Innovative French manufacturer Matra is known for producing some of the most exquisite and successful racing cars to grace European circuits in the 1960s and 1970s. Its road car endeavours included the advanced M530 and stylish Bagheera. Matra was at the cutting edge of design and engineering, despite modest budgets and commercial partner Peugeot losing interest.
Granted, it masterminded the Renault Espace, one of France’s biggest automotive successes, yet its final throw of the dice as an independent manufacturer was the clever little Murena, launched at the 1980 Paris motor show.
It carried over much of the Bagheera’s chassis and three-seats-abreast layout, but addressed the build quality issues that plagued its predecessor. The Murena’s hot-dip galvanised chassis was a world first, and clothing it was a thoroughly modern and extremely slippery body, boasting a drag coefficient of just Cd 0.328.
The grippy and well set-up chassis meant the Murena could handle more power than the 92bhp offered in basic 1.6-litre form. Even with the 2.2-litre Simca engine from the Tagora saloon, the Murena produced only 118bhp, not really good enough for a car that cost around the same as an Alpine A310 or Porsche 924. At least the five-speed gearbox made the most of it.
Matra planned a 180bhp 16-valve ‘4S’ version, but it never made it past Peugeot’s accountants. Increasing financial uncertainty meant a number of more powerful options were vetoed, and the compromise ended up being a factory-developed 142bhp ‘S’ tuning package for the 2.2, with revised camshaft, twin Solex carburettors and a free-flowing exhaust. It was sold first as an aftermarket kit, before becoming a standalone model – finally giving the Murena performance to trouble some of the more established rivals, even if it was shortlived.
Peugeot pulled the plug on the Murena towards the end of 1983, dissolving its partnership with the company shortly after. Only 10,680 Murenas had left the production line, making it a surprisingly scarce sight today.
It remains a bit of a curio, especially in the UK, as only a few hundred were ever sold here (it was left-hand drive only). There are a handful of them around but, unless you want a project, your best bet of finding a sound example is in mainland Europe.
If you like your cars on the unusual side, enjoy answering questions from curious enthusiasts, and have a specific need to carry two passengers, the Murena is difficult to beat – this side of that McLaren, anyway.
THE LOWDOWN PRICES
Murena 1.6 – the entry-level choice £4000-6000
Murena 2.2 – the popular choice £5000-8000
Murena S – the hot option £6000-10,000
LOOK OUT FOR…
The Murena’s 12 body panels are of good-quality GRP. Look out for excessive chipping, crazing or micro-blistering, as a stripdown and respray is usually the only cure. While the panels don’t rust, the chassis does. All Murenas were galvanised from the factory, so they survive better than most, though corrosion can certainly be an issue today.
Items such as tail lights and rear trailing arms are unique, yet parts support for the Murena is surprisingly good. European specialists and the Matra Enthusiasts Club UK can help. Electrical systems are notoriously unreliable, with many of the car’s connectors becoming fragile and corroded over time.
Pop-up headlamps are simple vacuumoperated pods, generally reliable. Most faults can be traced to a leak; raise and lower the lights after the engine has been turned off. Both 1.6- and 2.2-litre engines are simple and reliable. As long as the oil has been changed regularly there’s little to go wrong. The condition of the cooling system is vital however, as overheating can be catastrophic.