The Bagheera began as the brain child of Phillipe Guedon, who was 39 when the Bagheera was announced, and had become head of Matra's technical department while also being the developer of the Matra 530 racer. When the Bagheera was released, Guedon told journalists that, when he was eight years, he dreamed that one day he would build a car.
Introduced in 1973, the Bagheera fast became a shining example of how to build an exciting and practical sports car out of cheap sedan car components. Underneath the exotic looking body lurked nothing more inspiring than the re-arranged mechanicals of the Simca 1100 and Chrysler Alpine ranges, albeit in a mid-engined configuration.
Even with the 1442 cc Alpine S unit installed, the Bagheera wasn't going to peel the rubber off its tires with acceleration, but with a top speed of 113 mph and a 0-60 mph time of under 11 seconds, it was a brisk enough straight line performer. Allied to its very well engineered and developed chassis, the mid-engined Bagheera became a tremendously quick machine point-to-point, capable of out-stripping all but a few more powerful mid-engined cars.
This excellent performance wasn't gained at the expense of economy. The Bagheera's good power-to-weight ratio (no doubt aided by its reinforced polyester body) and sleek shape helped give close on 30 mpg. The Bagheera's most distinctive feature was its three-abreast seating arrangement. This provided more practical use of available interior space than the conventional two-plus-toothbrush mid-engined designs typical of the era.
What is most suprising is that Matra managed to achieve this without recourse to making the car excessively wide. Like Fiat's X1/9,
Matras down-market supercar seemed to give away only out-and-out performance to the more glamourous products of Modena. In many ways (or at least, what we can deduct from the car reviews of the time), the Bagheera felt like the Lamborghini Urraco on the road, which put it on the same rung as probably the best handling production car made.
When enthusiasts started using the Bagheera in competition it became plainly evident that the car needed more power, and so in 1976 the Bagheera S was launched. Another Simca engine was used, this time the larger capacity 1442cc 4 cylinder unit good for 90hp. Appropriately named the Mark II, the new model required some body modifications to allow the engine transplant, a longer nosecone being required, along with new bumpers. Now able to do the 0-100 km/h dash in just under 12 seconds, the Bagheera was almost starting to perform as good as it looked.
The U8 Bagheera
But enthusiasts were demanding still more power. Chrysler France thought for a while and, instead of spending a few million on designing a new engine for the Bagheera, they simply joined two of these four cylinder engines to get a U8. Not a V8, mind, but a U8 - the two fours were still separate engines. "Very tricky," said M. Jean-Claude Gay, of Chrysler France. "The motors even turn opposite ways and are linked by chain, like that (engine-transmission link) of the Oldsmobile Toronado
." But just as amazing were the very small changes needed to take the Bagheera from an 84 hp car to a 268 bhp (net) tourer. For a start, widening the car was not necessary because the U8 was mounted transversely. However, because of the extra "length" of the U8, the wheelbase was lengthened 14 cm (5.5 inches) to accommodate the mid-mounted engine.
Wheel sizes and shock absorbers were uprated, also, to take the extra power of the U8. Matra made the engines contra-rotating to get around vibration problems as the engines spun faster but fitted a big flywheel to only one of the two banks. The mated engines were held in position by a reinforced alloy casing which also housed the timing chain gear for one bank of the twin fours and the special connecting chain between the two engines. The fan-generator belt pulley on the left engine drove the water pump via a toothed belt. But the engines did not share any mechanicals other than those already mentioned. For instance, each has its own distributor, so no attempt was made to even join the two engines electrically.
The two 1294cc engines were each more highly tuned than the single motor of the "standard" 110 mph Bagheera. The 130 mph Bagheera U8 engines were fed by four twin-throat Solex carburettors. One unusual point of the set up was the fact that the drive shafts were of unequal length because of the offset of the transmission which does not share the engine's oil supply. The motors fed the 268 bhp into a five-speed gearbox with Porsche-type baulk-ring-synchromesh. Suspension of the standard Bagheera was by torsion bars all round and was, of course, all independent. It used a pair of wishbones up front but a Porsche style system of semi-trailing arms was used at the rear.
But rear suspension of the U8 Bagheera was that used on the Matra Formula One car - twin wishbones, trailing links, coil springs enclosing shock absorbers. Front suspension was the same and, in fact, was that used on the little Simca 1100
. There was a torsion bar system with a top and bottom wishbone which, with its mounting structure, enabled strength to be built into the front of the car to meet safety standards. Steering was by rack and pinion and brakes were discs all round. The headlights were pop-up types using vacuum actuation like Lotus
. The tires were different in size from front to rear, something that was becoming common with high priced performance cars of the era, and with around 130 mph for the road version of the U8 Bagheera it was approaching that category. A 185 section front tire and a 205 section rear tire were used. Real air slots ahead of the rear wheels was the giveaway for the U8 Bagheera.
Matra were not the first French car maker to put a couple of engines together – beaten by Citroen with their twin-engined Mehari
which used a pair of 2CV engines driving the ABS plastic off-road vehicle. And the Germans had developed a type of twin-engined version during World War 2 with some of their Kubelwagen Type 181
staff cars having an engine at each end. However the principle of joining both the engines in a sort of V8 form without a common crankshaft and then driving conventionally remained very unique. But there was a noble French heritage - or Italian depending on how you regard the antecedents and original domicile of Ettore Bugatti.
Bugatti apparently took a pair of his four-cylinder engines and put them together, each as a separate motor but the final output being geared together. And in the early 1920's, when General Motors
were yet to become an automotive giant, their Oldsmobile
division pioneered the special chain type link used by Chrysler France-Simca on the Bagheera. The U8 Bagheera - before the fuel crisis - was scheduled to make motor sport appearances and then later go on sale to the public. But in 100 kph Europe, the market for fast cars crashed. It remained as only a prototype.
Inside the Bagheera
Inside the Bagheera, U8 or standard, the three occupants were seated in a row across the vehicle which, at 1,73m (5 ft. 7 ins.) was no wider than the Chrysler 180. "Thin windows and body shell," explained M. Gay. Despite being underpowered, the Bagheera was a success in France. But Chrysler wanted an image car of some speed and consequence, perhaps to take on the Porsche market. So back came Matra with a couple of the engines joined together, these being fed by four twin throat Solex carburettors.
It is such a shame that something of such beauty would be so badly afflicted with rust problems, the all-steel chassis having virtually no rust protection and many less cared for examples making a quick entry to the wreckers yard. Thankfully, with over 47,000 being manufactured, many have survived and enthusiasts of today we are sure will have sorted out any such problems. In 1980 Matra replaced the Bagheera with the Murena, which featured a fully galvanized chassis, larger engines and an even more aerodynamic body.
Matra-Simca Bagheera - Quick Specifications
- Engine: Mid-mounted, water-cooled transversely mounted straight four, slanted at 15 deg to the rear. 76.7 mm (3.02 in) bore x 70 mm (2.76 in) stroke = 1294 cc (79 cu in) 76.7 mm (3.02 in) bore x 78 mm (3.07 in) stroke = 1442cc (88cuin). (S model). Maximum power 84 bhp at 6000 rpm, 90 bhp at 5800 rpm (S); maximum torque 781b ft at 4400 rpm, 88 Ib ft at 3200 rpm (S); maximum engine rpm 6000. Cast-iron cylinder block and light-alloy head. Compression ratio 9.8:1, 9.5:1 (S). 5 main bearings. 2 valves per cylinder operated, via push-rods and rockers, by a single side- mounted camshaft.
- Transmission: Single dry-plate clutch and 4-speed manual gearbox. Ratios 1st 3.906, 2nd 2.315, 3rd 1.524, 4th 1.080, rev 3.773:1. Cylindrical-gear final drive. Ratio 3.706:1.
- Body/chassis: Integral with box-type reinforced platform. 2-door 3-seat coupe.
- Suspension: Front - independent by wishbones, longitudinal torsion bars, an anti-roll bar and telescopic dampers. Rear - independent by swinging longitudinal trailing arms, transverse torsion bars, an anti-roll bar and telescopic dampers.
- Steering: Rack and pinion. Turns from lock to lock 3.25.
- Brakes: Servo-assisted discs.
- Wheels: 5 in x 13 in light-alloy. tires Either 145 or 155HR 13 front, and 185 HR 13 rear.
- Dimensions and Weight: Wheelbase 93.31 in; track - front 54.33 in, rear-56.30 in; length 156.30 in; width 68.11 in; height 46.06 in; ground clearance 5.51 in; dry weight 19511b; turning circle 32.8ft; fuel tank capacity 13.2 gals.
- Performance: Maximum speed 11 5 mph. Acceleration 0-60 mph 10.8 secs.
- Fuel consumption: approximately 26-28mpg (S model).