Saturday, May 7, 2011

Cars & Coffee – 5/7/11

A Matra Sports (nee Bonnet) Djet showed up today, adding another page to the book of "wildly obscure marques that have shown at Cars & Coffee" or its progenitor, Crystal Cove. Last week's TVR ticked another box on the "models from Europe we'd give our left wingnuts for" checklist, and now the marques page is one funky Frog richer.

The Matra Djet was a French sports car designed by René Bonnet (the "B" in "DB," another obscure make that is regularly represented at this show) and modified by Matra. The car had various names in its life from 1962 till 1968: René Bonnet Djet, Matra Bonnet Djet, Matra Sports Djet and finally Matra Sports Jet.

The car started out as the René Bonnet Djet in June 1962. It was named Djet, because Bonnet thought the French could not pronounce the word "jet" correctly. It was powered by a 1108 cc inline-four from the Renault 8, mounted amidships and mated to a Renault Estafette gearbox, giving it a top speed of 103 mph. With an uprated Gordini engine, the "Djet II" was good for 118 mph.

The fiberglass body was made by Matra, which was glued to a steel chassis. It had a very modern design with disc brakes and independent suspension with wishbones and coil springs all around. The 1,300-lb. Bonnet Djet was the worlds first mid engined production road car when it was introduced in 1962, beating the de Tomaso Vallelunga (1963) by nearly a year and the Lamborghini Miura (1966) by four. There were 198 Bonnet Djets produced during the two years before Matra took over Bonnet in 1964.

When Bonnet had gotten into financial troubles, Matra (who supplied both the bodyshells and the factory location) took over René Bonnet Automobiles and ended production of the original Djet in December 1964. Matra's CEO, Jean-Luc Lagardère, saw it as an opportunity to expand Matra's business to the automobile market. Matra hired former Simca designer Philippe Guédon and modified the original Bonnet Djet. The car became slightly bigger and now weighed 1,455 lb. Production resumed in April 1965 with two new versions, called the Matra Bonnet Djet V and Djet V S (with the Gordini spec engine).

After the Salon de l'Auto Paris auto show in 1965, the Roman numerals and the Bonnet name were finally dropped. The car was now called the Matra Sports Djet 5. In 1966, a version with a bigger Gordini engine became available and the Djet name was dropped in favor of its original meaning: Jet. The model range now consisted of the Jet 5 (1108 cc Renault 8 Major engine), Jet 5 S (1108 cc Renault 8 Gordini engine) and Jet 6 (1255 cc Renault Gordini engine). Altogether, another 1491 Matra Djets were produced before production ended in 1968.

And one of them was in Irvine today, along with...well, check out the pics and see for yourself.

Direct link to photos

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