Whatever happened to the Talbot Matra Rancho

It may not seem like it now, but the Talbot Matro Rancho was one of the most pioneering cars of the 20th Century. No seriously, it was.

If at first glance the Rancho looks rather like a Simca 1100 on stilts with a glass box bolted to the rear end, that’s because it effectively is. Originally badged as a Simca, the company took the 1100 pick-up, lengthened the chassis and produced a body made from polyester and glass fibre. OK, so even then, it was no looker and it had all the aerodynamics of Rik Waller wearing a chicken house, but it has a certain level of charm.

Talbot Matra Simca Rancho
The perfect sauce for the Berni steakhouse

When launched in 1977, the car was so far removed from the average workaday British saloon car that it was initially met with confusion. Let’s face it, the name Matra-Simca Rancho, (as it was originally called), doesn’t exactly roll off the tonque. Speaking of which, further confusion arose when many people believed that the Matra Rancho was an exciting new foreign sauce available at their local Berni steakhouse. The Range Rover never had such a problem.

Similarly, the Range Rover never had a problem in the off-road department. Unfortunately, although the Rancho looked rugged with its plastic skirts, high stance and additional lighting, the furthest this car could manage off-road would be mounting the pavement along the Kings Road. Additionally, the 1.4 litre, 80 bhp engine ensured that the Rancho wasn’t going to win a traffic light grand prix, even against the slowest of opponents. Oh and did I mention, this was front-wheel drive only, so very much all show and no go.

Amazingly, some 58,000 Ranchos were sold until production stopped in 1984. During that time, special editions were released, including the Grand Raid, which had a roof mounted spare wheel and winch. This latter addition is a little surprising. Imagine the look of horror on the face of the Land Rover Series III owner as a Rancho turns up to rescue him from a gully or crevice. The Landy’s owner would be packing his holdall and hiking back to the nearest pub within minutes.

It is unclear how many Ranchos are left on Britain’s roads today. Like the Matchbox Superkings model I had when I still wore shorts, many have disintegrated into nothing. I have a hunch that many Ranchos can be found at the bottom of rivers and valleys across the nation, when owners realised that their half-price Range Rover also had half the amount of talent.

But let’s not forget that the Rancho really did pave the way for the SUV sector and in many ways the MPV sector too. It may look like a Playmobil toy and probably had as much durability as one, but with an optional 7-seat configuration, it effectively opened up a market for the Espace. It was Matra who designed the now familiar MPV which would have been badged as a Peugeot or Citroen had the PSA Group taken a punt on the “expensive and risky” design. Renault took up the baton and the rest is history. So when you’re sat behind an Espace on the way into the office tomorrow, spare a thought for the Rancho.

Finally, it is at this point that I normally trawl the archives for an original TV advertisement for the car in question. Alas, no ads have been forthcoming, so if you know of any, please let Petrolblog know. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this rather surreal video of Petrolblog favourite, Johnny Mathis, taking his beloved Rancho on a tour of rural France whilst simultaneously checking to see if is headlights are still working. Thanks for the memories Johnny.

Thanks to Marbru68 for the video.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

37 comments

  1. March 16, 2010
    James Clark

    man, I had a toy one of these when I was about eight and was transfixed by them for ages (although I didn’t really know what they were). I thought they were some exotic, tough, foreign thing suited to Australian deserts and so on. Mind you, that didn’t stop me shooting it with an air rifle, of course.

    Reply
    • March 16, 2010
      MajorGav

      If you had the same as me, it was the Matchbox Superkings. The one with the ridiculously bouncy suspension. Much like the real thing. Allegedly.

      Reply
  2. March 18, 2010
    Darren Leslie

    Since I also had a Matchbox version, I can only assume that they sold many more toy examples than the real thing.

    Reply
  3. September 22, 2011
    David Milloy

    A small correction: Simca didn’t build the Rancho. They did, as you rightly point out, supply the chassis and running gear, but it was assembled at Matra’s Romorantin factory, where the M530, Bagheera, Murena, Espace (series 1 to 3) and Avantime were also built.

    A common misconception, which you’ve not made but is worth pointing out anyway, is that Simca (or, to be more accurate, Chrysler Europe) owned Matra. They didn’t. Rather, they were business partners from (I think) 1969 until Peugeot’s purchase of Chrysler Europe in 1978/9. After that, Peugeot-Talbot and Matra formed a joint venture company: Matra Automobile, which lasted a further three years.The Simca marque ceased to exist in 1980, hence the change of moniker from Matra-Simca to Talbot-Matra. Now I think of it, I’m pretty sure that the Rancho was, at least in some markets and for a short time, known simply as the Matra Rancho.

    None of the Rancho variants or special editions, which included the AS (a van version with no rear seats), the Midnight (black with red badging) or the X (which had a plusher interior) were ever sold in the UK. The Grand Raid – great name, don’t you think – was available with a limited;slip differential as an option: the wonderfully named ‘Antibog’. ,

    More interestingly, perhaps, a convertible version was available: the Rancho Decouvrable – also never marketed in the UK. The Decouvrable featured a canvas and perspex assembly that covered the whole rear section of the vehicle; the driver and front seat passenger were, alas, unable to enjoy al fresco motoring, as the Simca 1100 cab assembly remained in place.

    As for the styling, one of Matra’s senior executives, Phillipe Guedon, apparently stated around the time of the Rancho’s launch that one wouldn’t expect a pair of jeans to have the same cut as a pair of trousers one would wear to a formal dinner. Still, like it or not, the Rancho’s styling seems to have influenced the designer(s) of the original Land Rover Discovery. Thankfully, though, Land Rover weren’t persuaded to go down the FWD route as well.

    Reply
    • September 22, 2011
      MajorGav

      Thanks for the clarification. I’ve amended the post to suit. Well, I removed two words.

      It has to be said, the convertible version is an object of pure joy. Just look at it: http://www.rootes-chrysler.co.uk/images/thecars/devrancho_02.jpg

      I’m loving the knowledge that you’re bringing to the comments section of PetrolBlog. With your experience and genuinely brilliant observations, I think you should have a regular column!

      Reply
      • September 22, 2011
        David Milloy

        There is a lovingly cared for Rancho Decouvrable in the Southampton area. The chap that owns it also owns an equally nice Rancho that he’s uprated to Grand Raid spec, including Antibog. I’ll see if I can find some photos of it.

        Thanks for the comments. I’m really enjoying this site – just wish I’d found it sooner. It would be a pleasure to contribute a column to it.

        Reply
        • September 23, 2011
          MajorGav

          Two Ranchos? In Southampton? I must track them down! 😉

          Glad you like the site. With no promotional budget, it takes time for people to find it. Can’t believe it has been going since Feb 2010 now! Drop me a line via email if you like, it would be good to sort out a regular feature. I have a feeling you have some PetrolBlog-friendly content up your sleeve!

          Reply
  4. June 6, 2012
    A. Arnold

    I loved my Rancho, which I had during the 80s – a fantastic car for a family of 5, + dog, and for camping holidays………haven’t seen one for ever!

    Reply
    • June 6, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Join the club. Seeing one these days is an event in itself!

      Reply
  5. September 20, 2012
    Barney Latham

    I learnt to drive in one. I was trying to remember what it was having forgotten the name. Took ages and eventually found it thank to your site. Thank you.

    Reply
    • September 20, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      No problem!

      What an epic car to learn to drive in! You weren’t tempted to buy one were you?

      Reply
  6. October 25, 2012
    Roy

    A quick search would have told you there is a Matra club in the U.K. We have been around since 1983. Clive is the owner of the two Rancho in the Southampton area, and has been a club member and our President for years. We have a number of good Rancho in the club, and three were at our last meeting in the Cheltenham area on the 7th October. Clive’s Rancho have appeared in a number of the Classic Car magazines over the years, and one or two fairly recently. The Decouvrable is about to appear in another article soon as they have just done the photo shoot.

    Reply
  7. October 25, 2012
    Roy

    Oh one thing I forgot, it was the Rancho 35th anniversary earlier this year and they had a large meeting in Romorantin, France, the home of Matra Automobiles (now closed unfortunately) where there was a huge gathering of Rancho.

    Reply
  8. December 11, 2012
    dave

    i saw one of these today in Aylesbury Bucks, Was only thinking to myself when was the last time i saw one of those?

    Reply
    • December 11, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Now THAT’S something I’d liked to have seen. What kind of condition was it in?

      Reply
  9. March 3, 2013
    wendell sowerby

    hi gavin i have one ive hade 3 and have salvaged parts to make a decent one .the one ive gotis a 1981 chassis did a lot of welding replaced bonnet wings doors tailgate all outer trim lights new interior i had parts off other 2 i had stripped still got all spare parts full set of glass seats doors interiors dash clocks loads of other bits. full respray in red .
    after100 s of hours restoration in june 2000 took it for mot .guess what it passed mission accomplished . put it in garage looking forward to get it on road i needed some joy after 2 years of getting it to this stage . it never happened its been stored 13 years i have no idea how many left in uk now 5years ago read in a classic car mag 9 were currently on the road i think the wont be that many now i dont think ill get it on road now must sell its too good to scrap might see what its worth so gavin one day u just might see one again
    regards mr wendell

    Reply
  10. August 17, 2013
    Roger Spriggs

    Hi I am an owner of a red Talbot Matra Rancho still use regularly
    bought it in 1978 has been a great family car, love it
    Roger Spriggs

    Reply
    • August 17, 2013
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Wow! You bought it in 1978 and still have it? That’s amazing.

      Any pics of the said beast?

      Reply
  11. September 9, 2013
    Adam

    Fantastic, I was just thinking about my fathers Matra Rancho, and then found this. I have very fond memories of them, we went on a static caravan holiday near Alicante, drove all the way down from Newcastle. Remember getting within a few miles of the campsite and we were nearly out of fuel when my dad found a tiny rural petrol station to fill up at, we then got about two miles down the road and the car started playing up, coughing and popping eventually we got to the site, where my dad took off the carb and cleaned out a load of dirt, and then drained the tank, which was dirty as well, the station had sold us petrol flavoured mud!
    Our car was almost identical to the one at the top of this article, but had Talbot Matra on the bonnet,and lights each side of the windscreen, it’s Registration was VRG 39T and was last seen in Sunderland in the late 80’s.

    Reply
    • September 10, 2013
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      I just love stories like this. It’s the kind of stuff which makes PetrolBlog what it is.

      To be fair, a trip from Newcastle to Alicante would have been a stern test for many cars, especially back then. And to think it was only a tank of dodgy fuel that led to its breakdown…

      As for the lights – yep, I remember the roof-mounted spotlights. I think my Matchbox Superkings model had them fitted!

      Reply
  12. March 8, 2014
    Chris

    To see my two Talbot Matra rancho Decouvrable and Talbot Matra Rancho Grand Raid:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rancho_decouvrable/9235598531/

    Reply
    • March 11, 2014
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Oh wow. That’s the single most impressive photo I’ve seen on the internet this year.

      Not one, but two Ranchos. How long have you owned them?

      Reply
      • March 11, 2014
        Chris

        Hi Garvin,

        I own the cars now 2 years. But it took me 5 years of finding them.
        The Decouvrable is brand new and never restored. The Grand Raid is compleet restored and is snow and rain proof.

        Reply
        • April 12, 2014
          Andy

          Glad to see some of these old birds are still on the road. I had one (7 seater) in approx. 1990. Kids used to love the rear facing seats. I loved the comfy armchair front seats. I recall a trip to Yarmouth from Bradford with me, wife, 5 kids, fortnight’s luggage and a dinghy on the chunky carrier/rack above the cabin. Unfortunately sold it when I got a Peugeot 309 company car!! I keep looking whistfully on ebay to see if one comes up but I fear it will be a long forlorn search.
          Got to say we all loved our Talbot Matra Rancho. Will not hear a bad word said about them (whether true or not!)

          Reply
  13. June 12, 2014
    Craig

    The Matra rancho was essentially a pile of shit but as a concept it was years ahead of its time. I would love to see a new and improved version of this car on the road and would probably buy one

    Reply
  14. June 25, 2014
    Chris

    If you want to see some more detail photo’s of a Talbot Rancho Decouvrable and a Talbot Rancho Grand Raid:
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/rancho_decouvrable

    Reply
    • July 2, 2014
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Superb.

      Those wheels – awesome!

      Reply
  15. July 2, 2014
    Dave

    I worked in the ambulance service in the 80s. Just after the blizzards in 1982 our fleet manager was told to buy some 4x4s. He got a land Rover for the ambulance service (good but not enough). He got a fleet of Fiat Panda 4x4s for the district nurses which worked well (good). He also got a Rancho for the ambulance service as a response vehicle (fail). It only lasted a few years before being sold off having only been used as staff transport. It looked odd but good in ambulance markings but was as much use as a chocolate teapot!

    Reply
  16. October 3, 2014
    Andy

    Well I still have a Talbot Rancho, it was purchased for a specific reason and that was that I could fit my wife’s wheelchair in the back quite easily. I last used it some 18 or so years ago. When my Dad passed away I put it in his old garage and there it has stood ever since. It does look sorry for itself with four flat tyres holes in the wings and the door tops and god knows where else. Fortunately these days my wife no longer requires the wheelchair. At the time I put it in the garage I said to my wife and my Mum “this will be a classic one day” and heho it looks like that day is here. I am now thinking about restoration, but where do you start? I have been given a qoute to sell the registration number for five hundred quid! so where do i go from here? I don’t know! maybe if someone was interested in buying it, it may well just go, as I have a disability myself (not just for owning a Rancho I may add) it would be a big undertaking to restore it myself …… I will post more as time goes by if anyone is interested ……

    Reply
  17. November 22, 2014
    John Dally

    Many years ago i was into talbots and simca,s, I had the simca 1000 rear engine, the simca 1100 and the 1204 that had twin carbs and fancy wheels, 1501 car and the 1501 estate with the table in the back, you sat on the back tail door that folded down as a seat, then i moved on to the rancho,s, and had 3 rancho, 1 on the road that one had the extra seat fitted in the back and 2 scrap ones for spare, i fitted a 1.6 engine in mine from a later alpine,and the dash out of one to have the revcounter and oil/battrey gauge, with my dad,s help ( he was a welder ) we fitted a auto gear box in it as well, we used one of the scrapped one,s as a test bed first, with a fare bit of work to the left hand chassie.it fitted, wish i still had it now.
    Regards John

    Reply
  18. March 1, 2015
    rob

    My uncle bought one in the early 80’s to replace his Chrysler Alpine. I recall that he saw one during the London Marathon and liked the look of them. It was brown – later rust coloured. I think it went completely rotten on the underside after only several years. Also recall that the add on headlamps were prone to rust. The rattly engine made a racket but was very durable. Does anyone recall an obscure tv serial that was on during the daytime in the early 80’s where I believe a yellow Rancho was driven by one of the lead characters. Cannot recall the name of the programme or locate it online. I am not sure that my uncles Rancho had the AntiBog or not – was this some type of portable toilet that attached to the rear tailgate (?) ; >

    Reply
  19. August 24, 2015
    Jon

    I remember having a Matchbox model of a Rancho which was always a favourite in my box of toy cars due to its bouncy suspension. It performed better than most on a car track, doing jumps etc.

    Reply
  20. April 25, 2016
    Tropi

    This is driving me crazy. My memory of this Matra Simca vehicle is very very clearly that it was called a Ranchero, not Rancho. The majority of my Google searches do seem to use the Rancho name, but there are still plenty saying Ranchero. So, if I am crazy, at least I am not the only one! So far, none of my searching has found any mention of this name contradiction. Can anyone here clear up the confusion on this, please?

    Reply
  21. June 27, 2016
    Peter

    Sad to tell you that it was called the Rancho and not Ranchero. Nice to know the for runner of the Discovery is still talked about. The similarity to the Landrover Disaco is quite amazing, I’m surprised someone didn’t shout Foul!

    Reply
  22. July 11, 2016
    Susan cooper

    The Rancho was my first car after I pasted my test iin 1981 it was a fan car. Thought I was the bees knees ha ha . great times.

    Reply
    • July 13, 2016
      Gavin Big-Surname

      As first cars go, that’s rather epic.

      Reply

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