By on June 21, 2017

Image: 1983 Talbot Matra Ranco, image via KGF Classic Cars

Today’s Rare Ride was inspired directly by this comment on the Question of the Day, where I asked which car brand you’d bring back from the dead if given the chance. Commenter Menlo suggested the oft-forgotten Talbot, and specifically a unique vehicle they used to make.

Now we can all learn about the Matra Rancho.

Image: 1983 Talbot Matra Ranco, image via KGF Classic Cars

First, a short dissertation on branding and business. Matra was a French engineering company that produced cars, bikes, planes, and weapons from 1964 until its closure in 2003. The company branded vehicles under the Matra, Simca, and Talbot marques depending on geography and time of day.

Matra also developed the segment-defining Espace (which then-owner Peugeot declined to make, so the company took it to Renault) as successor to the Rancho we see here. When the hammer came down in 2003, Matra had recently completed one final project: a big MPV which would eventually become everyone’s favorite Renault (speaking of future Rare Rides ideas), the Avantime.

Matra’s automotive arm began to wind down in the early 1990s, after the company was made a part of a larger conglomerate. Matra, Hachette & Lagardère (now known simply as Lagardère) was formed in 1992 and gradually narrowed its focus. Attention moved from engineering pursuits to publishing, travel, sports, and entertainment. You’ll notice cars aren’t on that list. Console yourselves with this photo.

Image: 1983 Talbot Matra Ranco, image via KGF Classic Cars

In production from 1977 through 1984, the Matra-Simca Rancho launched at the beginning of the new personal off-road vehicle market created by the Range Rover. There appears to be a very French suspension access mode on this example, to assist in loading.

Matra took its offering in a different direction, marketing the Rancho as a low-cost Range Rover alternative to the masses. To that end, it was front-drive only. As the Rancho launched in 1977, Simca was owned by Chrysler Europe. Financial woes forced the company to sell the entire division to Peugeot PSA in 1978. At that time, Simca was rebranded as Talbot, and the model became the Talbot Matra Rancho.

Image: 1983 Talbot Matra Ranco, image via KGF Classic Cars

There were a wide range of options for the Rancho. An electric winch, roof racks with spare wheels, or a limited-slip differential were available. There was also a variant with removable fabric panels at the rear, turning the vehicle into an open-air exploring machine. This one has some lovely plaid seats.

Image: 1983 Talbot Matra Ranco, image via KGF Classic Cars

While not equipped on this specific 1983 example, a third row seat was also an option, making this a seven-seat family vehicle.

According to Wikipedia, Matra produced nearly 58,000 Ranchos. While that production figure sounds fairly high, we’re talking about a very old French car, with no examples sold in North America. Learning about this Talbot makes me think we could use a Ford Transit Rancho right about now.

As a side note, KGF Classic Cars has a link on their page to many high quality Flickr images and video of this vehicle – I thoroughly recommend you check it out.

[Images: KGF Classic Cars]

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16 Comments on “Rare Rides: Classic Talbot is a Simca or Matra, and Always a Rancho...”

  • avatar

    Great find. Love seeing these automobile oddities.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Looks like a Range Rover cut off at the knees. Love it. In photos anyway, it’s probably misery to own and operate in the real world and has a serious discrepancy between image and capability. What are the protected spotlights at the base of the windshield for? Am I going deer spotting in my FWD wagon? With the optional winch to pull me out of the shallow sand a Subaru would just fly right through?

  • avatar

    They should have called it the “Bwana.”

  • avatar

    First time commenter – hello everyone. This car has been adapted for wheelchair use. Standard ones have a fold down lower tailgate like a Mk 1 Range Rover and wouldn’t have a ‘dog about to do its business’ look. You’re right that a 1983 model should have a rearward facing third row but this has been sacrificed when the floor was lowered. Our next door neighbours had one of these new in 1981. When they sold it in 1984 it had rust holes around the wiper fittings through to the bulkhead. They loved the practicality but the depreciation and rust (in the front half – the rear half was glass fibre) was horrendous. The bulkhead spotlights weren’t road-legal in the UK, so only worked with the engine off. I guess you could use them when camping for 15 minutes before the battery died…

  • avatar

    Looks more like an early prototype for the first Land Rover Discovery. Maybe it could inspire a Discovery crossover

  • avatar

    “Matra also developed the segment-defining Espace (which then-owner Peugeot declined to make, so the company took it to Renault) as successor to the Rancho we see here.”

    So does that mean I was right and that I did see something like that here in the States?

    Guess not. the espace is/was a more conventional mini-van-looking vehicle.

  • avatar

    I’m glad my comment inspired a nice writeup of the Rancho. The white Rancho in the photos appears to be a special version adapted for wheelchair access. I think the rear compartment design is quite modern for 1977; the same designer also later designed the Espace minivan which also looked quite modern for its time.

    Being from the U.S., I’ve never seen a Rancho in real life, only in photos and as a diecast 1:32 scale Corgi model. I could see these being driven like the crossover vehicles of today for example on dirt roads outside of Tucson for sightseeing among the cacti where the spotlights can come into use.

    Here’s a Rancho featured in a Twisted Sister music video “You can’t stop rock and roll”:

  • avatar

    The Rancho was basically a heavily modified Simca 1100 (which had a brief and unsuccessful career in the US where it was called the Simca 1204).

  • avatar

    Interesting car. I remember seeing it being driven by one of the main characters in a Sophie Marceau film, La Boum. The quirkiness and general styling caught my eye.

    It seems like a fun car, though.

  • avatar

    This is nothing more than a more modern Renault R4 fourgonnette or Citroen 2CV fourgonnette. Not a new concept in Europe and Africa then, if for the body cladding.

  • avatar

    While I don’t generally care for crossovers, I absolutely love the Rancho. I think that’s because I in no way take it seriously.

  • avatar

    I was on a foreign study program in Caen, France (eh oui!) in 1981, and my host family owned a Rancho, along with a Citroen BX “Break” (wagon).

    The Rancho seemed to me at the time to be a great idea – practical room for people and stuff, some pretense of off-road capability, and actually fun to drive. I’ve often thought since then that something like it would have done well in the US market. In many ways, it was a precursor to the flood of SUV/CUVs that followed.

  • avatar
    spreadsheet monkey

    Glad you find KGF’s showroom interesting from your side of the pond.

    KGF sells a few classic Porsches and 1960s/70s British sports cars, but specialises in ultra low mileage mundane cars from the 1980s and 1990s at strong prices.

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