Today we have part deux of a transatlantic joint feature, the first having been Jobjoris’ delightfully odd and forward-thinking Matra 530 from this morning. My half will focus on its direct descendant, the rather less odd but highly desirable Matra-Simca Bagheera, this car in particular being a facelifted MkII “S” model from 1977.
By 1973 the 530 was showing its age, and Matra was looking to replace it and expand production with a more modern machine. Enter Chrysler France’s Simca, the ubiquitous French automaker, who was interested in a small sports car. Matra would engineer the car, and it would be underpinned by off-the-shelf Simca components. Called the M550 during its gestation and introduced in 1973, the first Bagheera was a tidy coupe following the template set by the 530: Small, lightweight, aerodynamic, and mid-engined.
Initially powered by a 1300cc version of the Simca “Poissy” engine (seen last week in both the Simca Horizon and Matra-Simca Rancho, the Bagheera was also constructed like the 530, with some advancements. It used polyester plastic body panels over a steel frame, and had one defining feature that McLaren would later use in the F1: three abreast seating! Apparently a central driving position was proposed during development, but was deemed cost-prohibitive.
Styling was very much of the time, and reminiscent ( to my eyes) of its contemporaries the Maserati Khamsin, Lamborghini Urraco, and Dino 308 GT4, fine company for a car with such humble roots.
Despite those humble roots, there is a tenuous Le Mans connection here, as the car’s official unveiling was staged at Le Mans in 1973. It could not have been timed better, as Matra’s mighty MS670b won the race that year, its second of three victories. Unfortunately the Bagheera would not enjoy any substantial racing success of its own, though there was apparently a WRC entry at some point, and a Mobil Oil-sponsored economy run, though information is scarce. There are time trial and hillclimb cars out there, but no factory-sanctioned efforts that I was able to find. Shame, because this would have looked amazing with big arches and wings!
You might be wondering where that name came from. Well...
No kidding, the car is named after this cool cat from Rudyard Kipling’s book and the 1967 film The Jungle Book.
And we’re back. Performance was modest, but respectable for the time. This “S” model received a 1442cc engine good for 90hp and 115mph, while returning over 30mpg, a useful thing in the era of the OPEC-induced oil crisis.
The Bagheera MkII (as shown) was introduced in 1976, and ultimately remained in production (with further updates) until 1980 when it was replaced by the Murena. Unfortunately not many remain, as corrosion of their steel structure was rampant. Excess brake dust on the left front wheel, perhaps a dragging caliper...
The Bagheera was praised for spirited handling and a good ride in period, backing up the promise of its looks despite the low power rating. Matra did make an attempt to address that concern with an amazing prototype “U8" engine, mating two of the Poissy fours via a chain between the cranks, shown below.
The car’s basic style would remain, with some changes behind the doors. It would have made a glorious baby supercar, but alas it was not to be. The innovative and quintessentially French engine proved to be very thirsty and its development tested the limits of Chrysler/Simca’s budgetary patience. Fortunately the car still exists, and makes occasional show appearances on the Continent. Look at it!
This model is yet another Altaya, and for another $12 car, it’s great. A couple of small errors here and there, and the pins for the front lights are annoying as ever, but I’m happy.
Have a great weekend, and during the coming
drunken stupor nationalistic fervor BRAAAAAP MURRICAAAAA celebration of America’s own Brexit, don’t forget that France played a very important role in that saga.
For further reading on this car and others, I suggest the excellent Rootes-Chrysler UK site.