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MARCH 12, 2003

The end for Matra Automobiles

The last few days have been significant for students of Formula 1 history as it has been announced that Matra is to finally get out of the automobile business. The company has been involved in car making since it acquired the Deutsch-Bonnet company in 1963 and began building the Djet sportscar. The dynamic young chief executive Jean-Luc Lagardere decided to use motorsport to promote sales and Matra Sports entered French Formula 3 in 1965, moving quickly to Formula 2 and in 1967 began work on a V12 Matra F1 engine. Lagardere decided to build both chassis and engines but ironically it was with a Ford-engined Matra chassis that the company enjoyed its major successes with Ken Tyrrell's Matra International team which took Jackie Stewart to the World Championship in 1969.

The French insisted that Tyrrell use a Matra engine in 1970 and so he switched to March chassis and then began building his own cars. The Matra F1 team was never a great success and closed at the end of 1972 but the company's sportscars were highly successful. Matra won the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1972, 1973 and 1974. At the end of that season Matra announced it was withdrawing from the sport and most of the racing department moved over to join the new Ligier F1 team.

Matra's automobile activities had by then been taken over by Chrysler Europe and while the main Matra company strengthened its position in aerospace, its original business, it also diversified into media activities with the purchase of the Hachette publishing company in 1981.

By 1983 Matra Automobiles had become part of Peugeot but Lagardere decided to buy it back and did a deal with Renault to develop the Espace, the first people mover. This was a huge success and in 1998 Matra signed a new deal with Renault to produce the Avantine.This was launched last year but has not been a success and production was scrapped by Renault last week. Production of the Renault Espace has been taken in-house by Renault and the Lagardere Group has now decided to get out of the automobile business and concentrate on its media and aerospace interests. There is talk that the Matra facilities will be sold but they are unlikely to be used for automobile production.