Frans’ Matra In New Zealand

It has been some time since I send something in from here Down Under so the only news I have is about the new baby in the family, a Matra.

Not many people know the history of Matra so as a brief introduction, this is how it started.

There was a Frenchman called Rene Bonnet that was an excellent engineer with excellent ideas and with absolutely no financial sense. This is early 1960s and his thoughts to himself was that if the best handling cars were mid-engined, (the start of mid-engine F1 Lotuses ala Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jack Brabham etc,) then why can't I take a F1 car and put a body over it? So he did. That was the start and very first production mid-engine car ever. The RB Djet.

The cars built were revolutionary but as said before, soon he was in financial difficulty with Matra were he rented his factory space and had Matra produce his bodies for him. Matra is an aeronautics company. Instead of closing him down, they took his business over in 1964 and continued the production of these cars although it was now called the Matra Djet.

He used anything he could lay his hands on for a good price. That is why there are a lot of Renault, Peugeot, Citroen and Simca parts in this car. A lot was well thought and well used like the Caravelle boot lid catch used as the door catch/handle. The first RBs were powered by the Dauphine motors and then by R8 motors. When Matra took over the 1100 Gordini motors became available that was used in the Matra Djet 5S. Eventually the 1255 Gordini motors were on the market and they were used in the Matra Jet 6. Production of the Djet/Jet series then ended in 1968. With the new Matra model, the 530, Renault withdrew their support and no more engines were supplied to Matra. They decided to continue support to the Alpine A110 because of Jean Redele's involvement with Renault.

That is where the NZ car comes in. It is one of the last, 1968 model, Jet 6s produced with a 1255 Gordini motor and chassis number 139 of 222 made in 1967 and 1968. Bought from a guy in South Africa, it arrived in NZ in May 2012. We, Jacques(my son) and myself then decided to do a complete restoration on the car from wheels to chassis to body. It was stripped to bare bones. Not a single part on the car was left intact.

 First the chassis was stripped until there wasn't a bolt or nut in place. We were pleasantly surprised about the condition of the chassis. Not a spot of rust to be seen. We took it down to the sandblaster and he cleaned it very thoroughly and sprayed a special 3 pack coating on. Then it had to stand for 6weeks while this coating cured. During this curing process it etches itself into the metal. It was a professional job. That was the easy part and all done. The previous owners attempted to convert the car to a right hand drive. Because there was only one right hand drive in the world (specially made for the Marquee in England) this one had to be converted back to left-hand drive. A friend here in NZ imported a R8S from Mexico but when it arrived he found that it was rotten with rust. So that meant that I became the lucky owner of a left hand drive rack and pinion. That was cleaned and bead blasted and coated with a clear coat. Then I stripped it and cleaned and reconditioned that to be equal to a brand new item.

All the hubs were stripped and cleaned. New wheel bearings fitted to all 4 wheels and the rear discs, same as R8, were sorted and the best ones taken in to be skimmed. New kits in the calipers completed the rears. The front brakes on this car come from a R16. These were stripped, cleaned, overhauled and skimmed. Brand new condition as well.

 I removed the gauges from the dash, same as Gordini gauges, although this car had 5.....a water temperature, oil temperature, oil pressure, fuel and battery gauge. The oil pressure gauge was missing so that was bought from Ebay. I stripped the gauges and cleaned them, painted the pointers with a white that I mixed until I had the same white as the printed letters and got new bezel rings that were modified and fitted because they are actually Smiths bezel rings.

Then the engine got its turn. I stripped it down and found many serious mistakes. It was so bad that I discarded the block and built a complete new engine using only the cylinder head. That was very bad as well. The exhaust ports were enlarged to an unbelievable dimension. That is something that should never be done, MHO, because the velocity of the gases is slowed down and then it can't assist in the scavenging of burnt gas. I started the repair on that by machining the ports so that they were parallel again and turned inserts from aluminium bar to the original ID and pressed them into the newly machined parallel ports. I made a cam timing adjustment adapter and set the valve timing to my liking when I assembled the motor. Some baffles were made in the sump for preventing oil surge when some brisk driving was needed.

  All the chassis components were put back onto the chassis and it advanced to such an extent that it is now in rolling state again. The next step is to have the sunroof closed up because this car never came out with a sunroof. Due to the wonders of the www. I managed to make contact with the original owner. An old man in his eighties but still with a sharp mind and memory. He bought the car in 1968 and went to South Africa in 1969 for work taking the Matra with. He used it until 1979 when he returned to Germany and sold the car in ZA. He sent me pictures of the car when he bought it and told me some of the history. He said that the car was registered in Kempton Park, a small little town on the Eastern side of Johannesburg. ☺ When the fibre glass work is completed the body will go to the spray painters where the final colour will be silver with dark navy blue stripes over it.

There is still a lot of work to be done but it will be worth it. The car has already been in a classic car magazine in this unfinished state and a full article will be done when it is finished.