SUV’s? Crossovers? It all started with this stylish, French car

SUV’s? Crossovers? It all started with this stylish, French car

In Greece, we found this lovely Matra Talbot Rancho. It is now almost forgotten, but this car actually was the first car of a new trend that is now at its peak.

So what are they called nowadays, these high-wheeled cars? SUV’s? Crossovers? The Renault Captur, Volkswagen T-Cross, Ford Kuga all have the high build of the Jeeps and Landrovers of the past and they always have front-wheel drive. But they all descend from this remarkable car from the late 1970s: the Matra Simca Rancho.

The French Simca-factory was in many ways very un-French. It was not a factory that built cars according to a strict concept, like Panhard or Citroën. The cars that Simca built, were the cars that the general public wanted. More than many other car manufacturers, Simca was marketing-driven. That probably explains models like the Aronde of the 1950s and 1960s, with its American styling and European dimensions. Simca was not extremely French like Citroën or Peugeot. In fact, Simca could have been German or English or American as well as it was French.

Hot hatchback
In the 1960s Simca started a new trend, introducing the first middle-class hatchback, the Simca 1100. Sure, Renault had launched the R4 and R 16 before that, but the Simca 1100 fit snugly between those two, it competed with small middle-class cars like the Opel Kadett, the Austin 1100 and the VW Beetle.
Over the years, the Simca 1100 was being built in all sorts of variations: a station wagon, a van, luxury editions and in 1974 the 1100 Ti was even the first hot hatchback in the world. The marketers at Simca had a keen eye for what consumers wanted.

 

 

In the early 1970s, Simca started cooperation with French sportscar manufacturer Matra. The result of this was the Matra Simca Bagheera in 1973, a mid-engined sports car with three front seats, based on technical components of the Simca 1100 Ti. It was the heyday of the sporty coupés in Europe, cars like the Ford Capri and Opel Manta and many others were sold by the thousands. The marketing department of Simca had again done a good job.

Plastic bits
Then in 1977, Simca and Matra shook the motoring world when they introduced this Rancho. It was based on the 1100 pick-up, the high rear bodywork gave it a sturdy appearance, even more so did the plastic bit on the sides and the big black sun visor. The car looked to be an all-terrain car like a Range Rover, for instance, or a Toyota Landcruiser. But in fact, it was mechanically nothing more than a front-wheel drive Simca 1100 with a 1.442 cc engine from the Simca 1308. So it had no fourwheel drive and very smartly, it was advertised not as a ‘tout terrain’ vehicle, but as ‘tout chemin’: it was not fit for all terrain but it could manage all sorts of roads.

The good thing about it not being a full-blown 4×4 was that it was a lot cheaper. So in the end, it was sold in satisfactory numbers throughout Europe. Production went on until 1984, of course by that time Simca was gobbled up by Peugeot and the Simca-brand had been replaced by Talbot.

Rusted bodyparts
Although Simca was pretty good at marketing their cars, they did a poor job building cars that would last. Especially in the 1970’s the quality of the bodywork was not very good. Lots of Simca’s in those days did not live to see their 10th birthday and the result is that there are not many of them left now. Especially the Rancho, with its plastic body parts that would hide rusted bodyparts, has become a rare car.

 

 

So it was quite a surprise to find this very nice example of a Matra Simca Rancho in Greece. It’s from 1980 and by the looks of it, it has been restored nicely. Ok, so the alloy wheels are not the original ones, but wheels can be changed easily. The car is in Gerakas in Greece, the seller is called Nikos, he’s asking EUR 5,000 for the car. If you’re after a stylish icon of the early 1980s, go give him a call.

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