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by Jay Traugott
French cars have often been known for their distinctive and unusual styling, but having three seats in this two-door sports coupe sounds a bit crowded.
With the exception of the Volkswagen Group, the European auto industry is currently experiencing some troubling financial times. Due to the global economic recession's effects still present throughout Europe, many carmakers have been struggling to maintain sales, satisfy labor unions and design and build competitive new cars. It's certainly no easy task. French automakers like Peugeot and Citroen (under the joint PSA Group) have had a particularly difficult time staying afloat.
Many other smaller European brands have disappeared over the years due to money issues of their own or simply by being bought out by larger companies (like VW). One of those departed automakers was Matra, which was created back in 1965 and quickly became known for its participation in motorsports like Formula 1. In the late Sixties, Jackie Stewart competed in a Matra, which was unique for its use of lightweight aviation-style fuel tanks. In fact, 1969 saw Stewart win the title in a Matra, which was then powered by a Cosworth engine.
Along with this successful, although short, foray into motorsports, Matra also produced some interesting road cars, such as the Murena. Launched in 1980, the Murena was a two-door sports car that was unusual due to it being a three-seater - and no backseat. Yes, its seating arrangement was like that of the McLaren F1. It was also somewhat unique due to its steel spaceframe and body panels being made from fiberglass in order to avoid the rust issues that plagued its predecessor, the Bagheera. As a result, the car was literally immune to rust.
Because of its mid-engine layout, it also had respectable sports car handling. Power came from a base 1.6-liter engine but the optional 2.2-liter inline-four was the way to go. It produced 142 horsepower (with the optional "S" upgrade kit) and was mated to a five-speed manual gearbox. Exterior styling was also in line with the era with its folding front headlights and simple hatchback design. The interior, as one comes to expect of many a French car, had more dramatic styling than the majority of American cars on the road at the time. Everything, from the steering wheel design and dash layout to the couch-like seats, was finsihed with a bold style.
Production, however, ended in 1983 when the factory that built the Murena switched to making the Renault Espace. As for Matra, following its privatization in 1988, it eventually became a part of a larger corporation and by 1996, the Matra name no was no longer being used. But for collectors of French sports cars, Formula 1 fans or fans of weird cars in general, this 1983 Matra Murena 2.2 S that's currently up for sale on eBay may be of particular interest. With just over 10,000 original miles on the clock, the car is still in solid condition inside and out. The seller hasn't reported any major issues with the car and claims it's one of very few of its kind in North America.