Rancho: The crossover

The Rancho once again emphasised Matra’s innovative spirit; they knew how to make the car stand out and it was manageable and more compact than its “rivals”.

We’ve already talked about Simca several times and in particular have focused on the 1100 model, a medium-sized car produced from 1967 to 1985, also as a commercial van and pickup. This latter variant was used by Matra to develop a new product in the range, which at the time included the Bagheera, the success of which encouraged the Romorantin maker to continue expanding. This time, however, it was not a sporty model but a practical leisure car, with a cheeky spirit and an Off-Road air about it.

In fact, at that time there was an increasing demand for off-road vehicles, and Jean-Luc Lagardère, then the firm’s managing director, commissioned Philippe Guédon to design a car able to best respond to the expanding segment and who, with the help of Bagheera designer Antonis Volanis, created an innovative car which, despite being designed on a restricted budget, still managed to carve out its own niche and achieved success far beyond expectations.

The Rancho, which adopted the name ‘Ranch’ for the Italian market, had its entire redesigned bodywork clad with black plastic panels and had a split rear door made of reinforced polyester as per Matra tradition, and clearly had a close relationship with the Simca 1100 VF2. That could well be because in Romorantin the Pickup version of the Simca compact arrived already assembled, with Matra workers adding, in addition to specific finishes and details, reinforcements to the structure, combined with brand new alloy wheels and a rear passenger compartment mounted on the body with the rear bench resting on the raised floor, making it higher than the front seats. Even the line of the roof between the front and rear seats had a step, camouflaged with a plastic luggage rack. Furthermore it had only two doors, since it was based on the commercial pickup, which was something of a limiting factor for families.

Despite this, the Rancho once again emphasised Matra’s innovative spirit; they knew how to make the car stand out and it was manageable and more compact than its “rivals”. It was definitely not a real off-roader because only the front wheels were driven, which was the only real drawback to the car but did not prevent it from being considered the first example of a crossover car, which years later would become an extremely popular type of car and can be seen daily everywhere today.

As for the mechanicals, as already said it was based on the 1100 FV2, hence it had independent suspension front and rear with torsion bars with the addition of an anti-roll bar at the rear; as for the engine, Matra opted for the 80 bhp 1442 cc Simca 1308 GT engine, which guaranteed the Rancho good performance, although fuel consumption was on the high side, actually attributable to aerodynamics which were not exactly record-breaking!

Although Matra had only planned a small production run of Ranchos it was developed into a range of models, such as a simplified version with easy access, followed by the Grand Raid with more ground-clearance and which was actually fitted with an electric winch, a limited slip differential and additional lights fitted on the windscreen pillars, also fitted to the Rancho X, then finally the Découvrable version with a soft-top which could be removed to leave the rear passenger compartment open. There was also the Rancho AS version with only two seats, sold only on the French and British markets as a truck to save tax.

Initially the Rancho was marketed as a Matra-Simca but later, with the acquisition of the Chrysler European Division by PSA and the subsequent discontinuation of the Simca brand to be replaced by Talbot, it became the Talbot-Matra. Following the change of ownership, production of the car was unaffected and continued until 1984 with over 50,000 examples being sold in total.

As a small curiosity, in 1980 Matra started work on the P18 project to replace the Rancho, but this was later halted by PSA’s top management because they could not provide sufficient funding for such an innovative car, causing the break-up of the relationship between Matra and the Group. However, the Romorantin factory found a valuable ally in Renault and made an agreement with them which meant that Matra would have to stop production of its sports car, the Murena, launched in 1980 as a replacement for the Bagheera, and a competitor for the Alpine, which of course belonged to Renault. After the end of Murena production in 1984, Matra started to wind up Rancho production in preparation for the P18 project, which would ultimately result in the appearance of what is considered the first European MPV, the Renault Espace, but that’s another story.

Text by Tommaso Lai

Translation by Norman Hawkes

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