Friday, October 2, 2015

A Mid-Engine First

Generally when people think of mid-engined sports cars they naturally think of Italy. The Italians have so ruled sports cars and mid-engined design with cars such as the Lamborghini Miura and the Ferrari Dino Testarosa that few realize that they were not the first to produce a passenger car with the power plant located amid ship. That honor belongs to the French.

Matra was a French firm that had divisions dealing with aeronautics, weapons and bicycles but in the 1960s under CEO Jean-Luc Lagardere the company made a world wide name for itself with automobiles. In 1964 the firm acquired Automobiles Rene Bonnet, a firm involved in designing and building sport racers. Because of rules for homologation, road worthy versions of these cars were being built.

Beginning in 1962 Bonnet started making what was dubbed the Djet. The car was powered by an 1108 cc Renault 8 engine that generated 62 horse power. But the car was light weight as it was completely clothed in a fiberglass body which was glued to a steel chassis. This gave it a curb weight of about 1000 pounds. This combination allowed the car to easily top 100 miles per hour. The car was a leader in other areas, too. It had disc brakes and independent suspension with wishbones and leaf springs all around.

In all, Bonnet produced 198 Djets before getting into financial trouble and selling to Matra. In 1964 the Djet was being sold under the MatraSports brand and helped Lagardere fully jump into Formula One Racing. The new Djets were not the same creatures as those designed by Bonnet. Designer Phillipe Guedon came aboard and made the car slightly bigger and also heavier (1455 pounds) and eventually began added more powerful and eventually larger Renault engines.

By 1966 the Djet name was changed. Bonnet originally called it that because he did not believe that the French could probably pronounce the word "jet." The folks at Matra disagreed and changed the name simply to Jet.

The MatraSports Jet was produced until 1967 when it was essentially replaced by an all in-house design that was dubbed the 530. In all nearly 1700 of these cars were manufactured. The Djet shown here is a 1965 model and is part of the permanent collection at the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, TN. (

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