You may not be familiar with Matra, but they’re probably the most important car company you’ve never heard of. Enormously successful on track, Matra won the Formula 1 World Championship in 1969, and the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1972, ’73 and ’74. They designed the first MPV, the first crossover, and – for a while – they made this, the delightfully weird three-seat Bagheera sports car.
Powered by 1.3 or 1.5 litre Simca engines, the lightweight Bagheera was faster than most other European small sports cars of the time, and cheaper too. It was a trend-setter in other ways however, being appalling built to the point of winning the ‘Silver Lemon’ award in 1975 for poorest quality, which when combined with a chassis without any rust protection whatsoever, makes the Bagheera a very rare sight today.
One Bagheera that won’t rust is this excellent Model Team version by previous bloggee monstermatou, who has constructed his entirely from the parts found within the Creator 10220 Volkswagen T1 Camper set. Following his stunning Citroen DS19 built for TLCB’s Lock-Down B-Model competition, Monster’s Matra continues his weird-French-cars-built-from-LEGO-sets theme, and his run of incredible B-Model builds that you can find at his photostream.
There’s more to see of monstermatou’s Matra Bagheera on Flickr via the link above, along with a host of other ace alternates including the aforementioned Citroen, a Morgan built from a Mini, and a Fiat 500 constructed from the same Camper set as this classic French oddball.
Matra may not a be a manufacturer familiar to many of you, but if so they’re one of the greatest companies you’ve never heard of.
Founded in the 1960s Matra have made everything from sports cars to air-to-air missiles, including probably the world’s first crossover and the world’s first MPV (albeit for Renault). However it’s their racing subsidiary, Equipe Matra Sports, that we’re most interested in here.
Equipe Matra Sports produced racing cars for an almost immeasurable number of categories, winning Le Mans three times, five Formula 2 Championships, and both the Drivers and Constructors Formula 1 World Championships in 1969, making them the only team besides Ferrari to win the Championship with a car not built in Britain.
This is that car, the gorgeous Matra MS80, powered by the ubiquitous Ford-Cosworth DFV V8 and run by Ken Tyrrell before he started his own team. In the hands of Jackie Stewart the MS80 won five of the ten races it entered in the ’69 season, winning the Championship by a huge margin, despite the fact that every other race winner that year used the same engine.
This fabulous Model Team replica of the Matra MS80 comes from classic racer extraordinaire Luca Rusconi aka RoscoPC, with a superbly-replicated Cosworth DFV engine, working steering and suspension, and some ace period-correct decals. There’s more to see of Luca’s brilliant Matra MS80 on Flickr via the link above, plus you can read our interview with the builder as part of the Master MOCers Series by clicking here.
Despite being more expensive yet not as good as the hatchback or saloon on which they’re based, demand for crossover vehicles is booming. Several cars claim to be the originator of this pointless trend, including Toyota’s RAV4 and Nissan’s Qashqai, and a few more were derided at the time of their launch and failed miserably – yet if they were sold in today’s market they would probably do rather well, such as Rover’s Streetwise and Pontiac’s Aztek – however it was actually a forgotten little French company that came up with the idea of a normal car with off-road looks first.
Matra’s Rancho was based on the little Simca 1100, but with the addition of fibreglass rear bodywork and faux-4×4 styling, and was built from the mid ’70s to the mid ’80s. In a curious twist of fate Matra then invented another new class of car as the Rancho’s replacement, the world’s first MPV; the Renault Espace.
It was the Espace that gained immediate popularity and spawned a whole new market, with every major motor manufacturer copying the formula by the mid ’90s. However, by the 2010s demand for MPVs was plummeting, to be replaced by – you’ve guessed it – the crossover, the car which the MPV had replaced three decades earlier. Weird.
This colourful Lego version of the late ’70s Matra Rancho comes from TLCB favourite Ralph Savelsberg aka Mad Physicist, and it’s apparently the star of a Dutch TV show called ‘Bassie & Adriaan’. You can see more of Ralph’s Rancho, as well as the neat caravan in tow, at his photostream – click the link above to see more.