T he career was short, but it left its mark. At the Monaco GP in 1967, the name Matra first appeared on the starting lists of a Grand Prix. After the 1972 season finale in Watkins-Glen, he disappeared again. In between there were 60 missions, nine wins, four pole positions, twelve fastest laps, 155 world championship points and a world championship title.
The memory today: Matra, those were the idiosyncratic shaped cars in the wonderfully shining blue, with an infernally screeching twelve-cylinder engine in the rear. Today, 40 years later, very few people have the best representative of the Matra family in their minds. Maybe because it was a perfectly normal racing car with a Cosworth V8 in the rear.
The Matra MS80 was somewhat out of the ordinary
And that's probably why it was so successful. Jackie Stewart won the driver's title with the French answer to Lotus, Ferrari, Brabham and McLaren. At the same time, the constructors' cup went to the Grande Nation. Stewart's team-mate Jean-Pierre Beltoise finished the 1969 World Cup with 21 points in fifth.
Matra was a career changer. The company, which was founded in 1942, became known for its activities in space travel and armaments. In October 1964, Marcel Chassagny entered Societé Matra Sports in the commercial register in the Paris suburb of Vélizy. Matra became an automobile manufacturer. After quick successes in Formula 3 and Formula 2, race director Jean-Luc Lagardère pushed into Formula 1. Lagardère was an image of today's Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo. Charismatic, elegant, urbane. Head of state Charles de Gaulle was one of his circle of friends. When the head of state asked why a French racing car drives without a French engine, he replied: “Because we have no money to develop an engine.” De Gaulle donated six million francs. With the condition: If you are successful, you have to pay back the money.
Without the slightest experience in engine construction, Matra proceeded fairly pragmatically when developing a concept. What is the most powerful engine in the field? A Ferrari. How many cylinders does Ferrari have? Twelve. So the new engine should have twelve cylinders, and the engine has to be loud. So loud that you remember him. In 1968 the Matra V12 in the MS11 chassis premiered. Because the engine, which initially produced barely more than 400 hp, withIn 1969, the engineers around Georges Martzin allowed themselves a pause for thought and used it in sports car races. The Cosworth V8 was valued at 420 hp at that time. Ken Tyrrell jumped on the Matra bandwagon as early as the Formula 2 days and from 1968 on a private mission used two cars for Jackie Stewart and Johnny Servoz-Gavin. Stewart's runner-up title in 1968 spoke for the qualities of the Matra chassis.
Perfect mix of practitioners and nuts
Pragmatist Tyrrell did not trust the Matra engine and insisted on using the tried and tested Cosworth eight-cylinder engine. This decision was one of the keys to the MS80 project. Jackie Stewart defends the Matra people: “They had good people, but they needed someone like Ken who understood the business and had both feet on the ground. Our team consisted of a perfect mix of practitioners and nuts. ”In principle, Tyrrell already realized Ron Dennis's principle of success back then:
Get the best of everything
“The Cosworth was the best engine, Dunlop was at the height of its tire development, Hewland supplied bulletproof transmissions,” summarizes Stewart. Visually, the third Formula 1 car in the Matra family tree doesn't look much. You only recognize its qualities at second glance. They lie under the blue and white aluminum skin. The MS80 was characterized by its outstanding torsional rigidity. Stewart recalls: “The MS80 was produced using technology that was only used in aircraft at the time. The number of rivets holding the monocoque and the aluminum plates together had been calculated exactly. The type of rivets, their material selected to match. It was therefore the stiffest chassis there was at the time. ”
Since you didn't have to use a safety tank in 1969, Matra chief designer Bernard Boyer managed a trick. Instead of providing the monocoque with a large hole to insert the tank bladder, the fuel was distributed in integrated aluminum chambers around the driver. Dispensing with larger openings gave the aluminum tube additional rigidity. In addition, the engine was used as a load-bearing element based on the model of the Lotus 49. At a time when the suspension travel was almost as large as it is today in an off-road vehicle, a rigid cell was the be-all and end-all. The suspensions were able to do their work without any interference from the chassis. The driver felt every change in the chassis.
“The MS80 was very easy to drive,” confirms Stewart. “I've never had a better racing car in my career.” The concept also included installing the tanks close to the car's center of gravity. That explains the bulges at the level of the cockpit. Stewart: “The tanks were partly behind, partly to the right and left of me in bulges. So I was in the middle of the gasoline.Driving behavior was not affected when the fuel volume decreased because the weight was concentrated on the center of the vehicle. Tyrrell later adopted this idea in his own designs. ”The coolers in the nose were also intended as ballast to make the weight distribution as balanced as possible. At that time, tungsten plates were not used to place the weight where the designer wanted it.
The Matra MS80 weighed 535 kilograms
Matra had also come up with something on the rear axle to improve the car's handling. The brakes were mounted on the inside of the gearbox instead of on the outside of the wheel carriers to reduce the unsprung masses. At 535 kilograms, the Matra MS80 was one of the lightest representatives in the field. Perhaps this was also due to the fact that the French engineers calculated and drew every component on their car instead of using their thumbs like their British colleagues. There was even something like a wind tunnel where small wooden models were tested. You can see it in the details. For example, the partially covered suspension elements of the front suspension, which act like an extra wing. Or the outlet of the water cooler in the bow, which distributed the air specifically around the cockpit. Or the vertical fins on the nose that directed the flow towards the rear wing. In winter, Matra tested two tracks with and without wings, which shows the degree of foresight.
The wings rose into the sky in early 1969. Matra was also infected by it - although not quite as extreme as the competition, but all the more sophisticated. The front wings changed their angle of attack depending on whether the car extended or compressed. The rear fin was mounted on the wheel carriers and was brought into position by means of an electric motor. When braking, the angle of attack increased, the main blade lay flat on the straight. Serious accidents between Jochen Rindt and Graham Hill's two Lotus 49Bs at the Spanish GP stopped the increasingly extreme excesses. At the following Grand Prix in Monaco, the baffles had to be dismantled overnight in protest of the teams. Only wings that were directly connected to the body were allowed.
With three races to go he secures the world championship crown
Matra was best prepared for this hasty change in the regulations. “We had tested without wings every now and then in winter to be prepared for any eventuality,” reveals Stewart. “The loss of grip was of course enormous, but at least we knew how to adjust the car to the new grip conditions. The cars could, for example, be driven with less ground clearance because there were no longer as many kilograms of downforce on the car. ”The Matra MS80 introduced itself appropriately. He won on his debut in Spain. Jackie Stewartdrove up and away with the title. His victory in Monza secured him the World Championship crown three races to go. Then the air was out. In the last three races, the new world champion only saw the checkered flag once. Stewart could actually have afforded to compete in the four-wheel car, but the Scot left it with test drives.
Around the middle of the '69 season, almost all teams started experimenting with all-wheel drive. With the MS84 derived from the MS80, Matra also built its own vehicle, which, however, was based on a tubular frame and not a monocoque. The four-wheel drive came from Ferguson. Despite the theoretical advantages, Stewart remained skeptical, and practice confirmed the master: “Tony Rolt, the man in charge at Ferguson, wanted to urge us to test more with the MS84, but there were too many problems. We started with a 50:50 drive distribution and then put more and more power on the rear axle. The further back we went with it, the better the handling became. We were able to stick with our conventional drive. There were the usual problems: understeer when using power, too high weight. ”
Only championship point for an F1 car with four-wheel drive
Tyrrell provided Johnny Servoz- Gavin for the four-wheel drive project. And the Frenchman was granted the only World Championship point to date for a Formula 1 car in which all four wheels were driven. Servoz-Gavin finished sixth at the Canadian GP. The title win had strengthened Matra boss Lagardère's belief in the capabilities of his troops. Anyone who could build such a good car had to be successful with the engine. A fallacy. The French national car could not win a single Grand Prix. They tried the MS120 series for three years, a few times they were very close (Italy 1971, France 1972), but ultimately the project failed due to the unreliability of the engine, the too soft chassis and the great thirst of the twelve-cylinder resulted in 240 liter tanks and a high takeoff weight. From 1973, Matra concentrated entirely on the sports car world championship. The engine later reappeared in the Ligier, and it was granted three GP victories.
A must for Matra fans
The Matra Museum in Romorantin is at the end of the world. At least if you are traveling from Germany. Roughly towards Orléans, and then 100 kilometers further south. But the trip is worth it. In Romorantin there is a small museum in the pretty town center, where Matra fans get their money's worth. Why in Romorantin? Because the defense company Matra once had a factory there. In the museum, which is open daily from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., with the exception of the MS120B and MS120C types, all Formula 1 Matra, all sports cars, the entire range of engines, formula and formula are displayed2 vehicles. In addition, of course, all the road cars and curious prototypes that were built in the French company