It may not seem like it now, but the Matra 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, and later as a Talbot, 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.
Exciting foreign sauce
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 tongue. 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.