French Friday: Ou est Walt Disney?

Today’s subject of my French Friday is one with a very, very, very bad rep. It’s not the first time I’m doing a post on a Matra but this one was the first that really meant Matra would need to step up on it’s game. The Bagheera. And Small Scale Sydney did a French Friday post on this one before so I’ll try to highlight some different aspects.

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After 1500 Matra Djets and 9000 Matra 530’s (still: for another FF!) the production numbers of these Bagheeras (project name “550”) went through the roof: almost 50000 units! And for getting there Matra clearly needed help. So they really teamed up with Simca this time.

Giving access to the huge amount of Simca components Matra chose a 1.3 4-cylinder engine (not just the engine was from Simca), slightly tuned to put out 84 hp. Which wasn’t that bad at the time, especially when you know it was designed to be light, still below 1000kgs. Not Matra Djet-light but it had to carry an extra passenger. So was the Djet a single-seater? Nope, but the Bagheera can carry... Three.

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Three persons, next to each other. At first it was meant to have a central steering position. Like McLaren would implement later in it’s infamous F1. But due to practicality this feature was dropped during the design-period. Two seats next to the driver remained though, from then on just at one side of the driver.

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But why did the Bagheera end up with such a bad reputation? Not your usual French electronics. Nor those engines. Nope. Corrosion. On a car made of polyester? Yes. Because the steel chassis that body was mounted on had almost no protection whatsoever. One of my dad’s friends bought one new and that chassis was effected heavily with corrosion within a few years. It even was awarded with the German Silberne Zitrone, some sort of a Razzies award for bad-to-the-bone cars that’s awarded by the German Autoclub ADAC. But the ADAC usually gave these awards to foreign cars anyway so maybe that’s not such a big deal.

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It made a flying start though. Matra introduced the Bagheera, in yellow, at the 1973 24-Heures du Mans. And prior to this they made sure Simca dealers in France had 500 yellow Bagheeras available for customers to try. To top it all a complete French team of Equippe Matra-Shell won the 1973 edition of Le Mans. With drivers Gérard Larrousse and Henri Pescarolo.

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Internet Bonus points for the one pointing out Pescarolo on the picture above. They drove the Matra MS670B, an epic racecar Edu-Petrolhead already covered in a Concours d’Modella a few months ago. And talking about all this sporty-ness and showing the Bagheera on my track-diorama: you probably know what’s gonna happen next. Because... will it roll?

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Yes it will. Panning FTW!

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Still needs a driver though. As well as I still need my Pan-O-rama, Herr Tinfoil!

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This 1/43 is a “Magazine Models” made by Hachette for the French magazine Auto Plus’ collection of Les Classiques de l’Automobile. It’s base says it’s a 1975 so it could be both the 1.3 it was introduced with or the 1.5 (90hp) presented in 1975. One thing makes it pretty obvious it’s a pre ‘76 is the rear of the car.

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Because in 1976 a major redesign was done. Quite easy to recognize due to it’s totally different rear lights (the ones used on a Simca 1307 as well) and the removal of that black (on my model it’s black, usually it’s chromed) piece of trim just before it’s C-pillar.

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But the best was yet to come. Because in the meanwhile, Matra was working on the Capo di tutti Capi of Bagheeras. Projet 560. A Bagheera with an 8-cylinder engine. A V8? Non. An 8-in-line? Non! A U8. That engine was just two Simca Poissy engines “merged” together, the two crankshafts connected through a chain. The car needed more length to house that engine so it looks slightly different.

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Better if you will. But thanks to some oil-crisis this project was cancelled, leaving us with just 3 prototypes built. Would be nice to know whatever happened to those. I just need one in 1/43, of course.

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Both the model and the 1/1 are fairly cheap. If you try you’ll find a Hachette still in it’s blister for under 10 euros. A 1/1 can be had for just over 1000 euros with a lot of work, and probably not much left of it’s chassis. That entire chassis could be obtained at monsieur Delcourt in Paris, but he retired 10 years ago leaving the world of Matra in shock. Because this guy bought the entire stock of spare-parts when Matra ceased production in 1984. Still parts seem not to be that big a deal (thanks to Simca as well of course).

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And to be honest: the Bagheera is a nice contestant in the rat-race for becoming the next project car after I finish my 2002. It’s French (still have no French car for my self). It’s odd. And there’s a big history of Simca derived cars in my family. Jusque-là: Oui. Le Bagheera a été nommé d’après la panthère de la Jungle Book. Bon Week-End!

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