The Rancho occupies a significant place in the history of late 20th century car design, as it created a new market for rugged looking vehicles which had saloon car comforts but cost less than half the price of a Range Rover.
Following the good reception the Matra Simca Bagheera enjoyed from its launch in 1973, Matra and Simca were keen to produce another car. As with the Bagheera, the intention was to keep costs down by using as many existing Simca components as possible. Matra decided to develop a utility vehicle capable of off-road work, but without the expense of four wheel drive.
Matra's engineers took as their starting point the Simca 1100 pick-up and lengthened the chassis to accept a roomy estate car body produced in glass fibre and polyester. The front bonnet, front wings, doors, and windscreen of the 1100 were all used, although the rugged appearance of the vehicle was achieved by adding heavy plastic mouldings round the wheel arches, and similar mouldings along the bodyside. A split tailgate was fitted, so designed that when the top part was open, it provided shelter from the rain when loading. The lower tailgate folded flat to facilitate loading awkward objects.
Matra selected the 1442 cc engine used in the Chrysler Alpine which developed 80 bhp and provided adequate power for the Rancho. Top speed was around 90 mph, good for such a bulky vehicle. Independent suspension front and rear using torsion bars, longitudinal in the front and transverse mounted at the rear, was taken from the Simca 1100 and provided an excellent ride. Also taken from the 1100, in particular from the GLS model, were the front seats with head restraints and the complete dashboard and instrument panel.
Since it was only font wheel drive, the Rancho's ability as an off-road vehicle was limited, but the generous ground clearance ensured that the underneath of the car remained clear of mud when crossing rough ground. Chrysler France launched the car in 1977 and it quickly became a strong seller in Europe. It reached 4th place in that year's Car of the Year competition, the top 3 places being taken by the Porsche 928, BMW 7- Series and Ford Granada Mark II.
Imports into the UK did not start until May 1978. British versions of the car were supplied with two moveable spotlights mounted on top of the scuttle panel, a move which was to accelerate the arrival of rust, but made the car look even more purposeful. The Rancho captured the imagination of those members of the British public who wanted a Range Rover, but probably because of the expense had not bought one. It was tested by both Autocar and Motor, and both magazines were impressed. At £5,670, The Rancho was quite expensive by 1978 standards, but the Range Rover was £9,815. Unlike today, there were no other similar vehicles available, so it was little wonder that the Rancho had many admirers.
With the introduction of the new Talbot marque, the Rancho's pricing in the UK was made more attractive, virtually freezing the price at £5,939 in 1980, while the Range Rover by then was twice that sum. The car was now known as the Talbot Matra Rancho and updated with electronic ignition and an economy carburettor. Its usefulness was further enhanced by fitting an extra row of rear-facing seats, primarily for children.
By this time in mainland Europe, a range of Rancho models were available. The simply named Rancho was the basic model. Next was the Grand Raid, which featured an electric winch mounted on the front bumper, and a roof mounted spare wheel. Then there was the Decouvrable, which was an open version of the Rancho. The top rear section of the car was replaced by a basic frame to which was fitted roll up fabric and flexi glaze screens to keep the rain out; in good weather these were rolled up out of the way to reveal an open Rancho. This model was only produced for a short time and is very rare today. Top of the range was the Rancho X, which had alloy wheels, velour upholstery, a more comprehensive instrument panel including a tachometer, and metallic paint.
While no further changes were made to the UK model, the Grand raid was deleted in 1982 and replaced with the Rancho AS. This car was not fitted with rear seats, so allowing it to be exempt from the French equivalent of car tax. Such vehicles were quite common in France, and AS versions of the Simca 1100 and Talbot Samba were also produced.
When Peugeot sold the shares it had in Matra, it was clear that the Rancho would not survive for long, and it last appeared in a UK Peugeot Talbot price list in January 1985. The last vehicles were made early in 1984. But the Rancho had been a great success; it had been intended to make only 20,000, but total production was 57,792. Matra's replacement for the Rancho, the Espace, was to become even more successful and accelerate the MPV revolution started by its predecessor.