The traditional attitude to vehicle design has been to support its ultimate purpose. So sports car designers tend to focus on aerodynamics. It also makes sense for a vehicle’s look to match its intended purpose. It was for this reason that much of the motoring press (in the UK particularly) mocked and derided the arrival of the Matra Rancho in 1977.
The Matra Rancho was unashamedly presented as having the look of an off-road vehicle, but without the capabilities on muddy tracks that such a design would be expected to have. The journalists couldn’t understand how designers and engineers could have got it so wrong, but failed to appreciate that the rules about design could easily be bent and broken.
Matra, a French engineering company, had already worked alongside Simca – at the time a subsidiary of Chrysler Europe – to produce the successful Bagheera sports car and the two firms also developed and produced a vehicle under the project name of P12.
Aware of the success of the Range Rover at the time, the leaders of the Rancho project wanted to develop a similar-looking vehicle, but without its expensive fuel consumption.
The outcome was a vehicle that benefited heavily from a van version of the successful Simca 1100, making use of its front structure and stretched chassis. The Matra Rancho also shared features such as the dashboard and front seats, but by far the most significant area in which the Rancho aped the Simca 1100 was in its drivetrain layout. Whereas the standard choice for off-road vehicles was to have all-wheel drive, engineers on the Rancho project opted to retain the Simca vehicle’s cheaper, less able, front-wheel drive format, with predictable results.