1970s / 1980s / Endangered species / French / Matra / Simca / Talbot

Endangered species: Matra-Simca Rancho

talbot-matra-rancho-5There is a traditional recipe in France called “pain perdu,” a name that literally translates to “lost bread.”  In the old days, it helped families cook a last-minute meal by putting together common ingredients such as sugar, eggs, milk and generally stale bread.  The result is a slightly more elaborate version of toast.

Matra engineer Philippe Guédon called the Matra-Simca Rancho “the pain perdu recipe applied to the automobile.”  He had a point, the car was a cocktail thrown together using miscellaneous bits and pieces pulled out of the Simca parts bin.   Starting with a Simca VF2, a small commercial van, engineers added brakes from the 1100 TI, an 80-horsepower 1.4-liter engine from the 1308 GT and a four-speed manual transmission sourced from the 1307.

Introduced in 1977, the Rancho stood out from the VF2 thanks to rugged features such as plastic cladding on the sides, fog lights integrated into the front bumper, a small bull bar and an impressive roof rack.  Most body panels were crafted out of composite materials in an effort to keep the weight as low as possible and to prevent rust.

Matra wanted the Rancho to be a fun leisure vehicle similar to Land Rover’s Range Rover but that sold for a fraction of the price, and on paper the Rancho succeeded admirably: It cost 35,995 francs in 1978 while a Range Rover started at 60,520 francs.  In reality, the Rancho could get further down a trail than a regular Simca VF2 thanks to its relatively high ground clearance but it was largely limited by its front-wheel drive setup.   Matra built several four-wheel drive prototypes but it never had the money to mass-produce the model.  Peugeots’ messy takeover of Chrysler’s European division and the re-christening of the Rancho as a Talbot-Matra product did little to help the matter.


In the early stages of the project, Matra and Simca hoped to build a total of 25,000 Ranchos.  By the time production ended in late 1983, 56,457 examples had been built, indicating it was a popular car in spite of its poor off-road capacity.

A look at website howmanyleft.co.uk reveals that just four Matra-Simca / Talbot-Matra Ranchos are left  on the road in the United Kingdom.  There are likely several hundred still putting around France but official statistics are not available.

The Orange Drawing
Many called the Rancho the answer to the question no one asked but Matra was well ahead of its time and rugged-looking front-wheel drive crossovers with little or no off-road capacity are some the best-selling new cars today.  The Rancho also spawned an unlikely successor: The Renault Espace.  Matra wanted to replace the Rancho with more spacious vehicle known simply as the “dessin orange,” a name that means “the orange drawing” in French.  A life-size model was never built but both the prototype and the background it was drawn on were orange.

The unnamed prototype previewed the overall silhouette of the first-generation Espace but it only had three doors instead of five in order to keep a visual connection with the Rancho.  Matra proposed the car be launched as a Talbot but Peugeot turned it down because it thought building the vehicle would cost too much.   Matra knocked on Renault’s door and the project quickly spawned the Renault Espace, Europe’s first modern minivan.


11 thoughts on “Endangered species: Matra-Simca Rancho

  1. In my opinion the Matra was a great looking car. I had a big die cast (possibly corgi) toy version of it when I was a kid and always fancied buying one when I got older but sadly they were NLA by the time I went to buy a car. Its styling was well ahead of its time and to be honest would probably sell better now than it did back then. Its boxy good looks would make a pleasant change from the procession of jelly moulds being marketed today as crossover vehicles, many of which are simply the standard model with a 1″ suspension lift. Shame so few are left. Had they been available with a 4WD system, even a simple one like the Panda in your previous post I think they would have sold like hot cakes. From certain angles you can see the Land Rover Discovery and Range Rover styling cues from the ‘Classic’ era of Range Rover production.

      • It could be. Mine was white though. I remember it was quite a large toy car compared to most of mine which were the normal matchbox size but the Rancho was maybe 4″ long?

      • Yep, that’s the one. It’s a 1/32-scale model so about four inches and it was offered in white.

        Bburago made a 1/24 Rancho but it was larger than four inches and I don’t think it ever came in white.

        Here’s a shot of it (not my picture, I don’t have one in my collection)

      • That picture really does show the Land Rover Discovery styling features, the rake and shape of the windscreen and the raised rear roof line. I assume as the Disco came much later that it was the Rancho that should be credited with that feature. Odd how you look at some of these older vehicles like the Rancho and see that they often didn’t sell well in their day because they were simply ahead of their time and how even just a decade later such styling would have been highly popular. I think, given the spiralling cost of fuel that 2WD versions of 4×4’s will become more common now anyway, we already see the 2WD evoque and in a similar vein to the Rancho there have been Skoda models that have added ‘body armour’ and lifted suspension and yet remain purely 2wd and have been very popular.

  2. I first saw this beautiful car in a Dutch TV series called ‘Bassie & Adriaan’.
    For a couple of seasons (during the 70s) it was their car and it I have always associated the Matra Rancho with Bassie & Adriaan ever since.

  3. I had a little Rancho toy car as a kid, and oh my, how did I love this car. I think back than I only the Rancho in real life once some years later (I think it was somewhere on the streets of Ingolstadt) and I am not even sure what it was that I found so fascinating about this car. It was a red SIKU metal toy car, and you could swing up the rear window, and swing down the rear tailgate. I think I was imagining (as a ten year old boy) how to take this car to the country-side, use it as a improvised camper. 🙂

    Here are some image I found on a website:

      • I’m afraid, somehow along the road that toy car was lost to space and time, only to be retained in my memory. 🙂

        One more thing I vividly remember was that in the rear window made from clear plastic, there was the silhouette of the windscreen wiper. It was really a nicely made toy.

  4. I also had the Corgi Rancho, but in bright green. It had great detail and was more accurate than some of Corgi’s efforts. Ronan’s model’s bent aerial brought back memories. One of my favourite toy cars as our next door neighbour had a real one – albeit in a more military shade of green. I’m surprised there are as many as four left in the UK. They were very expensive new hence quite rare, and rusted horrendously. When selling it on after two years from new our neighbours had to get the scuttle repaired as it had already rusted through. We all thought it was a fantastic idea how they bungee-corded the baby’s carry cot to the parcel shelf as they could still fit three other children and two dogs in without any problem. Safety first!

  5. Pingback: 30 years ago: Renault introduces the Espace | Ran When Parked

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