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MARCH 18, 2003

Jean-Luc Lagardere 1928-2003

Jean-Luc Lagardere, the man who led Matra to World Championship success in Formula 1, has died at the age of 75. Born in the village of Aubiet in the Gers, Lagardere was brought up in Paris from the age of 12 when his father, an aerospace engineer, was transferred north. Lagardere studied as an electrical engineer at Superlec, the nation's top electrical college. He graduated in 1951 and went to work for the aviation company Dassault. In 1963 he quit Dassault to become chief executive of one of its sub-contractors Engins Mecanique Aviation-Traction, known as Matra, which specialised in rocket development.

Matra's boss Marcel Chassagny had some years earlier become involved in funding the racing activities of a local businessman called Rene Bonnet who, in partnership with Charles Deutsch, was building racing and sports cars under the DB name. The partnership broke up in 1961 but Bonnet went on alone, building a Renault-engined car called the Rene Bonnet Djet.

When Lagardere joined Matra in 1963 the Rene Bonnet company was on its last legs. Matra decided to buy what was left and renamed the Djet became known as the Matra Bonnet Djet. In 1964 Lagardere decided that in order to promote sales of this car, Matra should go into automobile racing and ordered engineer Paul Carillo to revamp an old Rene Bonnet Formula 3 design. The Matra M5 was raced in 1965 with Jean-Pierre Beltoise scoring the company's first win at Reims. Beltoise and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud finished 1-2 in the French F3 championship that year. Matra Sports also ran a sports car programme that year with Beltoise and Henri Pescarolo driving.

The following year Matra went into Formula 2 with the MS5 chassis with factory cars for Beltoise and Jo Schlesser and Ken Tyrrell running a pair of cars under the Matra International banner for Jackie Stewart and Jacky Ickx. The cars were successful and in January 1967 Lagardere met Elf boss Jean Prada and it was agreed that Elf would finance the construction of a Matra 3-litre V12 F1 engine, to be designed by former Simca engineer Georges Martin at premises in Velizy. as this was being developed Ickx became the European F2 Champion for Matra.

The Matra V12 engine was ready for the 1968 F1 season and Matra entered Beltoise in a Matra-engined MS11 while Tyrrell ran Stewart in a Ford-engined MS10. Stewart won three races and finished second in the World Championship. Beltoise won the European F2 Championship. There was also success in sportscar racing.

In 1969 Matra International ran Stewart and Beltoise with Cosworth engines. The Scotsman won six races and the World Championship while Beltoise was fifth. Matra won the Constructors' title. In F2 Beltoise, Pescarolo, Stewart and Servoz-Gavin all raced MS7s and Servoz-Gavin won the series. Matra V12-powered sportscars also proved to be very successful with Beltoise and Pescarolo winning the Paris 1000kms. At the end of that season Matra's automobile division went into league with Chrysler France and the cars became known as Matra-Simcas. Matra insisted that Tyrrell use Matra V12 engines in 1970 but the team had other plans and instead designed and built its own car. The Matra factory effort was not a success with just a few podium finishes. In sportscar racing, however, Matra was a success and three victories in the Le Mans 24 Hours would follow in 1972-1973-1974. The Formula 1 programme was gradually wound down and at the end of 1972 was closed.

In 1974 Matra announced that it was quitting the sport and most of the Matra competition department moved to Ligier. The V12 engines continued to be developed throughout the 1970s, winning occasional F1 victories with Jacques Laffite.

In 1974 Lagardere took over the management of the Europe 1 radio station and soon began to develop a media empire. The company continued to produce automobiles but the major thrust was to consolidate the company's aerospace interests, consolidating the French electronics industry. The automobile business, in league with Simca produced the Bagheera, Murena and Rancho models.

In 1977 Lagardere succeeded Marcel Chassagny as the managing-director of Matra but four years later the group was nationalised. Lagardere remained in charge, continuing to build up the empire, buying the publishing houses Hachette and Filipacchi but a change of government enabled him to regain control of the business in 1987. By then Matra Auto has split with Peugeot (which had taken over Simca) and had begun a relationship with Renault, based on Matra's design for a people-mover. This became the Renault Espace, one of the most successful vehicles of the modern era. The company survived a serious crisis in 1992 but re-emerged as the Lagardere Group and in the 1990s became more and more influential in the media and defence sectors. Along the way Matra built a Formula 1 version of the Renault Espace, powered by a Renault V10 engine.

Lagardere engineered the merger between Matra and Aerospatiale en 1998 and followed up by merging that business with Germany's DASA to established EADS, the second largest aerospace company in the world. More recently he took over the media assets of the troubled Vivendi group to make his media empire one of the biggest in Europe, owning titles such as Paris Match, Elle, Car & Driver and variety of radio and television stations.

In his spare time Lagardere was also a great supporter of soccer as the owner of the Racing Club de Paris team throughout the 1980s, under the name Matra Racing.

He was also an important horse breeder having acquired two major stud farms. This resulted in victory in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe - France's biggest horse race - in 1998 with the horse Sagamix. With around 220 racehorses under his control, Lagardere became head of both the national horse racing federation and France Galop, the company which promotes racing.