Some of you might dispute my characteristically unequivocal headline, but the 1977 Talbot Rancho makes a pretty compelling argument for being the first passenger car-based (unibody) sport utility vehicle. It was based on the Simca 1100 (full story here), which when one thinks of it, was quite a pioneering vehicle in more ways than one, being essentially the prototype of the modern FWD hatchback as well as spawning the Omni-Horizon twins, America’s first successful FWD compacts. Folks didn’t really know quite what to make of the Rancho, as in 1977 in Europe, this was like a fish out of water. Undoubtedly it was inspired by the Range Rover and the off-road boom, but the Rancho was hardly off-road capable. It had FWD and the rather weak-chested 80 hp Simca 1442 cc four. But it had its uses and made a splash, or we wouldn’t be talking about it almost 40 years later.
The Ranch was built on the pickup version of the Simca 1100, and had a glass-fiber body built by Matra, which was a bit of an expert on the subject. It was designed by Antonis Volanis. Peugeot inherited the project when they bought Simca (and the rest of Chrysler’s European ops), and managed to sell some 58,000 Ranchos until 1984. Somewhat curiously, its successor was planned to be more of a van-like design, also designed by Volanis, and using Matra’s space-frame technology and plastic body parts. When Peugeot demurred, Matra took the project to Renault, where it became the Espace, Europe’s first mini-van. So in an indirect way, we can credit the Simca 1100 with spawning the minivan along with the CUV and modern hatch. How’s that for spreading one’s gene?
Related reading: Simca 1204/1100 CC Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon CC
*sigh* another sweet ride we never got in the US. Chrysler tried the 1204 here around 69-70. Build quality was pretty bad. The windshield washers on Consumer Reports’ sample didn’t work until the CR technicians corrected the tube routing.
When the price of gas flew in late 73/early 74, Motor Trend ran an article on economical used cars and their current selling price. They listed the 1204, but, as to price, admitted “even we don’t know”
I have never seen a Simca in the metal, but I remember a very young Martin Sheen driving a 1000 in an ep of “Mission Impossible”
Evidently, years before I was born, my dad traded in my mom’s Dodge Polara, “Samantha”, for a Simca… without telling my mom he was going to do it. Several decades later, she still talks about it with annoyance.
The Simca eventually was dumped after it was hit by some malaise-era Ford and then spent several months at a body shop because nobody could find body parts for it.
Sigh. Paul, you just made my weekend. I love this site.
I think there’s a sentence missing Paul: “and also using . When…”. Matchbox made a diecast Rancho, it was popular among my 9 year old classmates and I in the early 80s.
Whoops; this isn’t supposed to run until tomorrow; come back then!
I’ve seen pictures of this vehicle, but for some reason, it has never been sold here in the USA. If you have any more photos of this vehicle, we look forward to seeing them.
The Decouvrable was neat if you preferred open sky:
The term “Structural Rigidity” must not have a French translation… 🙂
Technical difficulties. Please stand by…
Burago also made a larger scale one with opening panels, in 1/24. I’ve got one somewhere.
I remember seeing these in Germany when I was a kid, I REALLY liked them. Like Scott, I had the Matchbox version to keep me occupied, but you did see the real thing semi-regularly, certainly more than Range Rovers anyway. I never really realized that they were FWD only with a fairly weak engine, then again they probably did not weigh much and for light duty (maintained trails or the occasional field) 2WD is just fine assuming you have the ground clearance and appropriate tires if wet, muddy, or snowy. Certainly more useful than a jacked up Jeep with 33″ tires sitting outside the mall.
I also didn’t realize they were Matra-Simca at first, then Talbot-Matra at the end of the run which the two pictures obviously show.
Two other earlier ideas of what one would call a CUV pop into my mind; the Citroen Mehari (2CV based) and the Renault Rodeo (4 or 6 based). They could be had in open, canvas, or resin topped bodies, both were FWD (eventually offering 4×4), and both were made with unusual plastic bodies. The only detail i’m not so sure about is if they were true unibodies or not. At the very least, the concept of the CUV certainly seems to be pioneered by the French.
No, they weren’t unibodies. The Mehari rode on the 2CV frame rails. The Rodeo on the R4 underframe. Which wasn’t really a frame, as it couldn’t stand for itself. It was more of a connected front and rear subframes. In any case, the chassis made it easy to just put another body on top.
But they really weren’t CUV:s, more of a kind of novelty beach car, like a VW beach buggy. Nobody took them seriously even in its time.
Not to mention that the body panels on the Mehari were hanging from a tubular skeleton attached to the 2CV chassis.
They definitely were more of a beach buggy / light farm truck more than anything else, but a few (mine included) saw military service. Originally a radio car with the Irish Army, it had 24V electrics and service clocks on the dashboard.
Gah, fell vicitim to the 15-minute editing timeout on this one.
I should have also mentioned that the Mehari did not use a standard 2CV chassis – the rear rails were shortened approximately 10 inches compared to the regular car. Not much of a problem if you’re adapting a 2CV chassis to a Mehari project, but going the other way you’ll need to weld in additional material to handle the 2CV’s body.
If buying a 2CV, check for those welds at the rear – it’s not unheard of for 2CVs to be rechassised with Mehari units, and sometimes not done very well.
Our neighbours got one in 1979 or so, a bright green one. I was five years old, and friends with the kids in the family. I rode in it many times, and remember the airy cabin in the backseat. The father wanted a sports car, the mother wanted something practical. So, in a way, it was the perfect compromise. It wasn’t until I came of age I realized how perfectly well that family fit the demographic. Mid-30’s upper middle class professionals, I think the parents were doctors. You couldn’t be more on the money in 1979. Poor mans Range Rover, in a sense. But it made a splash in that neighbourhood.
Remember the road testI read when it was introduced.
They introduced it as a ” Tout Chemin “- which means for all roads.
And it was based on the Simca 1100 VAN.
I guess being based on a passenger car makes it special but still doesn’t put it in the league of the 49(?) jeep wagon or any Suburbans that predate that. I’ve never seen or heard of one which is not strange. I have no desire to have one which is. Somehow don’t seem tough enough.
As luck would have it, I still have a page copied out of the 1980 edition of “World “Cars” after Simca had been sold to Peugeot and renamed Talbot
A guy 2 streets away has 13 Simcas we saw his 1000 recently but I dont think he has one of these I remember reading about these Matra Simcas some where but dont recall ever seeing one live.
Looks as if this later inspired Land Rover to do the “Discovery II”. 🙂
The Land Rover station wagons of the same era had similar window arrangements.
I’d agree with Lee, is the Jeep Station Wagon as a ‘reverse crossover’ still a crossover? Especially given that its construction was not dissimilar to passenger cars of the era.
I remember seeing these during the early 80s in the UK. I really liked the look of them but they didn’t seem to last long. Rusting issues. I had no idea they were fwd.
This is certainly the world’s first Skoda Yeti.
The Rancho is one of those vehicles that I’ve come close to buying on several occasions, but never actually managed to find one nice enough to convince me that I should pull the trigger on the purchase.
They drive well, have a ton of useful interior space, and have a shape that – in profile – was good enough for Land-Rover to crib several years after the Rancho’s launch for the Discovery.
Actual 4WD would have been nice to have, though I do find the addition of a winch on some models (the Raid trim level, I believe) entertaining. However, only Simca / Talbot could seemingly make fibreglass that could rust – every one of the them that I saw on the UK market above a certain age had rust around the base of the windscreen and the spotlamp mounts.
If there’s one overwhelming memory I have of these, though, it’s seeing some very nice parts of central London absolutely swarming with them in the early 1980s. A couple of years later they’d be replaced with Range Rovers, but it seemed as though this was the vehicle to have if you lived in Knightsbridge c.1983.
Oh yes, a Sloane Ranger fashion accessory. VW Golf (Rabbit) cabrios were also popular with that crowd.
I think these were marketed first as “Matra Simca”s then “Talbot Matra”s. Thought they were cool when I was 10.
The tappety 1442 seemed pretty powerful for the time. It could power our Chrysler Alpine S to a claimed 103MPH.
Overall, I find the Matra Rancho handsome to look at. It’s least attractive feature is the front. I find it hideous to look at.