The thing about me is every time I encounter a new video of the Matra V12, I post it. It’s that simple!
Matra’s V12s have a bit of a cult following, in part because they are weird, in part because they were wildly successful but only for a short period of time, and in part because they sounded so, so, so, so good. Let’s go backwards. These V12s ran at Le Mans and in sports car racing as well as in Formula 1. They’re best remembered as “it sounded like power,” as this classic onboard puts it:
As for their success, Matra was an absolute powerhouse as the 1960s turned into the 1970s. Matra was only formed in 1965, and only seriously entered F1 in 1968, but won the whole championship in 1969. It never took another title there. Matra went on to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in ’72, ’73 and ’74 in a heated multiyear battle with Ferrari, and that was it. It was a brief period of total dominance.
That has a lot to do with the strangeness of the team. Matra was backed by the French military. Matra as a company also made missiles and was a subcontractor to France’s space program, designing and building the first French earth satellite, as pointed out in Automobile Quarterly’s 1974 history of Matra in Volume 12, Issue 1. It is convenient to have a full collection of Automobile Quarterlies at home. The original Matra M530 sports car for instance, was named after a Matra air-to-air missile. This is all to say that the French government wanted to make a winning French team. Matra did that. Then it was pretty much done.
We are still left with the cars, though, and the sound of the engines, run by vintage racing enthusiasts and maintained by suspiciously clean mechanics. Look at these guys. Not a spot of dirt or grease on them. That’s how you know things are serious.
The car you see in video here is an intriguing one. It’s a Matra MS640, one of the Matras that doesn’t quite fit into its victorious memory. The last of the company’s coupes, it lifted its nose off the pavement at 125 miles an hour at a test at Le Mans in 1969, crashing and badly burning the legendary French driver Henri Pescarolo. Matra went to the wind tunnel and decided on open-top prototypes after that. Quite the romantic prototype to run again. Maybe the owner got it at a “nearly killing its driver” discount.