(With apologies to Stephen Crane)
Not so very long ago I had the pleasure to write a piece about Matra sports cars for those nice people at Influx.
In order to keep the article to something loosely approximating a reasonable length, I had to omit some information that I’d like to have included, such as the story of one of Matra’s lesser known contributions to modern motoring culture: the ‘designer edition’ car. It’s easily rectified, though, so let’s all hop on board the internet time machine and set the controls for 1974, just in time to witness the launch of the Matra-Simca Bagheera Courrèges.
And while we’re zipping along the time channels that lead to the decade that taste forgot, it’s probably an opportune moment to explain that André Courrèges was a French fashion designer whose main claim to fame is that he invented the mini-skirt. His designs were influenced by modernism and futurism, so it made perfect sense for Matra, with their aerospace background and cutting-edge ideas, to hook up with him.
So now that we’re back in 1974, let’s give his creation for Matra the once-over. Hmm, a quick glance at the specification reveals that it’s mechanically identical to other Bagheeras, has the same three-abreast seating and is devoid of additional aerodynamic acoutrements. So far, so very ordinaire. But wait, what’s this? Satin white paint? You won’t find that on any other Bagheera, and the same goes for the interior colour scheme: white seats and headlining, beige dash, door cards, gearknob, carpets and Courrèges-branded handbags. Yes, you did read that right – it comes with a pair of detachable, door-mounted handbags. Oh, and it’s neither a concept car nor a limited-edition ‘special’; it’s very much part of the Bagheera range.
Zut alors, you may say. And with good reason – a short hop in our time machine reveals that in spite of modest sales, a new version of the Courrèges is introduced following the launch of the series 2 Bagheera in 1976. Mind you, there’s really nothing new about this latest Courrèges model; the specification is pretty much the same, mutatis mutandis, as its predecessor, but with beige rather than white seats. Clad in the slippery new series 2 bodyshell, it’s an attractive enough offering but we had hoped for something more…
One final short temporal leap reveals that there’s disappointment on the sales front too*, with the series 2 Courrèges being axed after just one year in production. Its replacement in the Bagheera range is the somewhat uninspired ‘X’ model – a clear example of less being, well, less.
Contemporary wisdom (an oxymoron if ever there was such a thing) would have you believe that the Bagheera was Matra’s only collaboration with Courrèges. But that isn’t quite the case, for the bold couturier presented a prototype Rancho Courrèges in 1978. It was finished in – you guessed it – white, with the exterior, er, benefiting from wood effect bumpers and side impact strips. The interior featured white velour seats (what else…), a fishing rod and landing net and, that most essential of accessories, a door-mounted thermos flask. It would have cut quite a dash on the King’s Road but, alas, it never made it into production. C’est la vie…
* Courrèges production numbered 640 cars (380 series 1, 260 series 2) out of a total of 47,796 Bagheeras manufactured.
Note: I do not know who holds the copyright to the images shown above (Matra and Courrèges are, of course, likely candidates…) so I will simply say that I make no claim on said images and acknowledge that the rights thereto belong to their respective owners.