Roy's Matra Enthusiasts Website
I'm a retired professional technician who has owned a Murena 2.2 since 1983 when it was new. I believe it is the best practical, yet affordable, mid-engined sports coupé ever produced. Being a 3-seater it can carry two adults and a child or even 3 adults and their luggage, and is a comfortable and usable sports car even today forty years later. Matra Automobiles came about in the early sixties after they took over René Bonnet for whom they had been producing composite bodies for his creations. The Murena was the last of their great sports coupés and ended prematurely as it was too good a competitor to Renault's sports car. It is only now starting to be appreciated for what it is.
MATRA, from Mechanique Aviation TRAction, originally owned by the Floirat family, and specialising in missiles and weaponry, was a large French company with international links, which included Matra Communications, Matra Datavision, Matra Défense, Matra Marconi Space, Matra Hachette, etc. and the former Matra CEO Jean-Luc Lagardère formed the Lagardère Group which encompassed them all. Matra Automobiles was only a small part of this empire, and was closed in March 2003. Initally Pinninfarina acquired the Matra Engineering, Testing and Prototype facilities but later sold their interest to Segula Technologies. For more info. see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matra and the present company Matra MS producing electric solutions for transport.
The car marque:
As a very small company initially, Matra Automobiles only generally produced one model at a time except during the transition from an old model to a new one. They started with the mid-engined sports car taken over from René Bonnet - the Djet/Jet ('62-'68), followed by the M530A ('67-'72) which was the first sports car of their own design. Next came the (Matra-Simca) Bagheera ('73-'80) and the final mid-engined car, the (Talbot-Matra) Murena ('80-'83). The (Matra-Simca) Rancho ('77-'84) was aimed at those that wished for a cheaper alternative to the likes of the Range Rover and did not require its comprehensive off-road facilities. This was achieved by having front wheel drive only, which was considered adequate since most of the owners never really needed the full four wheel drive. It was produced alongside the Bagheera and Murena. Finally Matra achieved relatively large scale production with the highly successful (Renault) Espace ('84-'02) 'one box people carrier' - or MPV as they have become known, but since it only carried the Renault badge, Matra lost its identity. Ironically unlike the Rancho, the Espace was available with full time four wheel drive between 1989 and 1996, but not as an off roader, simply for better on-road traction in poor weather or snow. Owing to the small numbers produced, the Espace Quadra is now rare. The last Matra was the Renault Avantime ('02-'03) a large luxury 4 seater coupé - a rare concept car, based on the last (Matra) Espace III chassis, but unusually taken right through to production.
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What became the Espace was originally penned by Antoine Volanis, who also designed the beautiful Murena. He worked at Matra Automobiles and the prototype was the P18 conceived at the end of the seventies and initially offered to their partners Talbot (previously Simca) France to replace the Rancho. When the new partner PSA turned it down, supposedly owing to a lack of spare funds but definitely foresight, Matra negotiated a contract with Renault instead, to supply the necessary mechanical parts, plus distribution through their dealer network, and the redesigned Matra P23 prototype became the first Renault Espace. The rest, as they say is history! The first three series up to 2002 were all built at Romorantin by Matra. With Renault taking over Espace production themselves for the first time, from 2002, Matra made the Avantime for a short time up to their closure in 2003.
As of July 2023 there are now 50 (known) Matra sports cars legal for the road in the U.K! (however, there are a few others fit but SORN as they have been laid up during the period of Covid and/or winters) Currently: 1 Bonnet Djet, 2 Matra Djet, 3 M530, 10 Bagheera, & 34 Murena; plus 5 MECUK member Avantime coupé, 2 Rancho, and 7 Espace (Series 1 and 2).
Matra in motor racing:
Jean-Luc Lagardère was keen to get Matra into motor racing as that was seen as not only a continuation of the involvement of René Bonnet and his Djets, but because it was seen as a good place to promote his new marque and their road going sports cars. In the sixties, motor racing was dominated by the British and particularly their cars, so he came to the Motor Racing show in London and checked out all the Formula 3 cars and engines there. Matra then set about building their Formula 3 car hopefully to beat them. The wheelbase and track was an average of all the ones he had seen, but Matra used their aero technology to fabricate a better, more rigid chassis, and combined with the best of the Formula 3 engines available, once they got past their initial learning curve, they quickly started to dominate first in Formula 3 and soon afterwards, Formula 2. By 1969 they had won the F1 world championship and by 1972 Le Mans.
Many teams and top drivers wanted the Matra chassis and soon the likes of Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Jacky Ickx, were winning with these cars as well as the French drivers such as Jean-Pierre Beltoise, Henri Pescarolo and François Cevert who had already shown how good they were. The next step was obvious and they wanted a Formula 1 car, but they also wanted the engine to be French. Now Formula 1 was starting to be dominated by the Cosworth V8 in the late sixties and in 1968 Ken Tyrrell needed a chassis for his driver Jackie Stewart but he already knew he wanted a Cosworth V8 to power it. So Matra did a deal with him, they would supply the chassis for his Formula 1 team, whilst they were going to enter their own team using basically the same chassis but with a new Matra V12 engine. The rest is history, and Jackie Stewart became the best driver after the great Jim Clark died in his accident, and Stewart came close to winning the championship in 1968 in Matra's very first season in F1 but a broken wrist in the early part of the year prevented it. However in 1969 with an even better chassis, Jackie Stewart did take the F1 championship and Matra-Cosworth became the constructors champions.
Matra wanted them to use the V12 in 1970 but Stewart was unwilling as he knew it was never likely to beat the Cosworth V8. Even Ferrari, and B.R.M. with all their years of experience were rarely able to do so, because the V12s were thirsty and had to carry more fuel which made them heavier, and with little additional power they were generally at a disadvantage. So Matra continued on their own with the V12 but never really had much success in Formula 1.
However, they also entered endurance racing, and the World Championship for Manufacturers, and slowly as they gained experience and improved the V12 engine, they came to the point where they were able to win not only the championship against the likes of Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, but win the Le Mans 24 hours three years running in 1972, '73 & '74. Having proved themselves, they then withdrew from motor racing whilst at the top. During their ten years ('64 to '74) they won over a third of all the races they entered!
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This website was last updated 15th November 2023