Matra's relationship with the French Big Three has always been one that scoured and scratched. But the kind of armed peace did result in fantastic cars from the partnerships with PSA and Renault. The Matra-Simca range provided icons such as the Bagheera, Murena and Rancho. Matra would also produce the car that was too radical for PSA concepts: the Mk I Renault Espace.
The idea behind the Renault Espace
Once upon a time, Matra made the “Dessin Orange” based on the American Dodge Caravan. Dodge has been working on an MPV since 1978 because research showed that a Dodge van with extra windows and seats was popular with larger families and hockey mothers. That later became the Chrysler Voyager with us. At the time, Chrysler's European branch worked closely with PSA (Peugeot /Citroën) and that is how the idea came about to develop an MPV with the help of Matra Automobiles.
No sense in Matra's idea
On closer inspection, however, PSA saw no profit in what Matra was tinkering with polyester panels. In 1982 Matra therefore took the plans to PSA competitor Renault. There too, there were no high expectations about sales, but - or precisely because of that - Matra was allowed to build the car, albeit on the basis of a somewhat more traditional technique that was suitable for smaller runs. A fiberglass body was placed on a galvanized frame. The plastic bumpers turned out not to be too shock-resistant, but the idea remained great. The revolutionary Renault Espace had a 110 hp Renault petrol engine and was smooth enough with it.
In July 1984, the Renault Espace was launched to an unsuspecting, dumbfounded audience. Mankind had never seen such a strange car. Nine Espaces were sold in the month after its launch, and PSA were sniggering to be right about the innovative fiberglass-clad Matra. Maarrrr…, the following month there were hundreds of buyers. And the monospaces flew out of dealerships for a few months. What the Dodge Caravan had done in the US, so did the Espace in Europe. And the factory couldn't even keep up with production.
The next generations
The next generation of Renault Espace was presented in 1991 - a major makeover from the original design. While 1984 units of the first series were sold from 1990 to 190.000, the second generation passed into the hands of happy buyers 316D times within the same time frame. The popularity of this generation was aided by the addition of the V6 line (with manual gearboxes and automatic transmission) which exemplified the MPV's eventual evolution towards a luxury people-mover rather than a proletarian bin for large families
A strange ending
The next generation was the last generation of Matra-designed cars. And although it was a completely modernized vision of the MPV, the absolute highlight of the Matra-Renault show had to be the highly modernist Avantime. According to the marketers, this was intended to meet the wishes of parents whose children were away from home, but who did not want to give up the ease of use and the space of a minibus. With the Avantime, Renault presented a unique car. As an MPV, the Avantime was a completely impractical appearance.