In the early seventies, Matra’s priority was the 24 Hours of Le Mans. However, its prototypes were also successful in road races, winning the Tour de France Automobile two years running. With this year’s Tour Auto currently under way (23-28 April), what better time to look back at Matra’s double success.
First, the 1969 24 Hours of Le Mans. That year, Matra reaped its first return on investment at Le Mans with three cars in the top ten. Jean-Pierre Beltoise/Piers Courage (Matra MS650) and Jean Guichet/Nino Vaccarella (Matra MS630) took fourth and fifth place, while Nanni Galli/Robin Widdows (Matra MS630-650) finished ninth.
A year later, the MS650 designed by Bernard Boyer was the car that took Matra’s racing aura beyond the circuit.
The year 1970 saw the manufacturer fail at Le Mans. None of the three cars finished. However, on the roads, Jean-Pierre Beltoise/Patrick Depailler/Jean Todt and Henri Pescarolo/Jean-Pierre Jabouille/Johnny Rives took a superb one-two finish in the Tour de France Automobile, drawing crowds at every stage. It has to be said that Pescarolo’s heroic effort at the 1968 24 Hours of Le Mans had earned him a following.
The fans were still behind Matra at the 1971 Le Mans. Chris Amon and Jean-Pierre Beltoise in the onlt Matra on the grid stood second but were forced to retire at 09:00 due to an ignition fault. Once again, the Tour de France Automobile made up for the disappointment wth Gérard Larrousse and Johnny Rives victorious in the 650.
The triumph paved the way to success at Le Mans and Matra lifted the trophy three times in succession from 1972 to 1974. But that is a tale for another day.
Photo (copyright Archives ACO): Fourth at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1969 with Briton Piers Courage, Jean-Pierre Beltoise won the Tour de France Automobile the following year with Patrick Depailler and current FIA president Jean Todt.