model. These are all rare now. There were only 5,640 1.6; 4,560 2.2 and just 480 genuine 'S' models made. It is believed around 112 standard 2.2 were officially upgraded at the dealers with a kit and were called a 'Prep 142'. This forms the basis of those last 480 'S' models all produced in the factory. The number of 1.6 exec models produced is unknown. The 1.6 had clear glass, manual windows, 13" steel wheels with 70% profile tyres as standard and since there was a small demand for a 1.6 with electric windows and/or tinted glass, they produced the 1.6 'exec' which was a factory built 1.6 with these two options, since changing all the glass after production was not sensible. The tint is bronze and only 10% so it is not dark. Other options such as the floor storage box, the adjustable toe-board, or factory 14" alloy wheels and 60% profile tyres (4 only) would have been provided at point of sale.
The Murena is a modern version of the Bagheera with a similar chassis at the front, but different around the rear since it has strut type rear suspension, unlike the torsion bar suspended Bagheera. These three-seat mid-engined cars were designed with the driving position on the left. Some think that Matra originally had the intention for a centre driving position. That was never the case. That would be fine on a race track but for a road car the driver needs to be on the left (or right) so they can see past the side of the vehicle in front when wanting to pass. If the driver was in the middle, the car would have to be moved so far out before you could see past the vehicle in front you could collide with any oncoming vehicle. Centre driving à la McLaren F1 may be fine on open roads like motorways, but on narrow country lanes with hedges as in the U.K. and an already wide car, it would be no good at all. So for a road car, Matra Automobiles had the design correct. (and driving this LHD car in the U.K. there is a technique you learn for these situations! Ask me if you wish to know.)
The chassis was hot-dip galvanised but that does not mean it won't rust. Galvanising slows down the corrosion process to about one twentieth of the normal rate, and since the coverage on the chassis was somewhat variable and certain areas are more stressed and therefore more prone to corrosion, there may be some corrosion now they are around 40 years old. Furthermore the galvanising only applies to the chassis, so everything added to it afterwards is unlikely to be as well protected. The achilles heel of the Murena are the rear semi-trailing arms. These are special fabrications and they do corroded. Politecnic, France, make better ones, but they are expensive, so these should be one of your first checks.
The second most expensive problem (if we exclude the cosmetic side and therefore the paint work) can be a fault in the gearbox which means the synchromesh fails even at low mileages. So you MUST test drive any Murena to check the synchromesh works on all gears and especially when changing down the box. The fault which mainly affects early 1.6 cars but can affect 2.2 and even any age for a reason I won't go into here, is due to the incorrect assembly of mis-matched parts at the Citroen factory. The synchros are not usually worn out, but since the angles of the cone ring and gears are mis-matched, they don't mate correctly and it is no use replacing the synchro rings - you have to replace the gears, and that means more cost and finding the right parts too. This would have been a warranty issue in 1980-81 but most Murena never did enough mileage in their first year for the problem to show up, and warranty then was only one year.
Another reason to test drive the car, is that you can check the performance to see if the engine is fine, especially if it is a 2.2 because the camshafts lobes are known to wear away under certain conditions and this drastically lowers the performance. If you are not familiar with how well a Murena should perform, check the 4th gear acceleration 20 kph increments, say 50-70 or 60-80 or 70-90. These should take no more than 5 seconds. That is with an engine producing the standard 113 horse power but if the lobes are worn on say two cylinders the power will be down to possibly 65 horse power with the consequent loss of acceleration.
The 1.6 and 2.2 chassis are different around the rear and you cannot put a 1.6 in a 2.2 or vice versa. Some have uprated a 1.6 to a Peugeot 1.9 XU type engine as these are similar being based around the same family of engines, but there is a lot of work depending on which particular version you want to fit. The Murena 2.2 engine is NOT the same as the Peugeot 505 so please don't confuse them. The Murena 2.2 (X5N2 engine) and Tagora 2.2 (9N2 engine) are developments of the old Chrysler 180/2-litre Type 180 family of engines and are actually quite good engines. The Peugeot 505 engine is the all-alloy 2165cc SOHC Douvrin engine also used in many French cars, and has a belt driven OHC which requires periodic belt and tensioner changes. The Talbot 2156cc SOHC engine has a cast iron block and alloy head with duplex chain driven OHC and provided the engine is maintained properly will last the life of the engine. This is a big plus as far as I'm concerned as it means you don't keep having to take the engine out to replace belts! The Murena engine is also oversquare (larger bore than stroke) and will rev. freely with the right camshaft whilst the Douvrin 2.2 engine is undersquare. (The Douvrin also has wet liners so beware if removing a cylinder head!)
One reason why there has been some confusion in the past is that both these SOHC engines have similar capacities and the Tagora/Murena Type 180 engine is the one used as the basis of the Peugeot 505 Turbo (N9T/TE/TEA engine). So it is not the Murena that uses the 505 engine, it's the other way around and the '505 Turbo' (but only the Turbo version) which uses the Murena engine. This was because they decided the Douvrin engine was not as strong and unlikely to be reliable enough, so they used the cast iron block Simca/Talbot type 180 engine in preference. However, the Type 180 alloy head is prone to cracking, and one cause with the Murena may be the vacuum operated head lamp lift/lower system. Any leak in this system will weaken the fuel mixture leading to high combustion chamber temps. The system must be air tight - and able to store vacuum several days! Any fault in the cooling system must also be avoided. Any sign of coolant loss - even the smallest amount should be checked. These are sealed cooling systems like all modern cars and should never lose any coolant. If you are having to top up the header tank, no matter how small, then something is wrong. It is also extremely important to have an over-ride switch for the cooling fan as the radiator switches fitted are notoriously unreliable (on many cars that used it, not just Matra). There are improvements you can make to the cooling system which I seriously recommend. (a complete separate article on this is available in the Technical Articles section)
The Murena was never officially imported into the U.K. They did look at the possibility, but with the state of PSA just after they took over the Citroen and then Chrysler companies, they could not afford it. So all Murena are personal imports or by small private companies who dealt in bringing in unusual cars that were not imported such as Alpines, BMW M1, etc. The 'grey' imports. It is not known how many actually made it here but I would estimate no more than 250 and initially more 2.2 than 1.6 since the road tax (and often insurance) was the same unlike in France. Some have since been sold back to the continent, some have perished, and many are unfortunately left deteriorating all around the country. At the time this was written there are no more than about 15 on the road in the U.K. Yes as tiny a number as that (there are probably about 40 that could be on the road, but the others were SORN when I checked). This is why you will hardly ever see one. Yet they are such a good car that many owners have had them a long time and never wish to sell them. So the chances of finding a good roadworthy one in the U.K. are very slim. Why then are so many left to deteriorate? They have probably had a problem such as rear brakes seizing or a failed trailing arm, and don't know where to get the parts or get them fixed properly, or wouldn't pay the high prices for the parts or repairs, or simply left them until 'they had time to sort them'. As we all know, this means they get pushed to one side and forgotten about, until the car needs lots more work and is eventually given up on.
These are the Murena that come up for sale occasionally, but since they have been unused for many years, they have deteriorated to the point where they will take quite a lot to re-commission them. This is one reason I always state there is no such thing as a cheap Murena. If the car is cheap it will need much time and money spent on it to make it a good reliable road car. Or you could buy one at a sensible price that you can drive away - if you can find one that is! Even those will need some work, but should be a much better starting point for many prospective owners. So what figures are we talking about. Well, first you should understand that a Murena when new was seriously underpriced. In 1983 you could buy a standard 2.2 for less than £7,000 when the equivalent Lotus Esprit 2.2 was just over £15,000. Although the Murena was not as quick as the Lotus, in most other respects it was comparable and should have been much closer in price. As very rare cars the Murena parts and repairs will be just as expensive, consequently the price today should be similar to the price you would be expecting to pay for a good S2.2 Esprit. Originality counts for a lot and a really top drive-away Murena 2.2 with good paintwork etc. should command £8,000 to £10,000 or more, whilst a car that is taxed, M.o.T'd and drivable but maybe requiring cosmetic repairs should still be worth £,4000 to £6,000. Anyone who thinks that £2,000 will get you a good usable 2.2 Murena is fooling themselves. A car at that price or lower will want a lot of time and money spent on it, probably before it can even be put on the road. Murena 1.6 models are usually about £1,000 lower than a 2.2 version. There are few people who know or understand them, and unless you can do much of the work yourself, you could end up paying a lot of money and yet still not get things done properly.
There is a lot of useful information in the rest of these FAQ pages of answers, so please take a look through and understand a little about these rare cars. Please check if you are buying a 2.2 model as some have had their 2.2 engines (X5N2) replaced with either a Tagora (9N2), or worse a Chrysler 2-litre (7T2) NOT a 2.2-litre at all! You can check which block is fitted by looking for the letters and numbers cast into it at the top by the bell-housing (but if it has 7T2, check for 9N2 or X5N2 stamped into the block as well usually by the engine number but sometimes near the 7T2 cast numbers). If you are lucky enough to own a good one, you will appreciate it and probably become reluctant to sell it! It is a car so good that even after 30 years it can still cope with modern traffic and conditions, and if it is in good condition and maintained well, can be used as an everyday car, with careful thought. Mostly you would need to keep a few spares which sometimes can take a few days to obtain, so that when required you can have it back on the road immediately. Join the club, which was formed in April 1983, or go to a meeting and see one for yourself. I have had mine from new and would not sell it, and many other owners have had theirs for years too, which should tell you something about the sort of car it is - extremely under-rated even by professionals, as so many simply do not know them at all.
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This was last updated 5th April '21