Many manufacturers boast of having been innovators, while the French Matra is content to define itself as a “forge of original solutions”. And from the three-seater Murena to the Renault Espace (yes, the initial project is theirs, like the all too futuristic one of the Avantime) has undoubtedly demonstrated it, even if perhaps the most brilliant idea of all was the Rancho, a truly multipurpose different invented in the mid-1970s.
The starting point was actually offered by the market itself: at the top of Matra the growing public interest in off-road vehicles, a sector at the time mainly represented by very capable 4x4s but also expensive such as Land Rovers and Range Rovers or, at the on the contrary, by ingenious but slightly too essential small cars like Citroën Mehari. Something was therefore needed that was halfway, versatile but also accessible.
Son of a pickup truck
The desire to contain development and production costs has meant that the volcanic French house opted for a two-wheel drive model built starting from a pre-existing base. The choice fell on a model of the compatriot Simca, with whom Matra had already collaborated for several years, the 1100 in the pick up variant, which had the right characteristics for a not too expensive transformation.
On the frame, suitably reinforced and lengthened, a high and spacious body was set up designed by Antonis Volanis (author of the Bagheera) and made of plastic material, at the time a sort of specialty for Matra who had already used it for several other models. The structure and many body parts and mechanics remained those of the 1100 with the exception of the engine, replaced with the more recent and powerful 1.5 of the 1308 GT.
SUV, wagon e camper
Launched in 1977 with its debut at the Geneva Motor Show, Rancho had decidedly unique characteristics: 4.32 meters long but with only two doors, a choice always due to the structure of the base model, it was characterized by the generous glazing of the rear area, the split tailgate in two parts with rear window that can be opened upwards and lower flap and the sofa that converts into a bed which made it a multi-role vehicle suitable for camping when needed.
The engine, slightly weakened compared to the version mounted on the Simca GT (from 85 to 80 HP), was combined with a 4-speed gearbox with short ratios to make better use of the torque. Which, combined with the ground clearance, the independent torsion bar suspension (long tested with tests across different terrains and climates) and the sculpted tires, made the Ranchi able to move with a certain ease off the asphalt.
Those who wanted to make the most of this declination could opt for the Grand Raid set-up, which was distinguished by the spare wheel on the roof, the additional lights and the electric winch. In addition, there was the possibility of having a self-locking differential fitted.
A success, but not for everyone
Overall Rancho was produced until 1984 in over 55,000 units, initially branded Matra-Simca and from mid-1979 Talbot-Matra. For the company it was the best commercial success recorded up to that moment, even if the reception was not uniform: it was highly appreciated in France, in other markets including the Italian one it had much less following.
The few specimens still circulating in our country are jealously preserved by enthusiasts and admirers of the Matra brand, and currently finding one for sale is rather difficult. If this happens, for a well-preserved model the reference price is around 4,500 euros.
Although it did not have a direct heir (Matra’s next “work” will turn out to be Espace), Rancho was taken as an example for several other models, first of all Land Rover Discovery, whose debut dates back to 1989.
Source: Motor1.com Italia – News by it.motor1.com.
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