Three front row seats

The new coupé did not offer four seats like the 530, the engineers abandoning that idea after the problems they had encountered with its design, and also discarded the classic but limiting two-seats, choosing an original solution of three seats in a single row.

By the end of the 1960s Matra had gained an excellent reputation thanks to its numerous successes in competitive sport. The same could not be said of its sales, its production model of the time being the M530. That car, thanks to some brave solutions and its odd design, had been a heavy flop. Despite this, Romorantin’s marque was thinking of a successor, this time turning to an ally for help: Simca, then already owned by Chrysler. The M550 project thus came about, trying to keep costs to an absolute minimum without renouncing the innovative solutions typical of the marque, such as glass-fibre bodywork.

The most significant car in Matra’s history as a car maker was being born, aiming once again to innovate and reflect the panorama of French sport. The new coupé did not offer four seats like the 530, the engineers abandoning that idea after the problems they had encountered with its design, and also discarded the classic but limiting two-seats, choosing an original solution of three seats in a single row. This solution made the Bagheera unique in its segment, therefore original, like its name, taken from the panther in Rudyard Kipoling’s Jungle Book. The car’s layout included the Simca 1300 (1294 cc) engine borrowed from the 1100 Ti with power increased from 82 to 84 bhp, mounted transversely in the middle, in between the seats and the rear axle, just like that adopted by Lamborghini for the Miura and, subsequently, by Fiat for the X1/9. The gearbox had four speeds, while the suspension, with telescopic hydraulic shock absorbers was independent with deformable A-arms and longitudinal torsion bars at the front and trailing arms with horizontal transverse torsion bars at the rear; anti-roll bars were fitted front and rear. This layout meant all wheels were independently sprung, with A-arms at the front and transverse torsion bars at the rear. Disc brakes were fitted on all four wheels and the structure of the car consisted of a steel load-bearing chassis on to which glass-fibre body panels were fitted.

Launch took place in 1973 and the car was available with two specifications: basic and more luxurious, the choice for the majority of buyers. The Bagheera was instantly recognised for its sporty lines and space for three people plus luggage. It was highly praised for the good quality of its finish and the competitive price, which contributed towards its rapid sales, 10,000 examples already being built in its first year. There were also criticisms regarding the quality of its body, however, which tended to rust and was responsible for the small number of cars which have survived. The engine was also considered inadequate for the performance it offered, pushing Matra engineers to develop the M560 project by joining two 1294 cc engines together to create a 2588 cc V8 version with extended wheelbase, developing 169 bhp which guaranteed almost 240 km/h top speed. This version was called the U8 after the characteristic shape of its engine, but thanks the oil crisis and the arrival of a new Simca engine fitted to the Simca 1308 GT the project was shelved after two prototypes had been built.

Just the new 90 bhp 1442 cc engine, fitted from 1975 in the new Bagheera S, appeared, finally offering more sporty performance with a maximum speed of 190 km/h. This different set-up from the normal version can be identified by the fake air intake on the bonnet and two-colour alloy wheels. In 1976 an updated version of the Bagheera appeared, also designed by Antoine Volanis, who was responsible for Matra design and had already penned the original shape. Also introduced on this version were front and rear wraparound bumpers, new rear lights borrowed from the Simca 1307 and a strip between the rear lights bearing the Matra-Simca script. The side windows were also modified with larger ones at the rear. Mechanically the 1294 cc engine remained unchanged, producing 84 bhp, as well as the 90 bhp 1400 cc engine. The interior was also completely redesigned. In 1977 the Bagheera X was introduced, characterised by extra equipment over the S and which replaced the Courrèges version with its white bodywork and unique interior, available since 1974.

The following year, with the acquisition of Chrysler France by the PSA Group the Simca marque was phased out and the glorious Talbot marque was dusted off (For this topic Click HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE), and applied to all former Simca models, hence the Bagheera became a Talbot-Matra. In 1979 production of the 1294 cc version came to an end, only the S as the base model and the X remaining. Production of the Bagheera ended finally in 1980, by which time a total of 47,802 examples had been built in the seven years of its life.

Text by Tommaso Lai

Translation by Norman Hawkes

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