Myth Buster

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - This Week - Giles Chap­man

Ma­tra Ran­cho

De­bunk­ing the most com­mon old wives’ tales IT’S A FRENCH 4X4

It’s easy to be­lieve that the Ran­cho had four-wheel drive. But de­spite the black plas­tic wheel arches, swiv­el­ling spot­lights in front of the wind­screen and gen­er­ous ground-clear­ance, it was ac­tu­ally front-wheel drive. That said, con­tem­po­rary re­ports said that it per­formed well on mud and wet grass, thanks to its light weight and long-travel sus­pen­sion. And own­ers did ben­e­fit from an off-road­style sump guard to pro­tect the car’s un­der­side on rut­ted tracks.

IT’S A ROOMY METAL BOX

This is half-right. The floor­pan and front half of the body was in­deed steel, and came from the Simca 1100 pickup. How­ever, the rear pas­sen­ger com­part­ment was made from glass­fi­bre. The built-in roofrack and black plas­tic trim along the sides, to­gether with matt black win­dow sur­rounds, dis­guised the joins. The Ran­cho was spa­cious in the back, with the rear seats 10cm higher than the front ones; later mod­els also came as seven-seaters with two ex­tra seats for chil­dren fac­ing to the rear. Power came from a 1.5-litre en­gine al­lied to a four-speed gear­box.

IT WAS A JOKE AND A FAIL­URE

Peo­ple have poked fun at the Ran­cho for years, but the Range Rover was pretty much the only other off-road pas­sen­ger car you could buy in the late 1970s, and it cost twice as much to buy and its run­ning costs were enor­mous. The Ran­cho, on the other hand, was no more ex­pen­sive to run than a fam­ily hatch­back. Buy­ers wanted the 4x4 im­age more than the oc­ca­sional ben­e­fit of four-wheel drive, just as for to­day’s ‘cross­over’ cars. Ma­tra orig­i­nally planned to build 20,000 Ran­chos but ac­tu­ally sold 58,000 when man­u­fac­ture ended in 1985.

Join be­tween steel front and GRP rear is dis­guised by plas­tic trim.

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