Even among car enthusiast Matra is an obscure brand. Of course the victories in both Formula 1 and sport car racing made the brand famous. The road cars in contrast are almost confidential. They were always in the shadows of Alpines and other Porsches.
Take me for example. I knew the blue racers with the screaming V12, the Rancho that should have warn us about the flood of SUV, the really useful Renault Espace and the infamous Avantime. In another way, until recently I barely knew anything about the sport car made by Matra, the Djet, 530, bagheera and Murena.
My first real look at those cars was actually an accident and the shortest test drive ever. Thus while looking for a sport car that would work for the 3 of us I came across a Talbot Murena. Like the McLaren F1 the Murena can seat 3 persons and therefore deserved a look. Unfortunately my head was hitting the roof. Consequently, the little slice of cheese with popup headlights was out of the picture. Nevertheless, the weird car planted a little seed in my head as it was actually wonderful. So, if the idea of driving a Murena was shelved, an interest for the little cars from Romorantin was born.
As result today I appreciate the quirky Matras and see them as an alternative to the more celebrated Alpine and other Venturi. Hence it was a delight to see two of them on the track at Loheac.
Not yet a missile but a Djet
The first “real” road going Matra was the 530. However, the odd Ford powered Air-to-Air missile was preceded by the Djet. Introduced in 1961 the DB Djet was powered by the ubiquitous Renault based Gordini 4 cylinder. Light and slippery (Cx=0,25) the Djet made good use of the small engine mounted in the middle.
In 1964 in order to diversify its portfolio and spread its name, Matra bought the Automobiles René Bonnet and the Djet. Little evolutions were made until the end of production in 1968. Around 1500 Djet were built and today the Djet is a more affordable option to the Alpine A110. Especially considering that the two cars share the same engine and philosophy and that the Djet is actually rarer and was more expensive when new.
The owner of this weathered Djet 6 bought it few years ago as the Berlinette were already over his budget. Today he enjoys it with his wife on the track but mainly on the road and few rallies.
It was a real treat to see the old girl battling with the hot hatches. So thank you Miss and Mister for keeping this beauty on track!
The Jet powered Murena
Used to introduce the missile manufacture into the sport car market the Matra Jet was supplanted by the 530. Named after an actual missile, “La Voiture des Copains” (the Friends’ car) targeted the youth market. Too expensive it failed to find its customers. In 1973 the Bagheera succeed to the 530 and in 1980 the already mentioned Murena finally closed Matra’s line of sports car.
Both the Bagheera and the Murena were 3 seaters and powered by Simca’s Poissy engines. In 1979, Peugeot took over Simca-Chrysler that became Talbot. Thus the Murena was powered by either an entry level 1,6L (92hp) engine or a “big” 2,2L (118hp) lump.
The cars were not so slow, 0 to 100km/h in 11,2s (1.6l) and 9,6s (2.2l), but they could not really capitalise on the brand’s motorsport successes. However thanks to a good chassis the balance and handling were good and make them great on the twisty roads.
In 1981 a performance package was available from the dealer pushing the power of the 2.2l engine to 142hp. Unfortunately the performance remained behind those of Porsche and Alpine limited until today the car sex-appeal.
A last prototype, the Murena 4S, was proposed but unfortunately rejected by Peugeot. With a 16 valves fuel injected evolution of 2.2l engine, a revised body that improved both cooling and high-speed manners, the Murena could have hold on against the Porsche 924 Turbo of its days.
Then you may have realized that a little Devil was showing its valve cover in this Murena. The classic trumpet exhaust may first trump you. A classic Gordini engine has found its way back into a Matra? a turbo maybe?
No, this Murena is powered by the jet manufacturer Honda making it a legitimate candidate for the “road missile” moniker.
Unfortunately I could not speak with the owner of this Vtec powered car. But it raised again my interest into Matras. So I am now dreaming of small bucket seat, gurney bubble and other tall guy mods. Those dreams were even recently refuelled by the vision of race breed Bagheera (Vintage Racers N°25 – September/October 2018) and Murena.
Maybe one day I will find a way to enjoy Matras other than behind the camera. At least, I should make a tour of the museum.