Matra Sports Jet: The French Sports Car Gifted to Yuri Gagarin
The Matra Djet is a renowned French sports car that was originally designed and sold by René Bonnet. The car was first introduced in June 1962 under the name René Bonnet Djet, and it was the world’s first rear mid-engined production road car. Over the years, different versions of the car were produced and sold under various names that included Matra-Bonnet Djet, Matra Sports Djet, and finally, Matra Sports Jet.
The car was priced at 20,000 French francs when it was launched, which was the same as its much larger and more luxurious contemporary, the Facel-Vega Facellia. However, the car did not impress with its level of finish, and the unisolated fiberglass bodywork made for an extremely noisy environment inside. Despite René Bonnet’s belief that the car’s competition record and his company’s reputation would be enough to convince the public to purchase it, this was not the case, and Bonnet eventually got into financial troubles.
In October 1964, Matra took over René Bonnet Automobiles and its debts. Matra’s President, Marcel Chassagny, considered this a great opportunity for Matra to expand into the automobile market. Jean-Luc Lagardère, who was hired away from aeronautics competitors Avions Marcel Dassault, was tasked with running the newly formed Matra Sports and Engins Matra divisions. Former Simca designer Philippe Guédon was hired to modify the original Bonnet Djet, and the car became slightly bigger, measuring 4,220 mm long by 1,500 mm wide by 1,200 mm high and weighing 660 kg.
Production of the original Djet was stopped in December 1964, but it resumed in April 1965 with two new versions: the Matra-Bonnet Djet V and the Djet V S, the latter having a Gordini-tuned engine. The car gained fame when Yuri Gagarin, the first human to journey into outer space, was presented with a Matra-Bonnet Djet V S coupé by the French government during his 1965 tour of France.
After the Paris Motor Show in 1965, the Roman numerals and the Bonnet name were dropped, and the car was called the Matra Sports Djet 5. In 1966, a version with a bigger Gordini engine became available, and the Djet name was dropped in favor of its original meaning: Jet. The model range now consisted of the Jet 5, Jet 5 S, and Jet 6.
In summary, the Matra Djet had a complicated evolution, with various name changes and ownership transfers. However, it remains a significant piece of automotive history and a beloved sports car among enthusiasts.