Car Show Outtake: 1983 Talbot-Matra Murena – Je ne sais quoi

Americans have always had a certain fascination with the French people, their language, and their culture. Does this mid-engined, French-speaking, gray-market 1983 Matra Murena (a car that was never imported to America) that I found at a car show a few years back have the same appeal? Let’s find out.

The English language is filled with words borrowed or outright pilfered from the French. Case in point: After the Norman Conquest of Britain in 1066, English-speaking Anglo-Saxons took the opportunity to upgrade many of their Germanic-based words with their fancier French counterparts. So while the lower class raised cows, pigs, fowl, and oxen (all of Germanic origin), the nobility dined on beef, pork, poultry, and mutton, all words taken from French. This also provided a comfortable separation between the names we use for what we eat versus the animals from which the food came.

We’ve been lusting after the French ever since. Even today, the silent “-et” at the end of a word connotes class and distinction, even if done ironically, such as when we pronounce Target as “tar-zhay”


An exotic car with an exotic animal painted on the hood?

Back to the French bon vivant at hand. The genesis of the Murena is complex, being produced by a partnership between French conglomerate Matra, Simca, and Chrysler Europe. Our own Tatra87 has already covered the history of the Murena in exhaustive detail, so I won’t waste bytes here repeating what T87 already covered so thoroughly.


All cars need some kind of visual distinctiveness, lest they all look the same. But you can deviate only so far from what is expected by buyers of any particular time and place: Deviate too far, and you end up with a flop like the Chrysler Airflow or GM Dustbuster minivans. To me, French cars have always occupied an uncanny valley between what is acceptable to American buyers and what is not.

In this regard, the Murena does not fare too badly. In fact, I didn’t even know it was a French design when I first saw it. The Murena presents a fairly typical 1980s wedge profile, complete with obligatory pop-up headlights. There is a lot of Japanese influence here – If you squint really hard, you can see hints of a Toyota Supra, MR-2, the second-generation Mazda RX-7, and Mitsubishi Starion in the design (although the Murena predates all of these cars). The wheels are fairly generic 80’s turbine-style – nothing too offensive here. Really all that is missing is a set of louvers over the hatchback glass.


There are few clues to the French origins on the interior, other than the bottom-spoked, centerless steering wheel. Other than the oddly upholstered dash, the interior is fairly typical ’80s fare as well. Lots of rectilinear shapes, chunky switchgear, and Day-Glo colors. So where’s the French weirdness? Patience.


Did I mention that the Murena’s engine is in the middle? Murena buyers could choose from a 91 hp 1.6 liter four, or a 116 hp 2.2 liter four. The featured car, however, appears to have the top dog “Préparation 142” (so called for 142 PS it produced) 2.2 with dual Solex carbs. That 142 PS translates into a not-too-shabby-for-1983 140 hp. I say appears, because it also only sports the single exhaust of the lesser model, so some of this go fast gear could have been added later. Whether it is a true 142 or not, the featured car sports a custom, body-color front air dam. It appears to have had a rear spoiler at some point, as borne witness by the drill holes on the rear deck panel. So when do things get weird?


What’s this, three abreast seating, in a sports car? With a floor shifter, no less – Watch the hands, mister! My old 1981 Plymouth Reliant had a bench seat and a four on the floor, and I remember that driving with a center passenger in front could be, ahem, awkward.

While a traditional two-seat sports car implies a monogamous relationship, that third seat is just pregnant with possibilities. What kind of plus-one might occupy that burnt-orange velour, button-tufted center seat? A wingman of some sort? Your coke dealer? (It was the ’80s, after all). Some sort of ménage à trois, an arrangement so unspeakable, so taboo that we English speakers can only talk about it using a French euphemism? Ooh la la!

Indeed, this very car is the product of just such an open marriage, with contributions from Matra, Simca, Chrysler, and even a five-speed transmission from Citroen thrown in for good measure. Good luck with the paternity test on this one.

So what we have here is a direct antecedent to the Toyota MR2 and Pontiac Fiero, beating both to the market by several years. On paper it seemed like a winner, but alas, an exotic allure gets you only so far, and only 10,000 Murenas found a home over the four-year production run from 1980 to 1983. After acquiring Matra in 1983, Renault declined to continue production of the Murena, opting instead to use the innovative space-frame technology on their Espace minivan. c’est la vie.

Related Reading

Curbside Classic: 1983 Talbot-Matra Murena “Préparation 142“ – The End Of The Wedge

CC Outtake: 1982 Talbot-Matra Murena 1600 – What Is French For Rarity?