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  Matra MS650      

  Article Image gallery (28) Chassis (2) Specifications  
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Country of origin:France
Produced from:1969 - 1970
Numbers built:3
Designed by:Bernard Boyer for Matra
Predecessor:Matra MS630
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:June 20, 2016
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Click here to download printer friendly versionEven though it's hosted in the heart of France, the world's most famous endurance race has traditionally been dominated by the Italians, Brits and Germans. By the mid 1960s, it had been well over a decade before the last French victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and it did not look like that would change any time soon. So when in 1967 Matra announced their desire to win the 1969 F1 World Championship and the 1970 Le Mans with a completely French machine, the many French enthusiasts were ecstatic. It was quite an ambitious desire as the aerospace company had only become involved in the automotive business just a few years earlier.

The reason why the rather wild claim could be taken seriously was the major revision of the sports car rules for 1968, which limited prototype engines to 3 litres. This was the same displacement limit as in Formula 1 and meant that Matra's new engine could serve a dual purpose. While waiting for the new engine to be developed, the company campaigned single seaters and sports cars with foreign powerplants. Dubbed the MS620 and MS630, the first Matra sports cars featured a traditional spaceframe chassis and a fiberglass body. Campaigned in 1966 and 1967, they used BRM and Ford V8 engines.

Shortly after the 1967 announcement, specialized company Moteur Moderne was commissioned to construct a three litre V12 engine after a design penned by Georges Martin. With a 60 degree block angle, twin overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder, there was nothing particularly ground breaking about it, but the build standards were very high. After a brief development period, the engine was installed in a newly constructed MS630 chassis for the 1968 Le Mans race. Although in endurance trim the engine was still good for a claimed 385 bhp, which was more than a match for Porsche's three litre racer of the day, the 908. It was fast straight out of the box and drivers John Servoz-Gavin and Henri Pescarolo gradually fought their way up to second place before a puncture caused a crash in the 22nd hour.

Encouraged by the great display of speed and reliability, Matra Sport planned two V12 engined models for the next season; the fixed head MS640 and the open MS650. The low-drag coupe bodied car was designed by Robert Choulet specifically for high speed races like Le Mans. Sadly at the first test Pescarolo had a very heavy accident in the high unstable car and it was not rebuilt. The MS650 was technically very similar to the 1968 car, but featured an open body similar to that fitted on the new Porsche 908/2. The engine was further revised and the intake trumpets were moved from in between the camshafts to inside the 'V'. Power was up to 410 bhp. At Le Mans the V12's reliability was once again underlined with the new MS650 finishing fourth, the old MS630 Coupe fifth and a MS630 fitted with the V12 engine and barchetta body seventh. The first major success was scored in December of that year when Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Pescarolo won the Montlhery.

While the Matra sportscar program was gradually taking shape, the manufacturer did very well in Formula 1. Although powered by the British Cosworth engine, Jackie Stewart won the 1969 World Championship with a Matra, which was almost as predicted in 1967. Next up should be a win at Le Mans, but the advent of the 5-litre Porsche 917 and Ferrari 512 did not make it any easier. Nevertheless the French team persisted in their efforts and were now backed by Chrysler France; the cars were entered under the Matra-Simca name from then on. Two more MS650 spaceframe chassis were constructed and work was started on the development of a full monocoque chassis. Dubbed the MS660, the new monocoque and long wheelbase car was ready in time for the 1970 Le Mans race.

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  Article Image gallery (28) Chassis (2) Specifications