The List – part three

All righty then – time to reveal which car sits at the top of my personal automotive ziggurat.

It’s a rare – to the point of being obscure – car on this side of the channel (thanks to PSA’s decision not to offer it for sale in the UK) and had a very short production life. So the chances are that you’ve either never heard of it or know very little about it. If so, you’ve missed a treat…and probably been laughed at down the pub.

Still, now’s your chance to get acquainted with the one and only…

Talbot-Matra Murena S (2000 to 2003)

What can I say about the Murena? Lots, as it happens. It’s French, mid-engined, looks sharper than a young Jean-Paul Belmondo out on the pull, has pop-up headlights and was built by a company with a great motor racing pedigree. Oh, and it’s got three seats. In theory, that should mean that you, the love of your life and, ahem, your wife or partner can all travel together. Well, I imagine that’s how it works in France, but in dear old Blighty you’re more likely to end up with the mother-in-law giving your right earhole GBH from the centre seat. Sadly, as far as I know an ejector seat didn’t feature on the factory options sheet. Still, as I’m here to help (it says here) may I respectfully suggest you either stay single or, alternatively, choose one of the following options: stuffing cotton wool in your right ear, emigration (with the car, bien sûr, but sans mother-in-law) or divorce. I was going to suggest using a hitman but Pete Waterman declared himself unavailable.

You should have surmised from the above (and if you haven’t then do WAKE UP, fer gawd’s sake) that the Murena is left-hand-drive. A few were converted to RHD, mostly by Cartel of Woking, but the Murena is best savoured in its original guise.

My Murena S. The black rear spoiler is OEM.

Cartel also offered a 160bhp turbocharged version but most Murena buyers had to content themselves with rather less power. Two engines were offered ex works: the 1592cc version of the Poissy OHV engine and a stretched (2155cc) version of the Chrysler 180/2 litre SOHC unit. The former offers 90bhp and a soundtrack apparently recorded at the Women’s Institute’s annual knitting contest; the latter delivers 113bhp and a decent dollop of torque in standard trim. Matra did develop an all-singing, all-dancing version of the 2.2 unit that pumped out a rather healthier 176bhp, but it never made it into production. A more ambitious effort to ramp up the Murena’s performance was made by Matra engineer Andre Legan, who shoehorned one of the company’s fabled V12 racing engines into a modified Murena chassis. Alas, it too was destined to become automotive vapourware. An uprated, 134bhp version of the 2.2 lump was, however, offered towards the end of the Murena’s short production life, first as a dealer-fitted option and later as standard equipment on the run-out version of the Murena: the S.

I owned seven Murenas over the years, including two of the rare (480 built) S versions. And it’s one of these plus sportif (dunno what that means but it sounds good) variants that ascends the top of my personal podium. A treat for the eyes in Rouge Mephisto, it was responsive, sure-footed, comfortable and simply just great fun to drive. And, boy, did I have fun. I toured France in it twice, drove it round the Michelin test track near Clermont-Ferrand and even gently hustled it round the old Silverstone Grand Prix circuit. And but for an untimely bout of food poisoning (thanks, Kev, it was a great idea to round off an evening’s carousing with a Chinese takeaway…), I’d also have driven it round the full Le Mans circuit.

It was a reliable old thing too. Sure, the caliper pistons had a habit of sticking every now and then and the gear linkage was as baggy as M.C. Hammer’s strides but that’s nothing in the grand scheme of things. A wheel bearing went on a trip to France and a seventeen year old coolant hose gave up the ghost after my Silverstone adventure, but neither was expensive to fix. And with the Murena having a hot-dip galvanised chassis (a first for a mass-produced car), I didn’t need to worry about rust.

All of which begs the question, one that I keep asking myself: why on earth did I ever sell it?

Back home, May 2000.