It was a glorious combination of beauty, speed, sound, and comfort, a proper object of Gallic pride, and almost (but not quite) the equal of Porsche's 908


Only three Matra 650s were built. After a successful racing career, one is kept in the Matra museum at Romorantin, while the second belongs to a racing driver who collects French Blue cars. Thus #01 is the only one available. The 650 is probably the most sought-after and important sports "Barchetta" from Matra. Contrary to the following 660s and 670s, it is the only one that can be driven on the road and is eligible for events like the Tour de France and Le Mans Classic.

At the end of its racing career, MS65001 (without engine) was presented by Jean-Luc Lagardere to a painter who lived in the south of France. Some years later, it was bought by David Piper, who fitted a Ford engine and a Hewland gearbox and participated in vintage events. Piper later swapped a BRM engine, like the one fitted to the Matra 620 and 630, for a Matra 676 V12 engine. He then sold Matra 65001 to the present owner, who was lucky enough to get from a former Matra employee an almost complete MS 12 engine. This goes with the car, as well as the original ZF gearbox of 65001. The 1969 Barquette is being sold with all the necessary parts for racing.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1969 Matra MS650 Barquette
Years Produced:1969
Number Produced:3
Original List Price:n/a
SCM Valuation:$1.9m on this day
Chassis Number Location:Tag on frame
Engine Number Location:Unknown
Club Info:Matra Enthusiasts Club U.K., 4 Maplewood Close, Larchwood, Totton, Hampshire, SO40 8WH
Investment Grade:A

This 1969 Matra MS650 Barquette sold for $1,922,933 at Artcurial’s auction in Paris on February 8, 2009.

The French have always taken a nationalistic pride in their automotive industry, and racing success has long been an essential component of the national psyche, particularly as it applies to Le Mans. The late ’50s and early ’60s, though, were not kind to the French, who found themselves stuck in the back of the fleet contending for “Index of Performance” awards while the English, Italians, and Americans fought over the top positions. This was a period dominated by horsepower rather than subtlety, and the French zeitgeist didn’t allow anything larger than two liters, so they were consigned to relative obscurity in the back.

For 1968, the FIA, a Paris-based and arguably Franco-centric bureaucracy, changed the racing rules to favor 3-liter pure racing cars over the earlier 4- to 7-liter semi-production GT cars that had been dominant. This was ostensibly done in the name of safety, but the cynics figured it was a way to allow blue cars to run at the front. Either way, it did have that effect, though it took a while.

Three liters corresponded with a huge loan

Mécanique Avion TRAction (Matra) was a French aerospace company that got involved in automobiles by buying the René Bonnet company in 1962. Sales of the resulting Matra Djet were slow, so in 1964 Matra Sports was established to raise the company profile through competition. It enjoyed some success in the smaller classes of formula car racing in the mid 1960s, using primarily English engines. By chance, the advent of the 3-liter Formula One and World Championship rules for 1968 happened to correspond with a very large loan from the French government to Matra with a directive to create an all-French winner and a new sponsorship association with ELF, the French national petroleum company.

With money now available to match the ambition, work commenced on a new 3-liter V12 to power a new series of all-French racing cars-a 60-degree, 4-cam 4-valve design intended to run at or beyond 10,000 rpm. Despite their obvious romantic appeal, small-displacement V12s can be quixotic affairs, with the advantages of small combustion chambers often offset by the daunting complexity and sheer number of moving parts involved in the design. They are very expensive to build, can be demanding to maintain, and getting reliable horsepower to match the glorious sound can be challenging. The result is that racing V12 engines tended to be built by nationalistic dreamers like Matra, BRM, Ferrari, and Dan Gurney. The pragmatists like Cosworth just built V8s like the DFV and got on with it. Candidly, history has favored the latter.

Though expensive, thirsty, and a bit heavy, Matra’s new V12 proved to be an excellent powerplant, and their chassis design was easily on a par with the competition, with the result that 1968 was a very promising initial year. Formula One showed well (though most of the success was with Tyrell running Ford-powered Matra chassis), and the lone Matra entered at Le Mans, an MS630, did extremely well, running at or near the front until tire and electrical problems forced it out at the 22nd hour. This was particularly heartening to Matra, because the V12 was in full F1 sprint configuration and nobody really expected it to last the race.

The promise of 1969

The stage was set and the expectations high for the 1969 season. The updated 1969 version was called the MS650. It was a substantial evolution from its predecessor and is now generally considered to be the best driver’s Matra, before or since. Because several of the expected events were run on public roads, the 650 was made technically road-legal, even sporting a Lamborghini Miura speedometer. It was a glorious combination of beauty, speed, sound, and comfort, a proper object of Gallic pride, and almost (but not quite) the equal of Porsche’s 908.

While 1969 proved to be Porsche’s year for the Manufacturer’s Championship, Matra made a splendid battle of it at Le Mans, with our subject car finishing 4th and the earlier 630 finishing 5th behind several GT40s and a Porsche 908. After Le Mans, chassis 65001 was raced extensively with good success through the rest of the season and into 1970 before being retired in favor of newer models. Matra and the French psyche finally came into their own a few years later, winning Le Mans overall in 1972, ’73, and ’74 and the Championship of Marques in 1973 and ’74, all in cars that evolved from this one. The road to success was long, but this is where it started.

Championship racers from ’68 to ’72 are not often seen on the auction stage. There aren’t a lot of them, in the first place, and they tend to be daunting and expensive to run, in the second, so the few that change hands tend to do so quietly among knowledgeable friends. As a complication, the key to successful ownership is having extremely competent mechanical support, and that can be a bigger problem than raising a paddle. All of these cars, but particularly the Matras, are emphatically not cars for inexperienced or amateur owners.

A gloriously noisy Gallic icon

The rules of the period were designed for 3-liter cars, but Porsche and Ferrari soon found a 5-liter loophole, and the 917 and 512 S became the dominant cars of the period. The result is that there are two tiers of pricing-one for the “big-bore” cars and another for the smaller, 3-liter ones. I discussed the big cars a few months ago with the Ferrari 512 M (August 2008, p. 62). Porsche’s 908, the Matras MS650, and Alfa Romeo’s T 33/3 are the primary alternatives in the 3-liter group and range between $1m and $2m. Alfas hold down the low end of the scale, while Porsche and Matra seem to share the top. The Porsche is better known and easier to keep running, but Matra’s V12 and rarity make it more collectible, so values are comparable.

My feeling is that had he wanted, the buyer could have found a good Porsche 908 for a bit less than the Matra, but the 908s were (excellent) Germanic weapons, while the Matra MS650 Barquette is a glorious, noisy, particularly Gallic icon of accomplishment. To the right person, that counts for quite a lot, and I’d say fairly bought.

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